Matt Ridley on Ecomodernism

I notice that Matt Ridley has a recent Times article, (here) in which he weighs into the debate about Ecomodernism. He thinks – as one might imagine – that it is a great idea. I noticed, though, some pointing out that when he’s said similar things in the past, he’s been vilified, and yet this is now being taken seriously.

I’ll give a hint as to why that might be. Matt Ridley, in his article, says

The ecomodernists rightly favour nuclear power, but partly because they think that cutting CO2 emissions is urgent. I disagree. On current trends — the rate of warming over the past half century is about 0.12C per decade — it will be about another century before the world hits the much-vaunted two degree threshold above pre-industrial temperatures, which is when climate change may turn damaging.

Firstly (as should be obvious) the rate at which we will warm in the future depends on our future emissions, not on past warming trends. To have a reasonable chance of keeping below 2oC by 2100 would require following something close to an RCP2.6 emission pathway. This involves rapid/urgent emission reductions and is, therefore, inconsistent with Ridley’s suggestion that this isn’t necessary in order to stay below 2oC. If he wants to be taken seriously, maybe he should stop writing things that appear to suggest that he doesn’t really understand this topic particularly well.

However, rather than delving more into Matt Ridley’s apparent confusion, I thought I might write something about Ecomodernism, which I have discussed before. I haven’t fully understood the premise behind Ecomodernism, which could be because I haven’t been paying attention, or because it’s all still rather vague. I can see three possible basic scenarios.

  1. Technology is a fundamental part of the developed world. It has played a massive, and very positive, role in improving standards of living and allowing us to do so in a way that can minimise our impact on the natural world. Extending the use of technology is, therefore, going to be the optimal way to improve living standards in the developing world, and allow us to address other issues like climate change. However, we should still do so in a way that recognises the impact that technology can have (both positive and negative) on the natural world.
  2. Technology is inherently good. This seems to be the theme of Matt Ridley’s article. There seems to be a suggestion that because technology has played such a positive role overall that – by definition – any technology is good. This may be true relative to having no technology, but it’s hard to see how it’s true relative to all possible technology options.
  3. The most extreme form of ecomodernism seems to be a suggestion that we essentially completely decouple from nature. The idea seems to be that that would leave some parts of the natural world relatively untouched, but also seems to suggest that technology can address any possible scenarios that we might encounter in future. The problem I have with this is that it seems to suggest that we essentially completely ignore our impact on the natural world. Given that we live on the only known naturally habitable planet in the universe, that would seem to be an extremely risky strategy.

As I said above, I still don’t have a complete understanding of the basic idea behind ecomodernism. Option (1) above seems so obvious that if it is the basic idea behind ecomodernism, it’s hard to see why it’s regarded as some kind of new and innovative idea. Options (2) and (3), however, seem to be suggestions that we largely ignore our impact on the natural world and simply rely on the power of technology which – according to some at least – can only do good. Technology has clearly had a very positive impact, and can clearly continue to do so, but ignoring the negatives seems naive and simplistic. There may, however, be other variants that I haven’t really considered, so if anyone else has a better understanding of the basic premise behind ecomodernism, maybe they can explain it in the comments.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Climate change, ClimateBall, Global warming, Science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

132 Responses to Matt Ridley on Ecomodernism

  1. BBD says:

    As far as I can tell, ecomodernism is woolly round the definitional edges but if you want an entertaining and fairly quick overview, try Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline.

    SB calls this an ‘ecopragmatist’ manifesto, but I don’t think there’s much real difference.

  2. I seem to have annoyed Mike Shellenberger

    Rather odd, given that I didn’t actually present any specific representation of Ecomodernism. I’m guessing that he doesn’t have any interest in actually clarifying anything. It’s probably easier to just complain about being misrepresented, than actually putting any effort into explaining why.

  3. BBD says:

    Here’s a reasonably balanced review of WED that should have been included in the above.

  4. BBD says:

    Being a bit of a numptie I hadn’t twigged that Brand is one of the (many) co-authors of the Ecomodernist Manifesto. Not surprised to see Barry Brook and Mark Lynas there either, or Roger Pielke Jr given that this is a BTI thing.

  5. It is a BTI thing. My confusion is largely because either the idea is obvious (develop technologies that will allow us to improve living standards, reduce our impact on the natural world, and address issues like climate change), or there is something more to this that I just don’t get.

  6. BBD says:

    My take-away from the original ecopragmatist manifesto as presented by Brand was that the controversial bit was advocating for stuff like nuclear and GMOs and telling ‘traditional’ greens that their reactionary distaste for same was part of the problem, not part of a viable C21st solution.

    Hence the mixed reception by ‘environmentalists’ (a broad church if there ever was, so the inverted commas).

  7. Willard says:

    > Technology is a fundamental part of the developed world.

    In other news:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prehistoric_technology

    Coming up next: water is wet.

  8. BBD,

    My take-away from the original ecopragmatist manifesto as presented by Brand was that the controversial bit was advocating for stuff like nuclear and GMOs and telling ‘traditional’ greens that their reactionary distaste for same was part of the problem, not part of a viable C21st solution.

    Yes, that was my impression too. So, it just seems to be an argument against those environmentalists who object to GMOs and nuclear? If so, it’s hard to see what’s so fundamentally innovative about the whole idea.

  9. Blair says:

    I think your confusion is that you are mistaking the goal with the plan to reach the goal. In your comment above you correctly identify the primary goal of Ecomodernsm: “develop technologies that will allow us to improve living standards, reduce our impact on the natural world, and address issues like climate change” but as I note the goal is only the start, Ecomodernism provides one potential means to achieve that goal.

    You say that it is obvious but in that your are mistaken, Ecomodernism is simply one suggested route to the goal. It runs contrary to many alternative schools of though, many of which are described as “degrowth” which see the best way to reduce our global human impact through a reduction in our reliance on technology (your first precept in your assumption). As I write at my blog I, personally, believe that the degrowth approach will not accomplish the goal but would rather result in increased human misery and environmental degradation since our modern technological approach appears to be the only one capable of producing the food necessary to allow 10 billion souls to live in some sort of harmony with some new form of nature.

    As Mike indicates, one goal of Ecomodernism is to provide an ecospace where human impacts are less intense to allow our ecosphere to exist absent most human impacts. As you suggest, we cannot completely decouple but we can reach a stage where our impacts are small enough to allow the ecosphere to evolve in a “natural” or “sem-natural” manner.

  10. Blair,

    It runs contrary to many alternative schools of though, many of which are described as “degrowth” which see the best way to reduce our global human impact through a reduction in our reliance on technology

    I know I’m probably wasting my time asking, but can you provide some actual evidence for these alternative schools of thought, many of which are described as de-growth .. through a reduction in our reliance on technology? With some exceptions, I’ve seen little evidence that there is a strong movement against technology development. Something about Matt Ridley’s article that was irritating was the numerous strawman-like arguments that he seemed to rely on. Maybe you could avoid doing the same?

  11. John Hartz says:

    Pope Francis is about to reframe this entire discussion with the release of his Encyclical on Thursday.

    By wading into the environment debate, Francis is seeking to redefine a secular topic, one usually framed by scientific data, using theology and faith. And based on Francis’ prior comments, and those of influential cardinals, the encyclical is also likely to include an economic critique of how global capitalism, while helping lift millions out of poverty, has also exploited nature and created vast inequities.

    Pope Francis to Explore Climate’s Effect on World’s Poor by Jim Yarley, New York Times, June 13, 2015

  12. Jamie says:

    “It runs contrary to many alternative schools of though, many of which are described as “degrowth” which see the best way to reduce our global human impact through a reduction in our reliance on technology (your first precept in your assumption).”

    I don’t recognise this characterisation of alternative approaches as expecting a reduction in technological reliance. Any move towards a steady state economy would require a very high use of technology (as well as a lot of softer, non-technological approaches). Advocates may not be calling for nuclear or GM technology but that doesn’t mean that the alternatives that they are calling for are technology free. It’s a very convenient straw man that the ecomodernists/ecopragmatists like to put out there: if you’re against nuclear and GM then you’re against technology. .

  13. Morbeau says:

    ATTP, I think there’s a point missing from your Ecomodernism summary. Something like

    4. Technology will ultimately be able to address any and all problems given enough time and funding. The fact that we expect this technology to address questions we have no intention of funding any time soon ought not to be an issue.

    This is where I part company with Stewart Brand. He’s done and said lots of interesting things in his life, but I think his apparently unshakeable faith in technology is misplaced (and harmful, in the case of Ecomodernism).

  14. John Hartz says:

    More on what will be in Pope Francis’s Encyclical (guaranteed to make Matt Ridley and his cronies go bonkers)…

    The Ghanaian cardinal, Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a close ally of the pope, will launch the encyclical. He has said it will address the root causes of poverty and the threats facing nature, or “creation”.

    In a recent speech widely regarded as a curtain-raiser to the encyclical, Turkson said: “Much of the world remains in poverty, despite abundant resources, while a privileged global elite controls the bulk of the world’s wealth and consumes the bulk of its resources.”

    The Argentinian pontiff is expected to repeat calls for a change in attitudes to poverty and nature. “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it,” he told a meeting of social movements last year. “I think a question that we are not asking ourselves is: isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature? Safeguard creation because, if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Never forget this.”

    Explosive intervention by Pope Francis set to transform climate change debate by John Vidal, Observer/Guardian, June 13, 2015

  15. Willard says:

    Seems that BarryB’s a bit less subtle in his marketing effort:

    So if humanity wants to preserve “wild nature” forever, it seems reasonable to argue that we must pursue policies and actions to reverse these drivers of global change. This argument has been a cornerstone of environmental advocacy for decades.

    This view motivates concern for the “population bomb” and “limits to growth”, and underpins ideas involving the transition of consumer societies to simpler, ecologically sustainable cooperatives.

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2015/04/26/an-ecomodernist-manifesto-intensify-to-spare-nature/

    It’s a view thing. Because, views underpin ideas. What underpin views? Paradigms, perhaps. If not paradigms, cornerstones.

    To spare nature, good. To preserve nature, bad.

    ***

    Help me! It hurts? Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts! No one ever suffers but you. I don’t count. I’d like to hear what you’d say if you had what I have. It hurts? Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!

    You might button it all the same.True. (He buttons his fly.) Never neglect the little things of life. What do you expect, you always wait till the last moment. The last moment…

  16. izen says:

    Ecomodernists correctly identify technological intensification as the means to reduce CO2 emissions and our footprint on the landscape.
    At least on the energy front.
    Unfortunately the goal they advocate is more expensive, or at least less profitable over a 5 year investment window, than doing things the current way. There is more money and jobs in coal generated power than long-life LED/LEP lighting which uses much less energy.

    It is also uncertain that further technology, even GMO, can grow enough food on less land. The ‘Green revolution’ in agriculture has pushed things about as far as the system can go, and that involves the virtual conversion of fossil fuel to calories.
    Radical changes in diet, less meat and possible synthetics are possible, but that again meats the resistance of tradition and big agribusiness.
    There is always Soylent Green….

  17. Morbeau,
    Yes, that’s something like what I was getting at in point 3, but the latter part of your point 4 does indeed seem relevant. There do certainly seem to be some who think that we will somehow develop the required technology, but that we shouldn’t actively try to do so. Somehow, it will magically appear when needed.

    Willard,

    To spare nature, good. To preserve nature, bad.

    Yes, that’s certainly an impression I’m getting. As I understand the manifesto, a basic argument is that if we aim for high-density, urban environments, and intensive, modern agriculture (including things like fish farming) that we will have minimised our impact on the rest of the world, and maximised the preservation of nature. I realise that some of those involved are actually researchers in this area, but I’m not convinced that we can really think in this way. The system seems too complex to ignore feedbacks, for example.

  18. Joshua says:

    ==> “Firstly (as should be obvious) the rate at which we will warm in the future depends on our future emissions, not on past warming trends.”

    Is it too much to ask for, to have a “luke-warmer,” some where, some place, some time, some how, address this fundamental logic problem that you point to over and over.

    Is it too much to ask for? Am I asking too much? Am I really being that unreasonable?

  19. izen says:

    @-Joshua
    “… Am I asking too much? Am I really being that unreasonable?”

    Yes.
    For a Lukewarmer to address the logic of future warming will be closely correlated with future emissions would require the acceptance of the causative link between emissions and warming.

    However nuanced their acceptance of lukewarming, they are certain the link between emissions and warming is missing, or at least very weak.
    Missing links again…

  20. Joshua says:

    While I’m asking for the apparently impossible – something else I’d like to see discussed by a “luke-warmer,” somewhere, some place, some time, some how:

    Third, most of the twenty-first century emissions explosion originates from the People’s Republic of China. The driver of that explosion is apparent: it is not the growth of the Chinese population, nor its household consumption, nor its public expenditures, but the tremendous expansion of manufacturing industry, implanted in China by foreign capital to extract surplus value out of local labor, perceived around the turn of the millennium as extraordinarily cheap and disciplined.

    That shift was part of a global assault on wages and working conditions — workers all over the world being weighed down by the threat of capital’s relocation to their Chinese substitutes, who could only be exploited by means of fossil energy as a necessary material substratum. The ensuing emissions explosion is the atmospheric legacy of class warfare.

    https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/03/anthropocene-capitalism-climate-change/

    It seems to me that much of the “ecomodernist” “Manifesto” ignores much of the important ways that race/class complicate the discussion about climate change.

    I dunno, it seems to me that a simplistic construction of “Asking questions about the costs/benefits of growth means you want to starve millions of poor children” is not a particularly constructive approach – all that much more when such arguments are part of a “Manifesto.”

    What’s behind describing a perspective on complicated issues as “manifesto?”

  21. izen says:

    @-ATTP
    ” As I understand the manifesto, a basic argument is that if we aim for high-density, urban environments, and intensive, modern agriculture (including things like fish farming) that we will have minimised our impact on the rest of the world, and maximised the preservation of nature.”

    Its a call back to all that Rousseauian nonsense of virgin unsullied Nature.
    But most of the inhabitable bits of the ecosphere have been heavily modified by 20,000 years of hunter-gatherers… then came agriculture!

  22. izen,
    I agree. That’s why it seems that thinking as if we can divide the world into the bits that we infuence and the rest is a bit simplistic.

  23. Joshua says:

    Izen –

    ==> “For a Lukewarmer to address the logic of future warming will be closely correlated with future emissions would require the acceptance of the causative link between emissions and warming.”

    Most people involved in this discussion, seems to me, start with conclusions and work their way backwards. I don’t see any other explanation for how a “lukewarmer” can dance around the point that Anders raises over, and over, and over, and over. The fundamental logical breakdown is no different than when a “skeptic” says that we can’t trust any evidence of warming but that we know that the warming has paused. It’s no different than the fundamental logical problem of a “skeptic” saying that they don’t doubt that ACO2 emissions cause warming but that the warming as “stopped,” or “paused.”

    I don’t see how it will be possible to discuss the economic and environmental and climate implications of the full range of sensitivity until people are willing to be accountable for making their arguments logical. When smart, knowledgeable people make the same fundamentally flawed arguments over and over, I see that as a manifestation of biased reasoning. If people aren’t willing to by accountable for their own biases, good faith dialog cannot take place, IMO.

  24. Blair says:

    ATTP,

    As I wrote in my comment, I have written about this at my blog. I know your moderator does not like my links so if you go to my blog and do a search for “degrowth” you will find two detailed postings describing and doing a point/counterpoint on ecomodernism and degrowth. Alternatively you can do a search on degrowth or read the writings of Dr. Giorgos Kallis of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and his team at Degrowth Germany since they provide the most links to research on the topic. There are arms of the degrowth movement in Great Britain, North and South America as well if you go looking for them.

  25. John Mashey says:

    I’m curious: has Ridley ever actually created or managed creation of successful new technology through deployment at scale in commercial market? Or worked in companies that did this?

  26. Blair,
    Okay, I went – quickly I will admit – through your first “degrowth” post. All I can see is a post with you expressing your views about degrowth. What I’m really looking for (and which I suspect you will not provide) is actual illustrations of (as you claimed) alternative schools of thought, many of which are described as de-growth .. through a reduction in our reliance on technology? You also claimed that there were many alternative schools of thought so it shouldn’t be hard for you to find some examples.

  27. John,
    I can’t say for sure, but I think the answer to your question is “no”.

  28. Does the image in this article represent ecomodernism?
    http://highereducation.frenchculture.org/events/breakthrough-dialogue-2015-good-anthropocene-bruno-latour
    If so I don’t think there’s much chance it’ll work out. And if it does, God help us.

  29. Blair says:

    ATTP,

    If you read the second post you will see I provide links to five different degrowth writers that detail the alternative point of view. At my blog I have also provided links to the back to nature movement that represents a second approach to the same issue.

  30. Blair,
    Okay, but – with the exception of the back to nature movement – I’m not quite seeing where the degrowth idea is related to a reduction in our reliance on technology.

  31. Joshua says:

    Blair –

    I went to a number of your links and did a quick look and still didn’t see anything were a central argument was a reduction in reliance on technology so much as advocacy for more selective reliance on technology.

    Can you provide something more specific than just a broad reference? Is there any shortcut that you can provide to reading each word of each of your links?

    As just one example, can you point to a significantly sizable group who argue that we shouldn’t rely on technology that would enable us to consume fewer resources?

  32. Andy Skuce says:

    The good ideas in Ecoodernism are not new and the new ideas–to the extent there are any–are not particularly good. David Roberts (I think) summed it up by saying it’s warmed-over 1950’s techno-optimism arguing against resurrected 1960’s ecology. In other words, it’s all the fault of the dirty hippies.

    Yes, as the Ecomodernists urge, we need much more money for basic research. However, this case has just been much more eloquently made by a new report by a distinguished team of superannuated British worthies (six Lords and a Knight) in: The case for a Global Apollo Programme to limit climate change.
    http://www.voxeu.org/article/apollo-programme-conquer-climate-change

    What we also need to do is to rapidly deploy the technologies we have, tax carbon and encourage energy and materials conservation, none of which are on the Ecomodernists’ agenda.

  33. Science and technology make us more powerful. Good or bad depends on how we use that power.

  34. Willard says:

    > I know your moderator does not like my links […]

    Another school of thought prefers a simpler hypothesis: too much links in one comment gets triggered as spam.

    It’s the DEGROW ALL THE LINKS! school of thought.

  35. Richard says:

    Bloomberg reported the first signs of decoupling of growth from emissions http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-13/emissions-stall-amid-growth-for-first-time-in-40-years

    The Ridley & crew view is that reducing emissions means reducing growth (“back to the dark ages” ) by some viewpoints, which is clearly rubbish in a new solar economy. Solar is of course scalable at so many levels given a new infrastructure. Nuclear may in principle work as a bridge to solar except for the woeful f?:k ups in selection of designs and implementation that means it has blown its chance in the near-medium term to be the main story; only marginal now.

    If Ridley finally admits that CO2 is an issue he may be worth having a debate with on how to widen the gap between growth (good) and emissions (bad).

  36. Richard,

    If Ridley finally admits that CO2 is an issue he may be worth having a debate with on how to widen the gap between growth (good) and emissions (bad).

    I agree, but while he continues to promote the idea that we have plenty of time and that we won’t warm much in the coming century, there isn’t much point.

  37. Willard says:

    > Does the image in this article represent ecomodernism?

    A more common one:

    According to coby, this image represents both how the Breakthrough Boys see themselves, and how others see them too.

    Source: http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2012/10/climate-trolls-an-illustrated-bestiary/

  38. Sam Taylor says:

    The entire basic argument behind the ecomodernist manifesto is completely out of step with reality, mind. For the last two centuries we have been increasing our technological prowess and efficiency in all sorts of processes and areas, and yet our footprint grows bigger and bigger every year. The concept of decoupling is a nonsense. Any realistic path towards decreasing emissions almost certainly involves some kind of degrowth, which is likely to be painful. And, frankly, when one looks at the overall state of the biosphere, waste sinks and so on, I think the evidence on the side of “technology is an overall good” is actually pretty weak.

  39. Sam,

    And, frankly, when one looks at the overall state of the biosphere, waste sinks and so on, I think the evidence on the side of “technology is an overall good” is actually pretty weak.

    Something being “good” is – i guess – always relative. Given that we can’t go back and determine if we would have been better off without technology, or if there would have been some better alternative, we can never really know. Certainly, given where we are now, it’s hard to see how the future isn’t one in which technology will have to play a major role. However, that doesn’t (as Matt Ridley appears to suggest) mean that it’s guaranteed to be “good”.

  40. Steven Mosher says:

    Joshua:

    “Is it too much to ask for, to have a “luke-warmer,” some where, some place, some time, some how, address this fundamental logic problem that you point to over and over.

    Is it too much to ask for? Am I asking too much? Am I really being that unreasonable?”

    ####################################

    It’s not a logic problem

    I dont believe this argument but it is not crazy.

    Future warming will depend upon future emissions.
    past warming has depended upon past emissions.
    Past emissions have created UP TO .12C per decade.
    Assuming this rate going forward ( a naive forecast) gets you to 2C. (.8c is already used up)
    There is no methodology (GCM) that outperforms a naive forecast.
    Therefore it is justifiable ( a cogent case can be made) that a naive forecast is good enough for policy.

    The simpler way to look at this is to use an analogy.

    I have a sales growth curve for some particular business I am working for.
    the boss asks me to project the sales 10 years from now. What the HELL? well its simple.
    I just say “assume a constant rate” I predict X million in 10 years. ( Take the temperature series and do a simliar thing. utterly reasonable. Totally justifiable.) I only have one assumption to defend. I say.. assume a constant rate. the future will be like the past. whats not to like!

    of course some joker comes along and says.. “wait” sales are tied to the total number of customers and If you look at demographics we can see that there is huge upside you are missing. he’s modelling sales using deeper more fundamental data. He says for example
    all of our sales come from the over 60 crowd and that demo is increasing dramatically so your straight line assumes no change in revenue growth BUT if you assume a constant market share ( 15% of seniors)
    then you can see that mere demographics will drive us to much higher sales that your simple approach. And then of course more variables are thrown in and you have a “model” of sales
    that is built up from many many bits of data and many assumptions versus a simple straight line
    extrapolation.

    And then the two sides fight over A simple model derived from observations ( stats) versus a Model that purports to understand the “physics” of sales. And the guys who do data approaches scream about bad models and the modelling guys scream that merely extrapolating is also a model and a bad model to boot. and then somebody pragmatic asks which model is most useful..
    and then somebody says.. useful for internal planning or external PR.. and so forth and so on.

    This difference isnt anything out of the ordinary. This fight gets repeated over and over again in any field that works with observational data. Data based approaches versus model based approaches. blah blah blah. I like models.

    And then the boss looks at both approaches and says.. Both of you are two low,, we need to make BILLIONS! and then you adjust to make everybody happy. and you put the appropriate caveats in your documents, curse, and go back to the next problem.

  41. Todd D. says:

    Richard, you state “Solar is of course scalable at so many levels given a new infrastructure”, hmm, not even sure about “all of the above” strategy http://bravenewclimate.com/2015/06/05/less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts-rethinking-all-of-the-above-clean-energy/ . I agree with Baroness Worthington http://www.theecologist.org/reply/2901897/why_we_really_do_need_nuclear_power.html

  42. Steven,

    I dont believe this argument but it is not crazy.

    Future warming will depend upon future emissions.
    past warming has depended upon past emissions.
    Past emissions have created UP TO .12C per decade.
    Assuming this rate going forward ( a naive forecast) gets you to 2C. (.8c is already used up)
    There is no methodology (GCM) that outperforms a naive forecast.
    Therefore it is justifiable ( a cogent case can be made) that a naive forecast is good enough for policy.

    It might not be crazy, but it can’t be that hard for someone of Ridley’s calibre to base his model on the relationship between emissions and forcing. Then the simple model would at least be physically plausible. For example, the basic pathways would then increase forcings by maybe 50% (RCP2.6), 100% (RCP4.5), 200% (RCP6), 300% (RCP8.5). So, we can warm anywhere from 50% more than we have today, to 4 times more than we have today.

  43. Todd D.,
    What about Richard’s point that nuclear has become trickier because of design and selection mess ups? As much as I’m in favour of nuclear, I can’t see how we can rapidly implement nuclear.

  44. Willard says:

    > it can’t be that hard for someone of Ridley’s calibre to base his model on the relationship between emissions and forcing.

    There’s even a tool:

    http://trillionthtonne.org/

  45. Todd D. says:

    ATTP, I agree, but we can’t rapidly deploy much anything else rapidly either (eg USA https:flowcharts.llnl.gov ). The electricity grid needs reliable 7×24 baseload generation, wind and solar provide neither. We currently need much more desalination, water purification, sewage treatment, air conditioning, refrigeration, stoves, washing machines, etc and considering population is likely to be 9 billion by 2050…. anyway here’s an example of what could be done with nuclear http://thorconpower.com/slides/teac7_lars.pdf Also, maybe we can learn from China http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/926423.shtml

  46. Todd D.,

    I agree, but we can’t rapidly deploy much anything else rapidly either

    Yes, a fair point. Thanks, I’ll look at those links.

    Willard,
    Coby’s illustrated bestiary is a real classic.

  47. Blair says:

    Joshua,

    The whole basis of the degrowth movement is that we move away from a technological society and return to what they would describe as more wholesome closer to nature movement. One that relies less and less on technologies. If you read their literature they suggest moving back to a movement where we no longer depend on most of our modern technologies. The back to the earth folks, on the other hand eschew most technologies wanting to move back to a level where the bicycle is the pinnacle of technological progress. I admit it makes for a lot of reading but if you follow the links I provide and then refer to their foundational texts you will see what I am talking about.

    As for you asking: “As just one example, can you point to a significantly sizable group who argue that we shouldn’t rely on technology that would enable us to consume fewer resources?”. That defines the Degrowth movement in a nutshell.

  48. Blair,
    Not that I have any interest in defending the degrowth movement, but you appear to be stating something about it that is not entirely consistent with what I’ve been reading (not that I’ve read extensively – I didn’t even really know that it existed till today). Ideally you would actually back up what you’re saying by providing actual evidence, rather than telling us what it is and expecting us to go and find it. However, having tried to get you to do something like this before, I’m not really going to bother pressing you to do so now.

  49. Joshua says:

    steven –

    ==> “Assuming this rate going forward ( a naive forecast) gets you to 2C. (.8c is already used up)”

    If you believe that adding ACO2 causes warming, why would you assume the same rate going forward if you’re adding more emissions? How is that not a logic problem?

  50. Joshua says:

    I should point out that by rate, I mean rate of warming not rate of forcing per unit of emissions; a constant rate for the latter, of course, would be a logical assumption for the sake of scenario planning as would reasonable assumption of increase of decrease within an explicated, probablistic framework.

  51. Willard says:

    > Ideally you would actually back up what you’re saying by providing actual evidence, rather than telling us what it is and expecting us to go and find it.

    You can’t find it, AT. That’s why it’s a degrowth movement. If the movement left evidence of its influence on climate policies, it would defeat its own purpose. Any piece of evidence leaves its carbon footprint.

    The opposite also applies: Grrrowth is everywhere. The more you talk about it online, the more Grrrowth gets generated. When Grrrowth reaches a tipping point, inactivism goes nuclear. It’s like Ionesco’s circle: the more you describe it, the more you stroke its back, the more it gets vicious.

    Why invisible hands leave the biggest carbon footprint remains an open problem, however.

  52. Blair says:

    ATTP,

    I don’t get it. You ask for a group that maintains a certain point of view and I point you to one such group and 16 minutes later (my post 7:20 your post 7:36) you come back and complain that you do not see what I am saying. My post alone was over 2000 words and the links represent hours of reading. I can give you the names of the premiere thinkers in the field but you appear to want me to provide a detailed precis of their work. Except I already did that at my blog. I can point you to Degrowth Germany (http://www.degrowth.de/en/) and Dr. Giorgos Kallis (http://www.icrea.cat/Web/ScientificStaff/Georgios-Kallis–481). I can link you to Degrowth Canada (https://degrowthcanada.wordpress.com/) or the Wikipedia article for the group (https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Degrowth) I can send you to the Simplicity Institute (http://simplicityinstitute.org) which advocates for a simpler less technological future, I can send suggest you read the writings of Dona Brown (http://www.amazon.ca/Back-Land-Enduring-Self-Sufficiency-America/dp/0299250741) but ultimately I can only lead the horse to water.

    To summarize, you asked me to provide evidence that a certain group of thinkers exist and I provided you direct links to primary authors and thinkers and the links to two major NGOs and a think-tank. I’m not sure what more I can do to demonstrate to you that this group of thinkers exist?

  53. Joshua says:

    Blair –

    ==> “That defines the Degrowth movement in a nutshell.”

    Well, like I said, I skimmed your references and didn’t find any nutshells, let alone nuts.

    The problem is, I guess, that different people can read philosophical arguments to impute different meanings. I’m going to have to chalk our different interpretations up to that.

    Of course, if you could find some group that represents a significant number of people, such that it is some significant influence, and that explicitly expresses the rejection of technologies that, say, reduces our use of resources or impact on the environment,, I would appreciate it.

  54. Steven Mosher says:

    “If you believe that adding ACO2 causes warming, why would you assume the same rate going forward if you’re adding more emissions? How is that not a logic problem?”

    The effect is log.
    Figuring out the exact contribution in the past is hard.

    SO..
    simplify.

    The problem is Joshua that an argument can be defensible without being correct
    it can be defensible without being the best
    it can be defensible without being the most precise.
    it can be wrong and still “logical”

    Logic doesnt apply.

  55. John Hartz says:

    By coincidence, I happened across the following after scanning the most recent set of comments on this thread. It addresses most, if not all, of the issues being discussed here and is worth a read. It is choked full of links as well.

    In the end, it all boils down to the question of decoupling economic growth from greenhouse-gas emissions (and the use of other natural resources in the case of other no less important planetary boundaries). However, despite the tremendous efforts that are being invested to convince us that energy efficiency, renewables and new technologies will do the trick, decoupling in absolute terms remains highly unlikely if not impossible in a growing economy.

    Are We Prepared to Change to Prevent Climate Change? by Christiane Kliemann, This Changes Everything, June 12, 2015

    Note: The above article was written by German freelance journalist Christiane Kliemann, and originally appeared in issue 9 of SHIFT magazine.

  56. Steven Mosher says:

    “It might not be crazy, but it can’t be that hard for someone of Ridley’s calibre to base his model on the relationship between emissions and forcing. Then the simple model would at least be physically plausible. For example, the basic pathways would then increase forcings by maybe 50% (RCP2.6), 100% (RCP4.5), 200% (RCP6), 300% (RCP8.5). So, we can warm anywhere from 50% more than we have today, to 4 times more than we have today.”

    That in part is why I think his overly simplistic approach is one that I would not buy.

    But Joshua asked how one would defend it. Not that I would, but if asked I can surely try.

    I might say That a simple extrapolation gives you a lower bound. If we continue as we are we wont see less than 2C by 2100. and there is no evidence that we can continue as we are and see less than 2C.. so uncertainty works in favor of taking action to change how we are doing things.

    The point here is trying to keep the reasoning within the grasp of people who are not comfortable with difficult maths. If we continue like we are.. using the past as a guide, we wont see anything less than 2C by 2100.. and the risk of being above 2C is high.

  57. To have a reasonable chance of keeping below 2oC by 2100 would require following something close to an RCP2.6 emission pathway.

    If you use the NOAA GHG index data, plot it over the RCP scenarios from the IPCC,
    and shift the NOAA trace to a common start at 2000
    ( because NOAA and RCP use different baselines ),
    you will likely arrive at what I’ve done here ( in purple ):

    We’re not just close to RCP2.6, we’re less than RCP2.6.

  58. anoilman says:

    Eddie. Why did you choose 2000 as the start point for your data?

    There are no papers to back that interesting new theory of yours. 1950 is the correct date.

    And for the love of god, stop claiming that climate scientists predict solar cycles, volcanoes and weather. It does not make you look sharp… in fact… this comes to mind;

  59. Eli Rabett says:

    Eco modernism is, in essence, Stalin’s Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature, which among other things has given us the Not Aral Sea.

  60. russellseitz says:

    Forget the Singularity . Un-millenial pragmatism suggests crediting technology with its own acceleration , and noting the roles of both ecopolitics and fossil fuel corporate dynamics in resisting the development of nuclear energy.

    The forces of framing and denial are unlikely in the long run to prevail over the mere fact that fission unleashes a million times more energy atom for atom than the oxidation of carbo.

    The question is whether that fact will evolve into a macroeconomic imperative in time to head off radiative forcing.

  61. Eli Rabett says:

    Of course, Early Ecomodernism features the Four Pests Campaign which led to the deaths of 30 million or so from famine.

  62. Blair says:

    Joshua,

    Sorry my reply has been caught in moderation for the last 10 hours or so….

  63. Blair,

    I don’t get it. You ask for a group that maintains a certain point of view and I point you to one such group and 16 minutes later (my post 7:20 your post 7:36) you come back and complain that you do not see what I am saying.

    Well, you actually claimed the existence of many alternative groups who want to reduce our reliance on technology, and I ask you to provide evidence for their existence and evidence that this was their goal. I still don’t really see much evidence for these groups wanting to reduce our reliance on technology. Some seem to, but it’s not obvious that this being the basis of degrowth – as you’ve also claimed.

    However, even if you’re right, I’m still not sure what this has to do with Ecomodernism. I don’t really see why the existence of some alternative group somehow validates – or explains – Ecomodernism. Also, given that I haven’t really encountered this degrowth until now, it doesn’t seem particularly prominent.

  64. TE,
    I don’t get what you’re suggesting. The CO2e forcing is close to 3Wm-2.

  65. John Mashey says:

    1) Again, see ‘R2-D2’ and Other Lessons From Bell Labs. I have a simple suggestion: if somebody just says do more research and good things will happen, without also working on deployment, ask them what innovation they themselves have done//managed and deployed at scale, commercially. Ask them of experience in upgrading infrastruture while keeping it working. Ask them about research funnels and technology insertion methods, and about cost-volume manufacturing curvers and technology ecosystem effects.
    Then you can decide whether or not they are worth listening to. Most of the people saying this sound to me more like pundits than engineering managers.

    2) Sometime another dinosaur-killer asteroid will come. If the civilization at that time cannot detect it far enough out (we can now) and deflect it (we might get there), it’s all over. Going back to 18th or 19th century tech is not a solution, Of course, no one has any idea when that might happen, could be 20/30 years off, could be millions.

  66. izen says:

    @-Joshua
    “Of course, if you could find some group that represents a significant number of people, such that it is some significant influence, and that explicitly expresses the rejection of technologies that, say, reduces our use of resources or impact on the environment,, I would appreciate it.”

    ISIS.

  67. Sam Taylor says:

    Blair is strawmanning the degrowth movement to some extent. There are certainly elements within it who want to go back to living in ecovillages and such, but it’s a broad church and not everyone thinks that way. Someone like Peter Victor, for example, advocates for better screening of technology, which is I think to say that we shouldn’t just uncritically assume that any and all technology is worthwhile and is necesarilly a good thing, as we seem to do now. However the main thrust of his argument is that by shitfing to an economy centred more around leisure, shorter working weeks, efficiency, well definied limits and much fewer status goods and displays of status through consumption (this is the biggie, in my view), then it might be possible to cut our overall energy and materials use in a way which seems physically plausible (unlike quite a lot of the guff you read about decoupling) without trashing the economy in the process. You need some technology for this, no doubt. Technology is a genie which is very much out of the bottle and isn’t going away, whch is why I think that the simplicity institute guys, while well meaning, are probably not going to get what they want. People like it too much.

    Anyway, personally I think Victors work represents likely the most plausibly and desirable plan at least in terms of economics and ecological damage. But politically it is very obviously a non starter, because the growth instinct is very, very deeply ingrained (perhaps down to a pretty fundamental psychological level). Having worked in both nuclear and oil industries, I can say hand on heart that I in no way think nuclear is ever going to top 10% of world energy supply, and that the increasing expense of continuing to grow the oil supply is likely to prove prohibitive within the timeframe of perhaps a decade ($100+ oil gives us demand destruction in advanced economies, one only need look at the energy consumption of somewhere like Italy since 2000 to see this). So in looking at this I think that an unmanaged degrowth is a distinct possibility and that it would be preferable to try to manage it, but that this is unlikely to happen, we’ll try to go all ‘breakthrough institute’ which is essentially continuing business as usual, only we’re also telling ourselves how smart we are in a very self congratulatory manner.

  68. Ken Fabian says:

    Isn’t the essential message of Ecomodernism that broad failure to have effective climate policy is the fault of green politics (by preventing the aggressive use of nuclear energy)?

    In my own nation of Australia the nuclear vs renewables debate looks to me like a continuing distraction from a more fundamental low emissions vs fossil fuels one and the with the essential claim – or suggestion or implication – that in the absence of ‘green’ opposition to nuclear, mainstream politics would be free to fix the climate problem and would shed it’s reluctance to do so – despite the mainstream governing conservative LNP having no actual commitments to aggressive emissions reduction by any means, showing unwavering support for the future growth of fossil fuel extraction and carrying through with effective obstruction of both technology specific (Renewable Energy Target) and non specific (Pigovian Carbon pricing) emissions policies. The overlap of climate science denial and nuclear advocacy and the antithetical nature of climate obstructionism to nuclear as a climate solution is rarely if ever mentioned or examined. (But climate science denial at the highest levels of government doesn’t get much attention either).

    I tend to see the biggest political problems (at least in Australia) for nuclear as the persistent undermining of public acceptance of a serious climate problem, the fostering of economic fear of a shift away from coal and the continuing political offering (or is it acceding) to commerce and industry of the least cost option for emissions reductions of doing the least possible or preferably nothing at all. It is justified by rejection of the existence (climate science denial) or seriousness (lukewarmism) of the emissions/climate problem as well as by the claim that only nuclear is good enough and the distrust of nuclear of a public in the thrall of irrational green politics is preventing these ‘sensible’ interests from rushing to replace coal with nuclear.

    Climate science denial in mainstream politics is IMO a far more effective barrier to nuclear (other than vanity projects) than fringe politics inspired opposition and Ecomodernism seems to tap into the same arguments; not promoting a different, better way, but raising a bar too high for the established ‘green’ aligned climate advocates, which they can then blame for the broader failures of mainstream politics to face the problem head on.

  69. Sam Taylor says:

    The nuclear industrys main enemy is the nuclear industry, in my experience. The economics are pretty terrible. Anyway, within the next 30 years we’re not going to see any significant expansion of either Thorium or breeder reactors, nor fusion, and there’s probably going to be supply bottlenecks just trying to get enough U to fuel the reactors that China is hoping to get online, since the U mining insutry has seen pretty low levels of investment in recent years, and brining large new mining projects online is a very slow and laborious process. What with the anticipated rate of decomissioning over the next few decades the nuclear industry will do well to stand still in terms of overall % of world electricity generation.

  70. Ken,

    Isn’t the essential message of Ecomodernism that broad failure to have effective climate policy is the fault of green politics (by preventing the aggressive use of nuclear energy)?

    Yes, I think that is one of their messages.

    Climate science denial in mainstream politics is IMO a far more effective barrier to nuclear (other than vanity projects) than fringe politics inspired opposition

    Indeed.

    Sam,
    Thanks for the comments. I haven’t read much about degrowth, but your 8.01am appears largely consistent with what I have read.

  71. MikeH says:

    One of the degrowth/low growth movements in Australia is called “The Simpler Way” and is promoted by UNSW social sciences academic Ted Trainer.
    http://simplerway.org/about

    Ironically, Trainer is perhaps better known recently for his attacks on renewable energy, particularly on a number of plans that were released in Australia over the last couple of years suggesting that a 100% renewables grid is a viable option.

    His critiques are promoted by nuclear evangelist, Ecomodernist and BTI fellow Barry Brook.
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/09/09/trainer-zca-2020-critique/

    So why are a nuclear spruiker and a degrowther joining forces? It is pretty obvious that the success of renewable energy is a threat to both of their visions of the future even though they may appear to be at opposite ends of the technology spectrum.

  72. topflat says:

    MarkH

    That criticism applies equally to everyone. The 100% renewable crew have their horses hitched to an ideological wagon as much as anyone else. That’s one of the big issues, is everyone in the debate has basically got their worldview or credibility at stake, and refuses to budge since it would be psychologically quite painful to do.

    I think trainer does raise some good points in his critiques, but at the same time you have to take his ideology into account. I certainly think the 100% wws proposals of Jacobsen are mostly wish fulfillment trash that show minimal understanding of the modern energy system and electric grid. It’s all rather messy and subjective.

    Regardless most of the hard empirical data that I’ve seen (something the ecomodernists sorely lack) makes me more pessimistic than optimistic.

  73. Joshua says:

    Sam –

    Thanks, again, for your interesting and informative comments.

  74. Joshua says:

    Spruiker = you gotta love Aussies.

  75. Willard says:

    > you asked me to provide evidence that a certain group of thinkers exist

    What has been asked is evidence of “alternative schools of thought, many of which are described as de-growth .. through a reduction in our reliance on technology”. This was asked because the manifesto positions itself by rejecting some kind of “harmonization” with nature. In other words, what had been asked is to justify the “modernist” part.

    It takes less than a New York minute to see that handwaving to a Wiki page or some university page or an Amazon book does very little to address that question. What is needed are quotes showing that ecomodernism is distinct from all the eco schools of thought. If an explanation showing that this difference matters, so much the better: red herrings are as annoying as strawmen.

    I don’t get it. Sometimes, it looks as if ClimateBall players never wrote dissertations. This is a basic fumble, notwithstanding the main difficulty with modernism: modernity never really existed.

  76. Willard says:

    > the U mining insutry has seen pretty low levels of investment in recent years,

    To give you an idea:

    Canada has no uranium enrichment plants and does not produce DU.

    http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/resources/fact-sheets/depleted-uranium-perspective.cfm

    Canada is one of the most important uranium producers in the world.

  77. Joshua says:

    I see that someone agrees with me about the connotations of a “manifesto.”

    http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/is-the-ecomodernist-manifesto-the-future-of-environmentalism

  78. Andrew Dodds says:

    Eli –

    I think those examples are almost the opposite of what a realistic ‘ecomodernist’ might want.

    One part of it – a major one – it that we need to return large areas of the planet to nature completely. Not farming, because no matter how organic your farm, it is ultimately very destructive. And what goes for the land goes even more for the sea. The North Atlantic and peripheral seas need decades-long bans on fishing before we can even consider restarting.

    So the point of ‘ecomodernism’ would be the use of technology with a small geographical footprint to produce our needs. You could imagine using (*cough*) thoriumbreederreactors on a large scale; directly synthesizing basic foodstuffs; growing meat in vats; closed-loop recycling. Treat the city as a spaceship.

    Certainly not diverting rivers or selecting inconvenient species for destruction. Within our walls, of course, we can choose what is allowed.

    Of course, reaching such a situation would require huge levels of sustained R&D, not to mention a sustained implementation effort with strong governmental support. And also shutting down or re-purposing most of the fossil fuel, agriculture, fishing and food processing/distribution industries one way or another. There may be a bit of stumbling block there (and to be honest

    I’m not sure if ‘degrowthers’ would be a problem – they are pretty marginal and hard to define – more those who think there we can just make a set of incremental changes – generally excluding nuclear power and GMOs, whilst being suspicious of new technologies – and it’ll all be OK. Or worse, pushing technologies with known serious limitations – PV in Europe, as an example – whilst refusing to acknowledge those limitations.

  79. Joshua,
    This comment in the article certainly struck a chord

    “It’s a declaration, a polemic,” Janet Lyon, an English professor at Pennsylvania State University and the author of a book on the history of manifestos, told me. “It signals the end of a conversation, not the beginning of one.”

    Certainly my brief interaction with Shellenberger, and what I’ve seen elsewhere, is that those involved are defending their manifesto and complaining about being misrepresented, rather than engaging in discussions about their manifesto.

  80. Eli Rabett says:

    Let Eli be clear, ecomodernism is marxist industrial policy in camouflage.

  81. Andrew Dodds says:

    Willard –

    I would characterize mainstream environmentalism as being generally pro-Wind and Solar, if arguing about how they should be subsidized (Carbon Tax/FiT..); generally Anti-Nuclear for whatever reason is favored today, generally anti-GMO, again with sometimes dubious logic, convinced that large amounts of energy are wasted and can easily be saved, holding industrial farming under great suspicion… which is reasonable, but we have 7+ billion people to feed one way or another.

    And characterized by a small-scale/bottom-up mentality. Which is very nice.. but it dosen’t really look at questions like ‘Will it work?’ or ‘Are we doing enough’?

  82. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Don’t know if you saw this:

    https://storify.com/MichaelBTI/new-yorker-s-michelle

    A nice example of where convos go to die. Twitter seems designed, specifically, to degrade reasonable exchange from different viewpoints.

    And yes, looking at Shellenberger’s participation in that twitter convo only reinforces an impression for me that his actions are counterproductive to his goal of advancing exchange.

    I can understand why Shellenberger et. al are defensive, and I don’t doubt their good faith intent, but it seems rather obvious to me that they could do a much better job of advancing dialog around the important perspectives they bring to the discussion.

    They could start with accepting the connotations of “manifesto,” and deal with it.

    My Magic 8-ball says “Outlook not so good.”

  83. Eli,

    Let Eli be clear, ecomodernism is marxist industrial policy in camouflage.

    Hmmm, yes, it does seem to be an argument that we can continue to have growth as long as we all agree to live in highly constrained societies.

  84. Joshua,
    Interesting that Shellenberger refers (in that exchange) to now having their own table. There does seem to be something of a theme around certain people feeling excluded, then creating their own space, then inviting others to their space, then complaining that people haven’t accepted their invitation.

  85. Eli Rabett says:

    ATTP, you forgot to add the part about decoupling nature from society, which is basic to marxism (but not socialism)

  86. Willard says:

    This other comment might explain the lukewarm kumbaya over that new contrarian gig:

    A willingness to irritate one’s allies can be a useful quality, and the founders of the Breakthrough Institute, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, have a rare appetite for doing so.

    http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/is-the-ecomodernist-manifesto-the-future-of-environmentalism

    There’s no better way to let go of ideological talk than to gather informal pundits in a think thank and write a manifesto on yet another ism word with no “hardly radical” ideas but with lots of Grrrowth branding.

  87. topflat says:

    Willard,

    Interesting, I didn’t know that, though I suspect the fact that Canada uses CANDU reactors, which don’t require enriched fuel to function and can just use natural uranium as a fuel, is likely a bigger factor in this.

    Incidentally, CANDU reactors produce most of the world’s supply of tritium, and many of them are due to be decommissioned in the near future. When this happens our supplies of tritium will begin to decay away. This will pose something of an issue for any future tokamak fusion reactor, since the thing will require a fair amoumt of tritium to get started.

  88. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    I would add something to your description:

    “… certain people feeling excluded, then creating their own space by issuing a self-important, inherently-polemical challenge (such as a “manifesto”), then inviting others to their space, then complaining that people haven’t accepted their invitation.

  89. Sam taylor says:

    I note in that twitter conversation that the breakthrough guy repeatedly references Ausubel, who has shown that material consumption per unit GDP is decreasing.

    Well, that’s lovely except for the fact that GDP is not a consistent or meaningful biophysical unit. GDP can be changed by what human interactions end up being priced by markets. GDP changes depending on how you chose to base and calculate your rate of inflation. GDP is neither stock, flow or unit consistent, and is better thought of as a subjective human measure of value. As such combining any physical unit with it puts you in a very difficult position, epistemologically speaking, and in my opinion makes your results meaningless in any physical sense.

    If, however, one looks at a unit consistent measurement, such as material consumption per capita ( http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095937801400065X ), which i would argue is a much more powerful and meaningful measure, then the notion that we have in any way dematerialised is shown to be completely false.

  90. Willard says:

    Andrew Dodds,

    Yes, the BI’s target is quite clear. What’s less clear is how the traditional preferences of the ecological movement is related to its philosophy. These preferences seem quite contingent, which is why the “modernism” tenet has little bite. The same applies to the BI’s solutions: there’s nothing in modernism that necessitates we go nuclear. Other things could work, and be even more modern. Nuclear is not that modern anyway.

    The opposite is also true: one could hold traditional ecologism and embrace nuclear. We’re on the Internet. It might even be possible to find a deep ecologist who’s also pro-nuclear. If all BI has to offer is pro-nuclear arguments, why not simply say “we’re pro-nuclear”?

    Besides, what is this “pro” thing? Nuclear is just a technology. If it works, it works. If it does not, it does not. There’s no need to sell a pseudo-philosophical package to sugarcoat the techno-pill.

    From an ecological perspective, what the BI’s doing is quite obvious. They’re fighting for a niche. They are using words as signaling devices. This won’t get them very far in the intellectual kingdom, as they are supposed to be tools for conceptual analysis, not slogans for ideological purposes. No conceptual analysis seems forthcoming. This triggers stealth advocacy.

  91. Eli Rabett says:

    Hippie bashing by another name.

  92. MikeH says:

    “Let Eli be clear, ecomodernism is marxist industrial policy in camouflage.”

    I disagree. IMO, the manifesto is largely for marketing purposes. You cannot be a serious think tank without an ideology of sorts.

    It is not going to get in the way of what BTI actually do. Bash renewable energy and evangelise nuclear, “clean” coal and frakking. Basically as close to “business as usual” as it is possible to get without denying climate science.

    As others have noted up thread and the IEA is at pains to point out, nuclear will struggle to hold its own for decades to come, “clean” coal is a joke and frakking as mitigation is debatable. You do not find much commentary on climate science on the BTI web site but the conclusion I draw from their “program” is that they do not see much urgency at all in carbon mitigation despite Ridley’s claim.

    If they were honest, they could have made this article written by two of their fellows their manifesto.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/05/learning-to-live-with-fossil-fuels/309295/

  93. Sam,
    Yes, that’s an interesting point. As I understand it (and my economics is not strong) GDP is really a measure of economic activity. As such, there’s no fundamental reason why it should always be tied to something physical (like energy, for example). I think that is what Stoat’s post is trying to illustrate.

  94. Blair says:

    ATTP,

    You appear to have mis-read my comment if you think I only showed a single group. Degrowth is a distributed network with autonomous chapters and each represents its own worldview. I also presented the old school back-to-nature groups as typified by the writings of Dona Brown and her acolytes, I brought you the Simplicity Institute which represents an entirely different brand of back-to-the-earth group with an entirely different way to get us to a utopian future. In doing this I have already shown you five different streams of thought and I only stopped for want of time and space rather than of groups. Heck in my own neighbourhood I can point to groups in the Gulf Islands of BC (out of Lesquiti and Salt Spring) I can point to groups out of the San Juan Islands of Washington State. This is not a limited number of people but represents a general school of thought that believes that technology has brought us to a bad place and should be scaled back and certain technologies banned. I started with Degrowth mostly because they are the group that has presented the most cogent challenges to the Ecomodernists but they are only one of many.

  95. Joshua says:

    Q. Where is best to punch a hippie?
    A. About the face. That’s where the hippie is most annoying.

    Q. What is a hippie?
    A. Generally, a hippie is an annoying, useless. Actually, less than useless, as they are not happy until they prevent other people from being useful as well. In fact, Scientists have determined that the only evolutionary purpose of a hippie is for punching as a stress release for productive members of society.

    Q. Are there any other uses for hippies than punching them?
    A. No, there are no other uses.

    Q. Couldn’t they be ground up and used as chum?
    A. They’re too gummy.

    […]

    Q. Just to be clear, are you talking about physically striking hippies or are you talking metaphorically about “punching” hippies through rhetorical means or through your actions against narcissistic hippie ideals?
    A. Can’t it be both?

    Q. Well, one of those is a valid point and the other I’m pretty sure is assault.
    A. Maybe you’re a hippie.

    Q. Since you’re writing both sides of this FAQ, you’re actually accusing yourself of being hippie.
    A. Shut up. I really hate you.

    Q. Now this is getting a little weird.
    A. You’re the reason dad never loved me!

    Q. Dude.
    A. Why won’t you die!

    Q. Okay… let’s dial this down a little. It’s not me you’re angry at. It’s them. They’re the ones at fault. Remember?
    A. Are you going to have me hurt people again?

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4663

    I also recommend the comments here:

    http://www.eschatonblog.com/2011/10/right-way-to-punch-hippie.html

  96. Blair,
    You appear to be redefining your comments and largely misunderstanding mine. You firstly said

    It runs contrary to many alternative schools of though, many of which are described as “degrowth” which see the best way to reduce our global human impact through a reduction in our reliance on technology

    You then stated

    The whole basis of the degrowth movement is that we move away from a technological society and return to what they would describe as more wholesome closer to nature movement.

    You’re now claiming

    Degrowth is a distributed network with autonomous chapters and each represents its own worldview.

    Followed by some personal observations. So, all you’ve really done is illustrate that there are some people who promote something called “degrowth” and that some of these people promote a movement away from a technological society. Other than illustrating the existence of such views (which I could probably do for any possible view) you haven’t really illustrated anything with regards to how prominent it is, and you certainly haven’t shown that a movement away from technology is a fundamental aspect of this movement.

    I don’t, however, particularly care. My point is simply that if you were serious about illustrating the significance of such a movement, and serious about presenting a valid interpretation of their views, you’ll have to do better than you’ve done. Asserting that you’re right and claiming that you can see all sorts of examples in areas near where you live is not particularly convincing.

  97. Willard says:

    > You cannot be a serious think tank without an ideology of sorts.

    Indeed. What’s interesting is that the BI’s recipe is the GWPF’s recipe in reverse. While the GWPF pretends to offer scientific advice to cover up its political agenda, the BI justifies its technological prescriptions by some Grrrowth babble. Stealth advocacy in both cases.

    The main difference I see is that the GWPF has no other choice but to lukewarmingly stretch the limits of justified disingeniousness. Perhaps the GWPF also shows more creativity because necessity is the mother of invention, or simply because conservatives are just better at sloganeering.

    Think about it. The BI’s trying to sell modernism:

    Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped Modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

    Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and even the sciences, were becoming ill-fitted to their tasks and outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. The poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past. In this spirit, its innovations, like the stream-of-consciousness novel, atonal (or pantonal) and twelve-tone music, divisionist painting and abstract art, all had precursors in the 19th century.

    A notable characteristic of Modernism is self-consciousness, which often led to experiments with form, along with the use of techniques that drew attention to the processes and materials used in creating a painting, poem, building, etc. Modernism explicitly rejected the ideology of realism and makes use of the works of the past by the employment of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody.

    Some commentators define Modernism as a mode of thinking—one or more philosophically defined characteristics, like self-consciousness or self-reference, that run across all the novelties in the arts and the disciplines. More common, especially in the West, are those who see it as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology. From this perspective, Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress, and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. Others focus on Modernism as an aesthetic introspection. This facilitates consideration of specific reactions to the use of technology in the First World War, and anti-technological and nihilistic aspects of the works of diverse thinkers and artists spanning the period from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) to Samuel Beckett (1906–1989).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernism

    The very idea of a manifesto is not modernist at all, unless it’s meant as some kind of a joke.

    I duly submit that writing manifestos is exactly what is holding us back.

    Were they real modernists, they’d sell Grrrowth ™, not growth.

    Thank you.

  98. Sam Taylor says:

    ATTP,

    Yes, that’s the problem with lots of these things wherby you measure a physical unit in terms of a unit of GDP. GDP is not a well defined unit. In terms of growth theory, most of the thought in the area is still basically a descendant of the Solow model in which the economy is essentially modelled as a single sector with a single output. Of course, this is the real world and people get all uppity if you try to compare apples to oranges, so what people do is compare the price of apples and oranges and assume that the price is a valid mechanism of saying that, say, 1 orange = 1.5 apples, or whatever. The issue being that as prices change, the composition of your GDP will change over time. Prices for apples have gone up over time, prices for computers have gone down, cars have stayed about the same. But the prices don’t really reflect the material inputs all that realistically. Similarly when trying to deflate some historical GDP you run into problems, because choosing a “representative” basket of goods is inherently subjective. Similarly, the quality of commodities can change with time. A car made in 1970 is different to one made today, yet we still treat a “car” as the same when comparing prices in the two eras. So this leads to the process of “hedonic adjustment”, which again is entirely subjective. Hell, even your choice of base year, and whether or not you use chain-weighting, will change your estimate of GDP. My opinion is that this is a fundamental problem with using price as an instrument of measurement which can in no way be got around.

    I think prices are much better viewed as a feedback mechanism in the complex system that is the global economy (high oil price = shortage of oil = drill more, this is analogous to feeling hungry, in a sense) as opposed to some absolute measurement of the size of the economy. If you instead start taking GDP as meaning something tangible and then measuring physical parameters relative to it then you end up with all sorts of nonsensicle answers which are merely an artefact of choosing a completely inappropriate unit. Better to ditch it when trying to investigate whether or not the economy is “decoupling”, because that is an inherently physical phenomenon in which GDP has no real place.

  99. Joshua says:

    Blair –

    in lieu of seeing your response that’s in moderation, I’ll just say this.

    ==> “…and certain technologies banned.”

    Hmmm.

    I don’t doubt that there ares some neo-Luddites out there who advocate a return to technology-less societies, but the question is whether they are a group of people that in aggregate, have any significant influence on our society. I think not. And I think that it is counter-productive if those who question whether all technology is good, or who speak of the potential problems with an over-reliance on technology, are mis-characterized as being neo-Luddites.

    When I briefly looked at your site, in all honestly, it looked to me like you were morphing the questions around eco-modernism and “degrowth” into a false dochotomy/proxy battle for a libertarianism vs. socialism. And it seemed to me that in your morphing these questions, you mischaracterize many of those who express concern about growth and technology.

    So back to what I excerpted; there is a difference between saying that reliance on some specific technology should be reduced, or that technology should not be relied upon as a Panacea, and a blanket statement of saying that reliance on technology should be reduced. That is why I highlighted your certain technologies comment – as I think that certain technologies is an important distinction that gets lost in much of your other rhetoric.

    As to how this plays out in the broad public debate, as an example, it seems to me that the vast majority of people who identify as environmentally-oriented and who have questions about the costs and benefits of “growth” also support technologies that reduce our impact on the environment (such as solar and/or wind-based energy).

  100. Joseph says:

    This is not a limited number of people but represents a general school of thought that believes that technology has brought us to a bad place and should be scaled back and certain technologies banned.

    And also seems to have no political power or influence as far as I can tell. I, like ATTP, have never heard of this “school of thought.” It does seem to be a common refrain from the “skeptics” that people who believe we should do something about AGW want to return us to the stone ages, though.

  101. Willard says:

    Speaking of technological bans, from the ecohipsters’ mouth:

    Reducing deforestation and indoor air pollution requires the substitution of wood and charcoal with modern energy.

    http://www.ecomodernism.org/manifesto/

  102. anoilman says:

    I find all the talk about Research and Technology saving us deeply deeply disturbing. The forces who would promote such an idea, especially Eco-modernists, are the very ones tearing it apart;
    http://www.desmog.uk/2015/06/11/texas-congressman-lamar-smith-declares-war-nasa-and-epa-climate-science-research

    In case the contradictions in all this aren’t obvious I’d like to bring it home. Acid rain was identified as a concern, and later proven out by the Experimental Lakes Area in Canada. The solution is to measure sulfur emissions, add oxygen, and precipitate out sulfur.
    http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/03/25/closure_of_experimental_lakes_area_part_of_assault_on_science_scharper.html

    The solution to acid rain currently provides jobs, and billions of dollars of income to coal and oil companies globally;
    http://www.shell.com/global/products-services/solutions-for-businesses/sulphur/your-needs/sulphur-sales.html

    Incidentally, conservatives in Canada are opposed to preserving nature. They’ve been working hard a turning our parks into something more like amusement parks. We’re seeing rapid expansion of entertainment industries, hotels and the like in our parks, while simultaneously cutting folks who analyze and protect the environment;
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/parks-canada-hit-by-latest-federal-job-cuts-1.1127446

    Maybe Destructive Modernist is a better term. Selfish Modernist? Environmentally Vicious?

  103. izen says:

    There seems to be much excitement about the imminent encyclical from the Pope.
    Ridiculous hyperbole about a gamechanging event from some quarters, reframing the debate as a moral issue rathe than a scientific problem.

    From the leaks and hints; –
    ” Capitalism is killing our planet, our civilization and the people
    Pope Francis warns that capitalism is the “root cause” of all the world’s problems: “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,” as environmental damage does trickle down most on the world’s poor.”
    “In our recklessness, we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries,” warned Turkson. “And the lesson from the Garden of Eden still rings true today: pride, hubris, self-centredness are always perilous, indeed destructive. The very technology that has brought great reward is now poised to bring great ruin.”

    It looks like a appeal to help the poor and an indictment of consumer-capitalism.

    this has lead some ‘sceptic’ commentators to decide that the Pope is exceeding his remit and the Catholic Church has been infiltrated by redistributionist Marxists.

    http://www.independentsentinel.com/pope-francis-about-to-make-redistribution-mandatory-for-catholics/

    Forgive my cynicysm, but I predict it will have enough ambiguous language to allow multiple interpritations that will create loopholes for almost any political position.
    I also find the scapegoating of consumer capitalism for the inequalities and poverty seen as the great moral problem annoying.
    The best historical information indicates that inequality was/is far worse in feudal, pre-capitalist societies. The industrial revolution widened the wealth distribution a little, but the two world wars did the most to spread the wealth. With relative peace and stability the traditional processes that concentrate wealth are back in play, with a helping hand from ‘austerity’ programs and debt repayments by which government assets are transferred to private hands as debt repayments.

    The Pope Francis intervention is likely to be hailed as a moral justification for the very anti-technological traits within the Climate Change camp that Blair seems to have so much trouble identifying and the ecomodernists appear to be opposing.

  104. The problem of GDP as a measure of the success of a society is that if you grow x million tonnes of food by buying in fertilisers produced from fossil fuels and using machinery powered by fossil fuels, then you sell the best of that produce to the supermarkets, allowing the slightly blemished produce to compost down; then people buy all the most attractive food but waste a third of it by sending it to landfill, you end up with a society with a high GDP that’s doing really well economically but is trashing the planet and cannot be sustained. And that’s just food.

    So the idea that buying and selling stuff is the be-all-and-end-all, is a road to self-destruction. There are other values that people once had that today we’ve just forgotten about.

  105. John Hartz says:

    Faith Briol hits the nail on the head in my opinion…

    The world needs a “peaceful divorce” between economic growth and the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, one of the world’s leading energy economists has said – but this will only happen if a crunch climate conference in December sends a strong signal that governments are serious about tackling global warming.

    Fatih Birol, incoming executive director of the International Energy Agency, said the UN conference in Paris would be “the last chance to put the energy sector on the right course”.

    In an interview with the Guardian, Birol added: “If we do not get a strong signal from Paris, this [reform of the energy sector] will take a very, very long time to put right.”

    Until now, more energy availability has been linked to rising prosperity but also increasing emissions. That link must be broken, Birol said, adding that this would cause economic hardship unless the world could uncouple those factors by encouraging energy companies to invest in low-carbon generation and banning the most inefficient practices.

    Divorce growth from greenhouse gases to aid climate goals, says energy chief by Fiona Harvey, Guardian, June 14, 2015

  106. Ken Fabian says:

    Izen, perhaps from this Pope’s theological perspective the gross numbers who live in poverty – which are now greater than the whole pre-industrial human population – may have more significance than the simple proportion. Perspective may be on a par with a sense of proportion.

    Surely we need to average out both the gross and proportional gains delivered by cheap fossil fuel energy over the full fossil fuel period to get a clearer idea of how well it delivers – or else we can be mistaking short term noise for long term trend. Certainly the notion that unfettered markets and unconstrained consumerism using fossil fuels, that shift a major portion of their true costs to future generations in a kind of institutionalised cheating don’t look like any kind of unarguable empircal proof that they are good for humanity to me.

    I have to add my voice to those who think anti-technology forces are overstated; better technology is essential, but so are better regulatory systems that close out the cheating via failures to incorporate the full and true costs into the market prices of our options.

  107. John Hartz says:

    Speaking of Pope Francis’s Encyclical…

    The Italian translation of Pope Francis’s much-anticipated encyclical letter on humans, climate and nature was posted today by L’Espresso, one of Italy’s leading weekly news magazines. The Vatican news office says it’s not the final version but is not questioning the authenticity of the document. There’s every indication that the themes, if not every punctuation mark, reflect what is coming later this week.

    Themes of the Pope’s Encyclical on Climate, Equity and the Environment Emerge in Italian Leak by Andrew C. Revkin, Dot Earth, New York Times, June 15, 2015

  108. John Hartz says:

    Another salient paragraph from Revkin’s article cited above…

    The opening section, consistent with statements from the church in recent months, makes clear that Francis’s main focus is not on parts per million of carbon dioxide or rates of sea level rise. Rather it is on the need for a shift in humanity’s moral compass and the relationship between the world’s rich and poor communities and countries.

  109. Rob Nicholls says:

    I’ve enjoyed a lot of the comments, particularly Joshua’s discussion with Steven Mosher.

    I found Matt Ridley’s article interesting, and I think there are some aspects that I agree with. I don’t think abandoning all technology is a good idea (although I’m not entirely sure who is advocating abandoning all technology). I should probably admit that I’ve got a conflict of interest here as I’m too lazy to want to be a hunter-gatherer. Also, I don’t want to grow all my own food, although I thought it had been shown that (counterintuitively) small labour-intensive farms are often more productive than larger, highly mechanized farms.

    I have misgivings about the idea that ‘humanity must embrace technology and growth so as to “shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature” ‘. I think I’d be generally v happy with embracing technology which genuinely helps to shrink humanity’s impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, as long as it’s ethical in other ways. But clearly not all technology shrinks humanity’s impacts and so I wouldn’t agree with an unquestioning embracing of all technology. (Also at least as important is how technology is deployed and what kind of society and economy it’s deployed in).

    I don’t see that humanity “must embrace…growth” generally. Some kinds of economic growth might be good, but some are v destructive. Given ecological limits, a general contraction and convergence might be a good idea. Some kind of economic growth might be v good for poorer countries and communities if it genuinely benefits ordinary people in those countries and communities. Some countries, and some people, are already very rich – do these countries and people really need more economic growth? If the answer is “yes” then it would have to be growth that is accompanied by a massive shrinking of environmental impact (and I think that’s not easy to achieve; I don’t think technology is a panacea for this).

    Matt Ridley seems to say the richer countries have the best environments, but I understand richer countries out-source a lot of their dirty work (polluting industries etc) to poorer countries…and then there’s carbon dioxide; Rich nations’ per capita CO2 emissions are massively higher than those of poorer nations, even without taking the out-sourcing of production mentioned above into account.

    “Decoupling growth” is one thing. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the phrase “Decoupling society from nature”, but this phrase seems slightly crazy to me – an extreme version of the denied dependency upon nature which I think might be one of the main underlying causes of the ecological crisis.

    (Maybe I’m paranoid but I’m a bit worried that ecomodernist arguments could be used to justify getting rid of important social and environmental regulations so a few powerful people can make even more money while destroying what they claim to be saving.)

  110. John Hartz says:

    Rob Nicholls: You are definitely not paranoid.

  111. Sam Taylor says:

    John,

    Re Faith Briol, when one looks at the arguments presented, again a few things stand out to me immediately. First is that growth is yet again some sacred cow which much be achieved no matter what. It strikes me that if we were a more rational species (perhaps less optimistic too) and if we could agree to shrink the global gdp per capita in aggregate (while still raising that of the poorer nations, but just making the richer people poorer) that there probably wouldn’t be much need for this blog. Our bizarre attachment to growth (I suspect it’s some kind of biological imperative, so no wonder we like it so much) is what’s going to do us in. Briol is living on a different planet if he thinks the energy system can be decarbonised to any significant degree before we hit really nasty levels of CO2. I mean, Christ in the 10 years since 2004 our energy mix has gone from 88% fossil fuel to 86% fossil fuel, while the absolute amount of FF has skyrocketed. In the same period, the low carbon fraction of the electricity generating system has actually decreased. All the evidence so far points to exactly the opposide of what Faith wants to happen becoming reality.

    It amazes me that reality can be slapping someone so hard in the face and telling them that they’re wrong, and yet they just blithely continue ignoring it.

  112. BBD says:

    Briol is living on a different planet if he thinks the energy system can be decarbonised to any significant degree before we hit really nasty levels of CO2. I mean, Christ in the 10 years since 2004 our energy mix has gone from 88% fossil fuel to 86% fossil fuel, while the absolute amount of FF has skyrocketed. In the same period, the low carbon fraction of the electricity generating system has actually decreased. All the evidence so far points to exactly the opposide of what Faith wants to happen becoming reality.

    Yes, I have to agree with that. Fatih Birol’s [sp!] optimism is, ironically, desperation-driven at this point.

  113. verytallguy says:

    Sam Taylor

    Our bizarre attachment to growth…

    I have much sympathy with the general tenet of your post, but I think this deserves a challenge.

    I don’t think this is particularly bizarre.

    My grandfather was a miner. His children aspired to better lives – and achieved this, consuming more as a result, which implies growth.

    In a wider context, periods of low or negative growth tend to have high unemployment.

    So both on a personal and wider economical point of view, it seems very unsurprising to me that growth is perceived as a good thing.

    The problem isn’t that it’s bizarre, it’s that it’s unsustainable.

  114. Sam Taylor says:

    Perhaps bizarre was a poor choice of words. Unwavering, perhaps, would’ve been more appropriate. Given the choice between having growth now and eventually cooking our descendants, or no growth now and our descendants not being cooked, we’ll always choose the former. I’m with Dan Kahnemann in that I see no pathway to success with climate change. Human cognitive limitations and short term wants are going to win the day, and push us over the edge, barring something genuinely miraculous in the energy sector or a global economic collapse. At least doing the science and painting the picture of what’s going on is somewhat distracting.

  115. Sam,
    Yes, I think climate change may have the optimally worst timescale. It’s slow enough that immediate issues dominate and we’d rather just ignore it for now, and fast enough that actually doing something about it is difficult and probably requires that we start doing so now.

  116. Eli Rabett says:

    As Stephen Gardiner and now the pope write a perfect moral storn

  117. John Hartz says:

    Distilling this comment thread into two bookends of civilization’s possible futures…

    “The Flintstones” on one end and the “Jetsons” on the other.

  118. dikranmarsupial says:

    I’ve been reading a collection of essays “This Idea Must Die”, that includes an essay by Matt Ridley on Malthusianism, which seems to suggest that technological advances means we will never run into resource limitations we cannot deal with. This seems to me to be ignoring the many famines (for example) that were not prevented by technological advances. Expecting technology to solve the worlds problems while pursuing BAU seems a trifle optimisitic to me.

  119. John Hartz says:

    To the best of my knowledge, the forecasts* of future economic activity and fossil fuel consumption blithely ignore the possibility that nuclear weapoms will be used in major conflicts between now and 2050 say. Given the current trajectory of conflict between nations and religious and ethnic grouips, the probability of that nuclear weapons will be used is better than 50% in my opinion.

    *Forecasts in the public domain.

  120. dikran,

    This seems to me to be ignoring the many famines (for example) that were not prevented by technological advances.

    Indeed. There does appear to be a tendency to ignore the occasions when things didn’t go nearly as well as we might have hoped. In my view, there is a vast gulf between what is possible and what is actually likely. I’m all for optimism and idealism, but a certain amount of reality is also called for.

  121. Sam Taylor says:

    Dikran,

    I always feel that Malthus is something of a strawman in these debates. His science was pretty bogus, and he was much more driven by political means than any other. He was a leading figure behind the introduction of the poor laws, and was very much of the opinion that the poor should be left to starve if they couldn’t fend for themselves. His motivation in all this probably stemmed from the fact that he was worried that if the poor kept breeding like rabbits there wouldn’t be sufficient food left for him and his wealthy mates.

    So whenever some ridleyesque techno-cornucopian says that Malthus was wrong I find myself agreeing with them. Though quite why they think crapping all over an 18th century reverend has any relevance in modern debates over ecological limits is beyond me. I certainly don’t feel the need to denigrate Ibn Khaldun.

  122. Joshua says:

    Sam –

    Re: your 10:50. Yup.

    Although in some ways I think it’s worse than you described.

    If it were just a matter of short-term benefits versus long-term costs, there would be a possibility of people actually being able to do a full cost accounting of short-term costs and benefits and who knows, find that there is actually a short-term benefit to not pumping particulates into the air and funneling trillions into the hands of despots in order to keep oil flowing.

    But laid on top of the built-in problem of how people are inclined to skew cost/benefit analyses because of the proximity (or lack there of) of risk, we also have, in this politicized context, the problem where identity politics makes it less likely anything other than BAU will occur, and where people will refuse accountability for the short-term costs of BAU.

    Some “lukewarmers” sometimes like to offer “adaptation,” as a way around the difficult task of accepting the ambiguity imposed by scientific uncertainties within the process of policy-making, but IMO that can’t work either because it doesn’t address the built-in biases in how people approach risk on the long time horizon. What is the likelihood that we will spend on “no regrets” massive infrastructure development to address the long time-horizon, non-AGW influenced, climate pressures on society? Is there a historical precedent for such massive investment on massively damaging, rare events that only repeat on extended time frames?? If not, why not? Could it be because of what you describe? And please, someone point me to the large and influential group of people who currently oppose “spending” on mitigation who will then turn around and support the massive federal funding that would be required to conduct large-scale infrastructure development?

  123. Sam Taylor says:

    For those who might be interested, here’s a recent half hour talk on sustainable development and technology by Dennis Meadows of limits to growth fame, relates to at least some of the topic of the conversation above.

    http://media.medfarm.uu.se/play/video/5007/

    Provocative, if nothing else.

  124. dikranmarsupial says:

    Sam, There are examples where unchecked population growth beyond the capacity of the environment causes “catastrophe”, for instance Lemmings, so Malthus’ theory is not entirely unreasonable. The Earth’s resources are finite, so there will a limit to the human population that the planet can support. Whether we are close to that limit and what to do (if anything) about it is another matter entirely. The fact that fossil fuel emissions warrant concern due to their effect on the climate suggests we have already reached a point where the worlds current population can’t all enjoy the same standard of living that most of the developed world consider a basic requirement.

    The point I was making was that Ridley’s dismissal of Malthusianism was naively optimistic and ignored historical failures of technology in addressing resource limits. The main reason I suspect technology won’t solve the problem is not the technological problems involved, but the politics and economics. I suspect that as a species we are not capable of sufficient altruism, at least not beforehand.

  125. Andrew Dodds says:

    Sam –

    Populations running into carrying capacity constraints was a common theme even in the west prior to the 1700s or so. Generally the problem was fixed by a couple of year’s bad harvests removing a chunk of the population. Or the plague..

    My take on this is that technology – and that’s all forms, including things like contraception! – can avert the Malthusian problem, but there is no magic guarantee that it will.

  126. Sam Taylor says:

    Dikran,

    My personal favourite example of ecological limits is the reindeer on St Matthew island, quite entertainingly brutal that one. To clarify, I’m very much in the “there are limits” camp, just that I have a quite strong dislike of Malthus and what I take to be his nasty politically motivated reasoning. Besides which, the world has moved on quite significantly since the late 1700’s so I’m not quite sure what relevance his opinions have these days, bar allowing people like Ridley to score cheap points. The limits to growth people were accused of being malthusian, but with their compassion towards the poor and scientifically motivated reasoning they were anything but.

    I agree with your other points. In fact in that video I linked Meadows makes exactly the same point. A technology is is only as sustainable if used in a sustainable way, and sustainability is as much down to culture as it is tech. That’s the fatal flaw in most of the pro technology arguments.

    Josh,

    Yeah I think that’s basically right. The current system of short-term electoral cycles and market pricing basically being our main decision making processes kind of dooms us, since neither are capable of choosing to take short to medium term pain to achieve long term gain. In problems with no easy solutions this condemns us.

    The “adaption” line always makes me laugh. One way to adapt to rising sea levels is to drown. A way to adapt to less food because of reduced growing seasons is to starve, indeed it’s the market-approved response. There will be adaption all right. People in the middle east are currently adapting to the new situation there by attempting to leave en masse.

  127. John Hartz says:

    Speaking of public opinion about climate change in the U.S. …

    The financial crisis made Americans less worried about climate change. The Democrats’ attempt to pass sweeping climate legislation in 2009 and 2010 probably reduced Americans’ anxiety level as well, as paradoxical as that may sound. But now Americans are getting more worried again.

    About 69 percent of adults say that global warming is either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem, according to a new Pew Research Center poll, up from 63 percent in 2010. The level of concern has still not returned to that of a decade ago; in 2006, 79 percent of adults called global warming serious.

    Americans Are Again Getting More Worried About the Climate by David Leonhardt, New York Times, June 16, 2015

  128. Rob Nicholls says:

    John Hartz: “Given the current trajectory of conflict between nations and religious and ethnic grouips, the probability of that nuclear weapons will be used is better than 50% in my opinion.” I think this is another area where humanity is very alarmingly collectively failing to do enough to manage risk.

  129. John Hartz says:

    Upstream, I linked to a recent interview of Dr. Fatih Birol by Fiona Harvey of The Guardian. Not to be outdone, Simon Evans of The Carbon Brief has also interviewed Dr. Birol. Here’s the gist of the Evans interview. i.e., the introductory section of the article.

    Dr Fatih Birol is the chief economist of the International Energy Agency, and is responsible for its World Energy Outlook publication. He is also chairman of the World Economic Forum’s energy advisory board. Before joining the IEA in 1995, he worked at the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna. Birol will take over as chief executive of the IEA in September.

    On renewables and coal:“Renewables will be, if the INDCs [ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions] are implemented, in 2030 the first fuel in terms of providing electricity. Efficiency improvements accelerate by a factor of three, which is extremely important and we see that the coal consumption gets strong downward trend.”

    On current climate pledges: “The INDCs will not bring us there, where we want to go. They are far from bringing us to our 2C scenario.”

    On banning some coal plants: “The first area in terms of coal we should focus would be to ban inefficient coal-fired power plants and this can save a lot of emissions and this is not out of reach.”

    On carbon capture and storage: “Without having a significant carbon price in many countries it will be difficult to see CCS having an important market share.”

    On oil demand projections: “People who want to look at the future, need to look at the efficiency policies and their impact on the demand growth much more closely.”

    On a 100% renewable future: “If it is tomorrow, that’s wishful thinking. But if it’s in the very future, it is definitely feasible, and it is also something that I would like to see.”

  130. John Hartz says:

    Oops!

    The citation and link for my immediately prior post:

    The Carbon Brief Interview: Dr Fatih Birol by Simon Evans, The Carbon Brief, June 16, 2015

  131. John Hartz says:

    This does not bode well for either unrestrained population or economic growth…

    NASA satellites show that aquifers are rapidly depleting and hold less water than expected

    Satellites Find Less Groundwater Left by Debra Kahn, ClimateWire/Scientific American, June 17, 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s