Kevin Anderson – The Ostrich or the Phoenix

Before I write the second part of my discussion on drawing down atmospheric CO2, I thought I would promote this comment to a post. It’s highlighting a recent talk (video at the end of this post) by Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester.

Kevin’s talk is very interesting and focuses on many of the things that I’ve been trying to highlight myself. Our current understanding is that how much we warm will depend largely on how much we emit, in total. If there is some level warming that we would like to have some chance of staying below (say 2oC) then that sets a carbon budget; it’s not that we have to get our annual emissions below some level, it’s that we have to ensure that our total/cumulative emissions don’t exceed this budget.

This is where it gets difficult. For 2oC we’ve already emitted more than half of the budget, and are currently running through the remaining budget at around 20-25% per decade. Hence, this isn’t something for the future; it’s something we have to start dealing with now (if we want to achieve it). Also, if we want to allow developing nations more time to grow first, and then address this later, the constraints on the developed world become even stronger.

What Kevin also points out is that most credible people think that a rise of 4oC would have almost catastrophic impacts; “we should avoid this at all costs“. This has implications for economic modelling: how do you cost something that we should avoid at all costs? It also suggests that if staying below 2oC is already going to be very difficult, continuing along our current emission trajecory will make it increasingly difficult to stay below 4oC – a level of warming that most regard as something we should avoid at all costs.

Kevin also discusses various options, like nuclear; showing that even though nuclear would be a very low carbon solution, we would need – if we want nuclear to provide a significant fraction of our future energy needs – to be building many more reactors than we currently are. Kevin’s talk also illustrates – I think – why many are very reluctant to accept the basic situation. Given our current understanding, it seems as though it will be very difficult – if not impossible – to address this without making significant changes to our lifestyles and standards of living. It seems highly unlikely that we will choose to do so. The consequence of this could then be that we will end up risking a level of warming that most regard as something that we should avoid at all costs, or we will eventually be forced to do things that, today, we would regard as unacceptable. The ultimate Catch-22. Of course, we could – I guess – just be lucky.

As usual, I’ve written far too much. If you’re interested in more, though, watch the video!

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

78 Responses to Kevin Anderson – The Ostrich or the Phoenix

  1. T-rev says:

    Kevin Anderson, my goto guy for ‘in your face’ 🙂

    ATTP: It seems highly unlikely that we will choose to do so.

    Behavioural ‘Science’ … you’re in good company with your line of thinking…

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/08/climate-change-deniers-g7-goal-fossil-fuels

    A quote from “Nobel prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the leading scholar of cognitive biases”

    “No amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living. So that’s my bottom line: there is not much hope. I’m thoroughly pessimistic. I’m sorry.”

  2. I do think that we’re not going to actively address this in any meaningful way, anytime soon. What was interesting about Kevin’s talk was his point that we could drastically reduce emission from cars in only a decade or so using current technology (i.e., there are many models of cars in existence that emit much less than what is emitted per car on average and we replace cars on about a decade timescale). However, his point about nuclear was less optimistic. Nuclear (about 435 nuclear reactors) provides about 2.5% of our current energy. For it to provide 25% of global energy would then require a few thousand nuclear power plants. We’re currently building 17.

  3. Kevin Anderson does straight talk and presents facts in a way that discourages evasion. Another stark presenter is Philippe Squarzoni (Climate Changed). I don’t see how we can get past the dangerous truth, though I don’t counsel despair or apathy.

  4. Susan,
    He does indeed straight talk and presents thing very clearly. What he presents is essentially what Michael Tobis has – I think – been arguing. It is way past the point where we should be discussing whether or not we should be reducing emissions; what we should be discussing is how to reduce emissions, and how fast. Those who disagree should at least be willing to recognise that they are promoting a pathway that could lead to a level of warming that most would regard as something we should avoid at all costs. The consequences of such a level of warming could – as Kevin Anderson points out – be inconsistent with a semi-stable, global community.

  5. Re. the Daniel Kahneman quote.
    There’s no doubt we have to change our lifestyles. But we don’t necessarily need to lower our standard of living. What we need to do is reassess what we mean by ‘a high standard of living’. Too many of the things some people like to do seem to require the burning of large amounts of fossil fuels. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

  6. pete best says:

    I think Mr Anderson postulates that only 5% of us consume the most and hence produce the most co2. So in the short term only demand side can be addressed with supply side later on. If each of those 5% need to cut emission by 80% that’s a big ask surely

  7. Gingerbaker says:

    I find Anderson’s thinking problematic. He assumes technology incapable of addressing the issue, based on past performance. But past performance is no indicator of what could be done.

    The past performance of renewables uptake has relied almost exclusively on laissez-faire capitalism with an added very small dash of government incentives. Anderson is correct to demonstrate the failure of such an approach. But he makes the mistake of assuming there is no other approach possible. And, of course, there is another approach.

    And that is a government-mandated government-owned pubic renewables-only electric utility system. To some degree, this is what China is doing (although they are not building renewable energy infrastructure exclusively). And if what they propose is brought to fruition, they will build more renewable infrastructure in one year than the U.S. has built to date.

    We have a rich history of meeting national challenges with national programs. What is remarkable is that nobody talks about this in relation to renewables. In a country which successfully used government mandate to achieve Rural Electrification, The Interstate highway system, food and drug inspection, environmental protection, el-hi education, Social Security, etc, etc! Exxon could not be happier.

    Anderson also believes that we must accept a lower standard of living, because we must use less energy. Considering that the planet is bathed in a million times more free energy than we could possibly use, it is unfathomable to me that a clearly intelligent man would make such a claim. Not only could we harvest and use as much energy as we want with virtually zero environmental impact, but the price tag is reasonable. A brand spanking new renewables-only utility system would cost less than a single decade of fossil-fuel purchases.

  8. Joseph says:

    Given our current understanding, it seems as though it will be very difficult – if not impossible – to address this without making significant changes to our lifestyles and standards of living.

    I would be interested to know what he means by changing our lifestyles and how our standard of living must change. That seems like a hard sell to make to the public.

    I think a more optimistic approach is needed that focuses on government action that promotes technological innovation and tackling climate change as an opportunity to promote economic growth and solve a serious problem at the same time. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage people to save energy and be less wasteful. But I am not sure how that is going to be done.

  9. pete best says:

    Joseph, its,quite straight forward fitting your emissions. Work out how much you use, say 15 tonnes per annum and then cut it by 80%. If you fly for example to say Australia once a year then cut the distance by 80%, goto France perhaps.

  10. BBD says:

    Nuclear (about 435 nuclear reactors) provides about 2.5% of our current energy. For it to provide 25% of global energy would then require a few thousand nuclear power plants. We’re currently building 17.

    This is what frightens me. This is a concrete indication that we aren’t going to do anything until it is far too late. We aren’t taking CC seriously.

  11. Joseph says:

    Right, I guess I am wondering about you go about communicating the importance of taking individual actions to the public. And I think it would be harmful for politicians or the media to say effective climate change policy is going to cause economic disruption and lower our standard of living.

  12. > most credible people think that a rise of 4oC would have almost catastrophic impacts; “we should avoid this at all costs“. This has implications for economic modelling: how do you cost something that we should avoid at all costs?

    You have pressed my button; here I am.

    The answer, I think, is that you have it backwards. If you know that +4oC is to be avoided at all costs, then you must have some reason for knowing this; its not mystical knowledge imparted in isolation by a god. It is, or should be, rather then end product of a chain of reasoning: perhaps we know that all plants will die at +4 oC, or something. You’re a touch vague about what the catastrophic impacts would be though; perhaps your source is too.

  13. 3:42> “economics… and has been wrestled away by the financiers, the astrologists, the numerologists…”

    WTF? That’s, like, foaming at the mouth drivel, maan, the kind of thing you expect, but in reverse, from the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world.

  14. WMC,

    You have pressed my button; here I am.

    I wondered if I would.

    You’re a touch vague about what the catastrophic impacts would be though; perhaps your source is too.

    Possibly. So I will acknowledge that some of my info here is apocraphyl (although, not all – I did write about it here and the general result is that the risks are high and the potential for adaptation is low). There seems to be a general view that > 4oC would be pretty severe. Can I prove it? Well, obviously not, given that proof is for mathematicians and alcohol. Is there a general sense amongst those who work on this that > 4oC would be severe. I think there is, but that’s based on discussion with a small number of people who are willing to comment on this and reading things elsewhere.

    Is there a chance that > 4oC would be manageable with some kind of adaptation? I guess anything is possible, but it does seem unlikely if we mean adaptation that would allow those in the currently developed world to continue living the kind of lives that they are today and allow those in the currently developing world to have better standards of living (however that is defined) that is currently the case.

    WTF? That’s, like, foaming at the mouth drivel, maan, the kind of thing you expect, but in reverse, from the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world.

    I quite liked that astrology quip 🙂 but I do agree that that part of the talk was a bit over the top and is one reason I decided not to comment on that in the post. On the other hand, my limited direct interaction with economists who work on this field hasn’t provided much evidence that the general view wasn’t warranted.

    Let me ask you a question, though. What’s your view/understanding of the likely consequences of > 4oC?

  15. Ginger,

    Anderson also believes that we must accept a lower standard of living, because we must use less energy. Considering that the planet is bathed in a million times more free energy than we could possibly use, it is unfathomable to me that a clearly intelligent man would make such a claim.

    Yes, but I think reality is that harnessing this energy and doing so in a way that isn’t disruptive on the timescales that are required is going to be very difficult.

  16. > What’s your view/understanding of the likely consequences of > 4oC?

    I tend to back away from answering questions like that, since I know that I don’t know. It seems rather likely, though, that +4 oC would be quite severe. If I wanted to know, I’d start off by looking at the IPCC reports. I see you did the same in https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/impacts/. However, I’m unconvinced you found the right answers; I’d be more worried about ecosystem impacts.

    But to return to my point: you have your economics backwards (which seems rather fitting in a post about KA, who is clearly clueless about economics). Economics can cost in “catastrophe”, if you can provide reasonable evidence for it. But it can’t cost in “well *I* think terrible things will happen but I can’t tell you what those things will be, they’re apocryphal”. Your point about proof is irrelevant; I wasn’t asking for proof.

    KA, 31:00> there’s a huge variation in emissions; I bet most emissions come from a relatively small number of people in this group…

    Ha. Bolloxs. I bet, to the contrary, that emissions are relatively uniform, and basically scale with wealth.

  17. 42:00> same stupid joke about astrologists. Doesn’t he realise that he’s just marginalising himself with such childishness?

    He then goes on to complain about listening to economists, because they’ve presided over economic collapse. That’s just stupid. By his logic, we shouldn’t be listening to him – or other climate scientists – because they’ve presided over climate collapse. Arf arf. If I suggested that, he (and you) would immeadiately reply “but the climatologists aren’t in charge”. Hopefully only he will be too stupid to extend the thought.

  18. WMC,

    However, I’m unconvinced you found the right answers; I’d be more worried about ecosystem impacts.

    Yes, I agree, which is kind of why I think we can’t really cost this properly. Maybe “avoid at all costs” is too strong, but “impacts we can’t predict with any certainty and that will probably be severe, maybe we should aim to avoid this”?

    Economics can cost in “catastrophe”, if you can provide reasonable evidence for it. But it can’t cost in “well *I* think terrible things will happen but I can’t tell you what those things will be, they’re apocryphal”.

    Isn’t that kind of the point, though? We can’t properly cost > 4oC, so we can’t run any kind of reliable economic model for this scenario. Most of the models we do run, though, suggest that the damages will probably rise non-linearly with temperature. Hence, we can – I would have thought – draw some kind of conclusion about what sort of rise we should be aiming to avoid. Is it > 3oC, 4oC or 5oC, I don’t know – but somewhere like that seems reasonable.

    Your point about proof is irrelevant; I wasn’t asking for proof.

    Okay, fair enough.

    there’s a huge variation in emissions; I bet most emissions come from a relatively small number of people in this group…

    Ha. Bolloxs. I bet, to the contrary, that emissions are relatively uniform, and basically scale with wealth.

    I must think about this a little. As far as I can see, the US and the EU have about half the world’s wealth, about 10% of the world’s population, and contribute about one-quarter of the world’s emissions, so that would seem to be consistent with what you’re suggesting.

  19. same stupid joke about astrologists. Doesn’t he realise that he’s just marginalising himself with such childishness?

    I’d never heard it before, and I am somewhat biased by the economists (probably singular, actually) with whom I have interacted on this topic.

    By his logic, we shouldn’t be listening to him – or other climate scientists – because they’ve presided over climate collapse.

    I don’t quite agree with your logic. Climate scientists aren’t telling the climate how to respond. Economist are actually giving advice as to how we/society/policy makers should respond/what decisions should be made.

  20. > Economist are actually giving advice

    And largely being ignored; so my point stands. They constantly say that our best response is a carbon tax, for example.

  21. And largely being ignored; so my point stands. They constantly say that our best response is a carbon tax, for example.

    Ahh, yes, in this context that is true. A carbon tax seems obvious and I did wonder why KA didn’t mention it explicitly. I think – though – that his point (valid or not) was more general, which is what I thought you were referring to – economists give advice to policy makers, climate scientists don’t advise the climate.

  22. > economists give advice to policy makers

    I think that’s too easy an answer; KA clearly think economists practically rule the world; the point I was trying to make is that their advice is largely ignored. Carbon tax is just one example.

  23. Todd D. says:

    As Kevin Anderson stated, we need all the low carbon energy solutions to remain on the table for any chance of solving this problem.

    There are currently 68 nuclear power plants under construction globally https://www.iaea.org/PRIS/WorldStatistics/UnderConstructionReactorsByCountry.aspx

    It was mentioned that nuclear provides about 2.5% of today’s global energy, what was not mentioned was this is 3x as much as wind and solar combined. http://climategamble.net/2015/08/11/sources-of-worlds-energy-in-1990-and-2013-weekly-pic/

    Most in the nuclear industry know that they need to also support small modular reactors that could be built in factories, as 747’s are, for example. Also, reuseing the current spent nuclear fuel is required. South Australia is running a Royal Commission, it will be interesting to see how it progresses. http://decarbonisesa.com/2015/09/22/south-australia-with-nuclear-and-worlds-without/

    UK pilot project for small modular reactors http://www.imeche.org/news/engineering/moltex-energy's-molten-salt-reactor-considered-for-first-uk-pilot

    It was mentioned the number of nuclear reactors that would have to be built by 2050 (4000, I believe), here’s an article that also discusses the amount of wind and solar that would need to be built http://www.theravinaproject.org/The%20Ravina%20Project%20-%20Think%20Globally%20-%20Act%20Locally%20Rev%201.2.pdf

    What was also mentioned was prudent use of resources, which reminds me of this article http://nukepowertalk.blogspot.ca/2015/10/energy-by-numbers.html

  24. the point I was trying to make is that their advice is largely ignored. Carbon tax is just one example.

    In the case of a carbon tax, it seems obviously true. Is it true in all cases? They clearly don’t rule the world, but ignored? Maybe, it’s quite possible that our policy makers typically make policy on the fly without really listening to anyone.

  25. Todd,

    There are currently 68 nuclear power plants under construction globally

    Thanks, more than I said above (but I can’t remember if KA said 17, or I just remembered incorrectly).

  26. Andy Skuce says:

    At the very least, William, you should be relieved that Anderson never tried to pin the blame on Exxon or the oil companies, but attributed the problem, as far as I could tell, to demand.

    I think the “astrologers” comment was naughty, but I don’t think anyone really has a clue how bad >3.5 degrees will be. Even economists like Tol, not typically guilty of excessive humility, don’t extrapolate their quantitative models much beyond that level. While heating the planet beyond 3.5degrees is physically feasible—even the default, no-policy case—the costs of us doing this are apparently incalculable. That’s alarming.

    It’s probably true that most people in that room do have a roughly similar emissions footprint, but since this was in Iceland (geothermal electricity and heating) it’s at least conceivable that a vegetarian in the audience who never flies could have a much smaller footprint than a globe-trotting academic or businessman, a bête noire of Anderson’s.

  27. Willard says:

    > KA clearly think economists practically rule the world;

    Accessing KA’s thoughts could be useful. Perhaps our Stoatness can share what KA thinks about:

    Source: http://daronacemoglufacts.tumblr.com/post/116231312375/submitted-by-piyush-panigrahi

  28. izen says:

    The paleoclimate of the Pliocene would be the first stop to get an idea of what 4 degC would be like.

    Not unlivable apparently. Although big variations in African rainfall patterns are suspected to have a role in driving rapid hominid evolution.

    Much hotter, and wetter in higher latitudes and lots of strong El Ninos, with (possibly) ice-free poles. Although there still seems to be some dispute over how much of the East Antarctic ice sheet melts.

    Very different from the present, but not uninhabitable.

    Of course if you classify major change in the environment/climate as ‘catastrophic’ then any change from the unusual stability of the last ~6000 years of Holocene climate from whatever trigger is going to be unwelcome.

  29. BBD says:

    The problem is the rapidity of change not strictly the magnitude. Ask any ecologist. Or anthropologist.

  30. pete best says:

    3c would be bad as its all relative to where we are now. Lots of impacts would occur, not much all that good at 3c. Think glaciers for one, sea level rise to where we live how etc

  31. BBD,
    Indeed, it is the rate of change that is more significant than the actual change.

  32. Mark Lynas wrote a book called ‘6 Degrees’ which I read back in about 2007. I can’t remember all the detail for each degree of warming, though I remember how it shocked me at the time. Four degrees would certainly be the end of life as we know it for the developed world.

    As for economists not being listened to; aren’t our politicians largely drawn from the ranks of economists and lawyers? George Osborne and Nigel Lawson have certainly got a hefty slice of influence. Maybe KA is conflating economists with financiers?

  33. > George Osborne and Nigel Lawson

    You’re confused. Lawson did PPE and then journo, before entering politics. Osborne did history then journo before becoming a pol.

    These things are easy to check; wiki is only a mouse click away. Why be so lazy?

  34. Eli Rabett says:

    Ha. Bolloxs. I bet, to the contrary, that emissions are relatively uniform, and basically scale with wealth.

    Not linearly

  35. KA was talking about people in the room. You could try listening to it; I sat through the whole thing, I don’t see why others shouldn’t suffer too. At least then you’d know what he was talking about.

  36. izen says:

    @-ATTP
    “Indeed, it is the rate of change that is more significant than the actual change.”

    Because of ph effects perhaps.

    I suspect the limiting factor is the rate of change that human society can respond to effectively. It may be less than any probable physical rate of change.
    Human planning for the future is almost always based on an assumption it will be the same as the past. That the status quo will persist.

    The best human society can seem to do with change is reactive adaptation after the fact. With at best some provision for a change that can be clearly seens as continuing, or cumulative.

    The response to social disruption, from whatever cause, is often much greater than to physical or environmental degradation.

  37. Willard says:

    > KA was talking about people in the room.

    He was talking about wrestling the economics back away from the financiers before 5:00.

    At around 20:00, he’s conjecturing that the Pareto rule holds for wealth and emission of the world population, which he then applies to the people in the room, and those who should know better: climate scientists and OECD academics. His point is that the carbon budget leads to an equity issue: those who take one or more long-haul flights each year (for instance) are taking this energy away from the carbon budget at the expense of those who would need it most.

    So KA is attacking two beasts: the financiers and their theorician surrogates who evacuate any notion of equity in economics.

  38. Canman says:

    When you don’t build a nuclear plant (or a coal, or a gas one), you can’t just replace it with a few hundred wind turbines or a few thousand solar roofs. It would require thousands of wind turbines or hundreds of thousands of solar roofs. And that doesn’t address the problem of storage which has not been practically solved.

  39. Andrew Dodds says:

    izen –

    The problem is not what a specific climate looks like. We could have a civilization in peak ice age conditions, or at late Cretaceous super-greenhouse conditions, because in both cases there would be large areas perfectly suitable for human habitation. Probably not as large as now, but still enough.

    The problem is when you take a layout of population, agriculture, cities, infrastructure, the lot, from one climate and put it in another. Basically, we are writing off a large chunk of total human capital investment.

  40. Andrew Dodds says:

    WMC –

    No True Economists get to influence policy, obviously.

    *cough*

    http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2013/apr/17/rogoff-reinhart-defend-debt-study

    *cough*

    To be fair, it is true that a lot of economists get ignored if their policy suggestions are deemed politically unacceptable. The case of Greece being sacrificed on the altar of German Domestic public opinion being a recent one..

    Oh, and the carbon tax is necessary but insufficient. But at least it avoids the unthinkable.

  41. > *cough*

    Why are you coughing? That piece doesn’t demonstrate the influence of economists on policy.

    > Greece being sacrificed

    Greece sacrificed itself. They decided they wanted to stay in the Euro at all costs, at which point all their past errors caught up with them. Don’t try to blame anyone else.

  42. There’s also this that quotes a speech by Osborne in which he mentions Rogoff.

  43. Andrew Dodds says:

    @WMC

    Now if people would just look things up on Wikipedia, it’s only a mouse click away:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_in_a_Time_of_Debt#Political_influence

    These guys really are economists, and it’s quite hard to say ‘no political influence’. Now, if you wanted to postulate an inverse correlation between intellectual rigor and political influence on the part of economists, I’m fine with that.

    As far as Greece goes, they’ve had a vindictive ‘solution’ imposed in defiance of economic logic, which is highly likely to fail again. But yes, those who lent them the money and let them itno the Euro were whiter than white and couldn’t possibly have been aware that an unreformed country with a history of serial default and an optional tax system could possibly present a credit risk. Like any doorstep lender, the creditors are shocked and disappointed when the payments are not met.

  44. > economists, and it’s quite hard to say ‘no political influence’

    Phew. Just as well I didn’t say that, then.

    > in defiance of economic logic

    Economic logic says they should leave the Euro. They insist they won’t leave the Euro.

  45. Sam taylor says:

    There’s quite a lot of undue optimism about energy going on in this thread. Vaclav Smil did a pretty good lecture recently on the energy transition which is worth a watch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5guXaWwQpe4

    Key points would include:

    1) In the last 25 years the percentage of primary energy that we get from low carbon sources has increased by around 3%. This is in a time when we’ve had extremely high oil prices for the last decade, and awareness of climate change has shot through the roof.
    2) Nuclear is a succesful failure. It has held steady over the last 30 years or so, but many of the reactors are now old and nowhere in the west is building reactors at a rate sufficient to offset future declines. To maintain current capacity to 2030 we would need to be building a reactor every 16 days. It is naive to expect anything more than a moderate contribution from nuclear.
    3) Absent gigawatt scale storage, non-hydro renewables are fundamentally limited by what they can provide too.
    4) We are, and will remain, a fossil fuelled society for the forseeable future. Now, I don’t think smil is particularly up on his climate science judging by some of his comments, but the implications of his prognosis of our energy system is extremely sobering.
    5) He argues that the rich nations will have to use significantly less. But how politically likely is this to succeed?

  46. Andrew Dodds says:

    Sam –

    I think it’s more a case of – if we insist that the only way to decarbonise is the economist’s’ way, which means carbon taxes, renewables incentives, above market prices for zero-carbon sources, cap’n’trade, etc – then we cannot do it.

    Hinkley point C would be a good example. The sane approach to a new generation of nuclear power in the UK might be an intensive, state driven research effort into 2 or more of the proposed generation 4 reactor designs with a view to rolling out perhaps 30-50GW of the one that turns out best, and an integrated program for dealing with reprocessing and waste. You’d certainly want to involve private partners and contractors, but the main driver would have to be state owned, because this is a multi-decade national effort and the state can also raise the cash cheaply.

    Instead we are practically bribing overseas contractors to build a patched 3rd-generation design with no particular idea of handling the future – because if you’ve ruled out directly doing things, you are left with trying to manipulate incentives. Which might work if there were plenty of competitive bidders all capable of doing the job. But there are not, so the government just gets gamed.

  47. Willard says:

    > Economic logic says they should leave the Euro.

    Citation needed.

    An economic logic with good computational properties would be nice.

  48. Willard says:

    > Phew. Just as well I didn’t say that [economists, and it’s quite hard to say ‘no political influence’], then.

    Here’s what was said: KA clearly think economists practically rule the world; the point I was trying to make is that their advice is largely ignored. The “rule the world” part has been show false and the second rests on a singular “advice,” which deserves due diligence.

  49. Kevin O'Neill says:

    Wiki has a section on ‘Political Influence‘ in the entry ‘Growth In A Time of Debt.’

    It shows Paul Ryan (now Chairman of the US’s House Budget Committee), Oli Reihm (EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs) and George Osborne (who became the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2010) as all citing Reinhart and Rogoff’s flawed economic analysis.

    Now, an argument can be made that these (and many other conservative/libertarian types) cited R&R because it agreed with their already deepset ideological views and that their views would have remained the same lacking any justification (i.e., the paper wasn’t influential – just convenient). But as in climate science economics has become extremely polarized/politicized. Just as you know *beforehand* what the result of any paper by Soon, Scafetta, Michaels et al is going to conclude (it’s NOT CO2!), so too we know what the result of a vast majority of economic papers are going to conclude (cut taxes in general, cut taxes on the wealthy specifically, lower spending on the poor, smaller government, less regulation) once we know who the authors are.

    I would suggest that many of the conservative think tanks exist to give cover to politicians so that they can pretend to be citing serious economic analysis when in reality the conclusions are written before the data has ever been looked at. The influence is probably *not* on policy per se, but on the justification and acceptance of the policy by their peers or the general populace.

    Is government fiscal austerity in a time of economic crisis (recessions/depressions) a wise policy move? No. It’s been shown over and over again that this is the wrong decision. But that is antithetic to the ideology of many conservatives/libertarians. Economic papers like R&R serve the same ‘doubt is our product’ function as we saw in tobacco and we now see in climate science.

  50. Paul Williams says:

    Strange that the presentation doesn’t mention that natural absorption processes (oceans, plants and soils) are absorbing 45% to 50% of our annual emissions each year. This absorption rate is more related to the absolute level of CO2 in the atmosphere versus the amount we add each year, but it is a large amount; 16 or 17 billion tons CO2equivalent last year for example.

    If we want to stabilize at 450 ppm (the 2C limit) we only have to reduce our emission trajectory by 2050 by about 50%. At that level, the natural absorbers will be absorbing about the same rate as our emissions and we will reach equilibrium at 450 ppm CO2.

    Any strategy looking at reducing emissions to stay within the 2C limit has to explicitly take that into account.

  51. Paul,

    If we want to stabilize at 450 ppm (the 2C limit) we only have to reduce our emission trajectory by 2050 by about 50%. At that level, the natural absorbers will be absorbing about the same rate as our emissions and we will reach equilibrium at 450 ppm CO2.

    No, that’s wrong. Stabilising CO2 would require reducing emissions by about 90%.

  52. Paul S says:

    No, that’s wrong. Stabilising CO2 would require reducing emissions by about 90%.

    I think ultimately it depends on your carbon cycle model. According to the RCP4.5 scenario, CO2 emissions effectively stabilise between 2080 and 2100, at around 40% present day emissions and CO2 concentration only goes up 7ppm from 541 to 548, a rate of 0.35ppm/year. When emissions were at a similar level in the 1960s CO2 growth rate was about 0.8ppm/year. That suggests you wouldn’t need to reduce by 90% to stabilise at around 550, perhaps by a bit more than 60%.

    Under RCP2.6, concentrations peak at about 443ppm and start declining when emissions drop below 75% of current levels.

  53. izen says:

    @-Paul Williams
    “Strange that the presentation doesn’t mention that natural absorption processes (oceans, plants and soils) are absorbing 45% to 50% of our annual emissions each year. ”

    That is because it is well known that additional CO2 added to the atmospheric part of the carbon cycle is rapidly partitioned with about half in the ocean and land biota.

    If the ocean/land sinks would always absorb the amount they are absorbing now then CO2 levels would not have risen at all until human emissions exceeded half of our present emissions. But even very small additional amount added to the carbon cycle are partitioned about equally into air/biota sinks.

    @-“If we want to stabilize at 450 ppm (the 2C limit) we only have to reduce our emission trajectory by 2050 by about 50%. At that level, the natural absorbers will be absorbing about the same rate as our emissions and we will reach equilibrium at 450 ppm CO2.”

    The egregiously wrong assumption here is that the carbon cycle will continue to absorb atmospheric CO2 into the biota sinks at the same rate so that more ends up in the sinks than in the atmosphere, changing the partitioning ratio between air/sinks.
    The problem with this is that it would result in the biota sinks continuing to absorb CO2 down to zero, clearly wrong.

    The carbon cycle ensures that ratio of the amount of carbon in the sinks and the atmosphere remains about constant. Adding any Carbon to that carbon cycle will therefore result in more carbon in both parts of the cycle.

    The only way to avoid increasing the atmospheric proportion of CO2 in the carbon cycle given the fixed ratio of carbon in the sinks and atmosphere, is to reduce emissions to the level at which the long-term sequestration of carbon can occur into geological sinks. There is very good historical evidence this means that additional CO2 can be added to the atmosphere at rates no higher than the geological generation of CO2 from volcanic and tectonic events.
    That is somewhat less than 10% of present human emissions.

  54. izen says:

    @-“Under RCP2.6, concentrations peak at about 443ppm and start declining when emissions drop below 75% of current levels.”

    More informed source may correct me, but I think this stabilisation involves a significant contribution from extensive Carbon Capture and Sequestration, CCS technology.
    Given the uncertainty around that technology, this might be seen as unduly optimistic.

  55. Paul S,
    Okay, yes, I see what you mean. I was thinking of what you would need to do to stablise it at the current level, which I think would require rapid reductions to a level about 10 – 20% of what the emissions are at the peak. If, however, you want to stablise at some higher concentration, then the reduction would be less. So, my apologies to Paul Williams, he may indeed be correct that starting now, stablising at 450ppm, would require less extreme reductions than if we continue increasing our emissions and then want to stablise at 450ppm.

    However, this figure would seem to suggest something more drastic than simply a 60% reduction in emissions relative to today.

    izen,

    More informed source may correct me, but I think this stabilisation involves a significant contribution from extensive Carbon Capture and Sequestration, CCS technology.

    As I understand it, the RCP4.5 and 2.6 emission pathways assume increased use of fossil fuels, but with BECCS acting to reduce emissions from what they would be without BECCS.

  56. Sam taylor says:

    Andrew,

    “I think it’s more a case of – if we insist that the only way to decarbonise is the economist’s’ way, which means carbon taxes, renewables incentives, above market prices for zero-carbon sources, cap’n’trade, etc – then we cannot do it.”

    While I’m soewhat skeptical of exactly how much carbon taxes could accomplish, as they’re kind of fiddling at the margins IMO, one shouldn’t underestimate them either. If you look at what $100 oil has done to consumption in the USA or Europe over the last decade, it certainly kept oil consumption/vehicle miles travelled flat. Now that oil prices have tanked, VMT looks to be rapidly returning to trend. It did more to attenuate people’s use of oil than any other measure I’m aware of thus far.

    Ultimately though Smil’s main argument is that this is not a problem with a technical soultion that is feasible on any reasonable timescale. Nuclear would never come online in the timeframe requred (I think Kevin makes this point too in his talk). While we certainly could/maybe should be building new nukes (having worked in the industry I’m skeptical regarding how much we could realistically get done withing a decade or two), right now we’ve basically got to be slashing consumption in the rich countries, which is not a vote winner.

    Also, re Greece, they should have left the Euro in 2012. It’s an insane currency system, anaologous to the old gold standard. Really, really bad idea and cannot last in it’s current incarnation. Makes currency devaluation impossible, so corrections are vastly more painful than they need to be (compare the recent collapse in the Ruble to the carnage in Greece, one is much less painful than the other). Germany’s continual massive surpluses are essentially going to bankrupt one euro nation after another until either the currency collapses or you get some kind of federal pan-european government which can do internal fiscal transfers. Watch for Italy to be the next in serious trouble. However, the Greeks are where they are now, which is 3 years more screwed than they were in 2012 and in much worse shape generally. It’s arguable that leaving the Euro would make things even worse, and totally collapse their economy since it’s already in such a dire state. Anyway, the Greek can has been kicked, and it won’t be an issue for another year or two for now, so I expect nothing exciting will happen there for a time.

  57. Pete Best says:

    economists wont allow more than a 1% cut in emissions per annum by the looks of it. In fact the projections of renewable energy are at around that from whatever source.

    It needs to be more but he seems to think that they neoclassical economists have the final say.

  58. Judging by this 1% per year, starting now, would give us something like a 50% chance of staying below 3oC.

  59. clivebest says:

    In principal I agree with Kevin Andersen. The problem is that he is addressing a UK audience whereas the response needed is global. We can reduce individual emissions through sensible reductions in energy usage such as AAA+ fridges etc. We can drive fuel efficient cars or electric cars in the afluent west. The problem is that his message will be ignored in Asia and the developing world. Has Kevin ever been to Africa? The roads are full of those 10 year old cars and gas guzzling buses and trucks still running throughout Africa. They can’t afford a Toyota Prius and daily life depends on those trucks transporting food to cities. They will take whatever is available.

    I agree that we should make the move to low carbon technology, but the problem is that we can’t force others to do the same. The majority of carbon emissions are now in Asia. The cat is out of the bag whether we like it or not and we will eventually measure climate sensitivity by 2100.

  60. Paul S says:

    izen,

    The data I’m looking at (http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~mmalte/rcps/) include activities which remove CO2 from the atmosphere as part of net human emissions, so they are already counted in the calculation. In RCP2.6 net CO2 emissions go negative in the 2080s but CO2 concentration is already declining from the mid-2050s after going below about 2.5GtC at 443ppm.

  61. Clive,

    The cat is out of the bag whether we like it or not and we will eventually measure climate sensitivity by 2100.

    Yes, I suspect this is indeed likely to be the case. It’s not clear to me, though, why this is something that we should be comfortable with or something that we should simply accept.

  62. Willard says:

    > The problem is that he is addressing a UK audience whereas the response needed is global.

    The presentation was in Iceland, and at 31:00 Anderson estimates that 40 to 60% of the response should come from 1% to 5% of the global population.

    The “but the poor” argument might be optimal to counter Anderson’s line of reasoning.

  63. clivebest says:

    The population of Iceland is 300,000 or about the same as Bradford, plus they are lucky enough to have limitless geothermal energy. Iceland is unique in being able to decarbonise its energy fairly easily. I also agree that the response should mostly come from 5% of the global population who emit the most, but that still represents nearly 500 million mostly recent members of the global middle class. Those that have recently achieved this status will not willingly give up their hard earned status without a fight.

    So the only hope is a cheap energy revolution, and IMHO the only candidate for that is Nuclear Fusion. There are some interesting developments in this area eg.
    http://www.lockheedmartin.co.uk/us/products/compact-fusion.html

  64. Todd D. says:

    We’ll definitely need all the low carbon energy we can get, considering UN states 9.7 billion by mid century. Today, approx. 1.2 billion use 4.5 tons oil equivalent energy annually and 6 billion use 1.3 TOE, so additionally lots of poverty to overcome today http://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2015/01/22/alleviating-energy-poverty-and-empowering-females/

  65. Willard says:

    > that still represents nearly 500 million mostly recent members of the global middle class.

    Assuming the current population is 7,3 billion [1], 5% is 365 million. According to How Rich I Am [2], to be in that 5% a family must earn 55k pounds p.a. Applying Pareto, the top 20% of that class should consume 80% of the 40-60%, i.e. families of 4 that earn 110k pounds p.a.

    That’s not the middle of the middle class for sure.

    [1]: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
    [2]: https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/get-involved/how-rich-am-i

  66. @Sam Taylor

    Nuclear would never come online in the timeframe requred

    This is a pernicious myth that must be put to rest. Historically nuclear has come online faster than any other non-fossil energy source, and it’s not even close: (https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5715/21929549598_7fcf69b1cc_o.png). Given equivalent levels of national commitment, nuclear has been built out 3 times faster than wind and 10 times faster than solar.

    See also Qvist & Brook 2015 (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0124074), and the favorable report in Scientific American (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-world-really-could-go-nuclear/).

  67. Keith,
    Interesting, thanks. It’s this bit that might prove very hard

    All that would be required for the Chinas, Indias and U.S.s of the world to emulate these two nuclear pioneers is “political will, strategic economic planning, and public acceptance,”

    From your link it does seem that some countries have indeed made drastic changes on decadal timescales, so it certainly seems possible – at some scales, at least. Getting people to actually accept this and actually start trying to implement it will probably be the hardest part.

  68. Sam Taylor says:

    Keith,

    There are currently approx 440 nuclear power plants in the world. To get even a quarter of preesnt global energy from them we’d need to build a couple of thousand over the coming decades. There would be all sorts of bottlenecks, both in terms of skilled labour, rare materials and uranium supply, as well as all the political and economic issues (siting, waste, decomissioning and so on). Not to mention that the paper bases its premise two wealthy, advanced nations and just assumes the rest of the world is in a similar state, which is far from the case. We all know that the scenario raised in the paper is never going to happen. It’s not remotely plausible.

  69. izen says:

    @-Sam Taylor
    ” There would be all sorts of bottlenecks, both in terms of skilled labour, rare materials and uranium supply, as well as all the political and economic issues (siting, waste, decomissioning and so on).”

    I suspect the logistical problems of materials and skilled labour are much easier to overcome than the political/economic issues, without a strong motivation on that front like the oil embargo that prompted French action on Nuclear in the late 70s.

    @-” Not to mention that the paper bases its premise two wealthy, advanced nations and just assumes the rest of the world is in a similar state, which is far from the case.”

    At the time when France was completing most of its 50+ new nuclear power plants the most advanced computer was the Commodore-64, Microsoft was just developing MS-DOS and CAD-CAM systems were a figment of sci-fi imagination.
    The GDP wealth of France in the early 80s was about the same as Brazil, Croatia or Costa Rica in the present.

  70. Willard says:

    From the abstract:

    Here we demonstrate the potential for a large-scale expansion of global nuclear power to replace fossil-fuel electricity production, based on empirical data from the Swedish and French light water reactor programs of the 1960s to 1990s.

    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0124074

    Sweden and France between 1960 and 1990 were not exactly tatcherist countries. I am under the impression that nuclear implies regulations and public investments. If that impression is correct, then I’m not sure how this can be sold to the more neo-conservative or neo-liberal (adjust according to your DVD zone) among us.

  71. Today’s Nobel announcement (yesterday, let’s not quibble) is interesting. I find a disconnect between the cheerful information that fewer people are genuinely poor than at any time in history and his stated concern about income disparity and extreme poverty. The poor people I know are getting poorer, perhaps they have more money, but it buys less, and they are required to spend more and get less help than they used to. That’s the US, and as you all know, we’ve lost our collective minds over here.

    But the uncounted bother me a lot.

    Speaking of uncounted, seems to me Kevin Anderson does a lot of significant counting and backs it up. How is it possible to ignore his conclusions? For shorter and easier, once again I recommend Squarzoni.

    Also, this a diversion, but while I wish we all would get sane about nuclear, I don’t think that’s likely anytime soon. People are too emotional about it. My age 10 year of nightmares didn’t stop my reasoning ability, but it does most. Anyway, regardless, the way we do infrastructure means if we are to have nuclear, it must be the modern recyclable kind (if that is actually here yet) as those grandfathered waste pools are nasty.

  72. Those using Worldometer might like this one, which I prefer:
    http://www.breathingearth.net/

  73. I do think WMC is overly dismissive to say KA “is clearly clueless about economics”. Reading KA’s blog and twitter discussions with economists suggests that the cluelessness is very much on the side of the economists.

    Not mentioned much in the discussion above is KA’s point about the glaring hypocrisy of our governments (and ourselves). The world has signed up to 2ºC and nothing has yet been achieved toward meeting the associated carbon budget. Looking at the UK for example, with data from the Global Carbon Atlas, consumption CO2 emissions in 1990 were 635 Gt, in 2012 643 Gt. Nothing has been achieved despite loud claims to the contrary. As KA notes, emissions have simply been exported to developing countries and the carbon intensive goods are bought cheaply from them.

    Meanwhile the UK and other rich nations have specialised ever more in ‘services’ that maximise ‘efficiency’, simply meaning that without stated emission pathways that respect the global carbon budget they are specialising in efficiently using up the carbon budget by managing investments and production of goods elsewhere. The great contribution of modern economics is ‘efficiency’. Unfortunately, efficiency/unit x units gives impact. It is remarkable how often economists want ignore the units and the impact.

    Unless economists look at *total* global cumulative impacts on the basis of many decades/generations, even for local decisions, then they are not looking at the economics of climate change. Instead, they will just be continuing to engage in navel gazing short-termism. Partial equilibrium economics provides profoundly different and often highly misleading analyses compared to the general case required for global sustainability.

    As per the previous ATTP post on Emission Reductions, the science is clear that to meet *any* temperature ‘target’ we have to peak global emissions and decline. Even to meet a 4ºC carbon budget already requires about -0.5% per year emission reduction rate. As of 2013 global emissions continued to *increase* at +2.3% per year, even higher than the long run rate of +1.8%. If we want to head to 6ºC and more then right now we are bang on course. At some point the express train of economic growth is going to crash into the express train of climate change, the question surely has to be: how hard?

    Also,

    Alice Bows-Larkin, co-author with Kevin Anderson, has a June 2015 TED talk here on much the same theme as the KA video, worth a watch:

    Even if you do not like or agree with the degrowth conclusions, Samuel Alexander has a paper that provides a good discussion of the equity implications of Anderson and Bows-Larkin here:
    http://simplicityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/DegrowthandtheCarbonBudgetSamuelAlexander1.pdf

  74. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Thanks for this post ATTP. This is the kind of discussion we should have been having 20 years ago but better late than never. A few thoughts/observations:

    1. The renewable energy/nuclear debate is tiresome when framed at the global level. Electricity grids aren’t global; they’re regional. Accordingly, it’s much more useful to think about choices at the margin for each grid. Climate hawks in general tend to prefer conservation first in developed countries and then renewables and then nuclear *if* the default for additional capacity is coal/gas. In the BRIC countries the choices are different (less emphasis on conservation) and rightly so, but they’re still best assessed at the regional level.

    2. One of my favorite quotes (which I even quoted in my thesis) is from the economist James Buchanan:
    “Economists should cease proffering policy advice as if they were employed by a benevolent despot, and they should look to the structure within which political decisions are made. Armed with Wicksell, I, too, could dare to challenge the still-dominant orthodoxy in public finance and welfare economics. In a preliminary paper, I called upon my fellow economists to postulate some model of the state, of politics, before proceeding to analyse the effects of alternative policy measures. I urged economists to look at the “constitution of economic polity,” to examine the rules, the constraints within which political agents act. Like Wicksell, my purpose was ultimately normative rather than antiseptically scientific. I sought to make economic sense out of the relationship between the individual and the state before proceeding to advance policy nostrums.”
    This to me cuts to the heart of the WMC’s infantile (yes I did just call you that weasel) objection that economists have long called for a carbon tax to address GHG emissions. I’d like a pony but I don’t waste my breath asking people on the street for one. As with the point #1, the real issue is politics not economics or ‘science’. Strategies that are successful in the U.S. don’t necessarily translate in an EU or Indian context.

    3. While I generally agree with the thrust of KA’s argument, I’m hopeful, and perhaps naively optimistic, that things can change very quickly. I’ve said before that my general prognosis for the future is tempered on the one hand by worse than expected news on the climate science side, with faster than expected innovation and dynamism on the technology side (e.g. solar) on the other hand.

  75. bill shockley says:

    I respect Kevin Anderson as a smart and moral man, but I saw comments by him on twitter that indicate he isn’t aware of the revenue-neutral carbon tax option. He opposes a carbon tax because of the unfair burden it would put on the poor and the less well-to-do. This is true if it is not administered on a 100% dividend basis. Proponents assert it would be economically stimulative and I believe that has been proven in practice. Plus, it is estimated 50% of emissions reduction would be through efficiency gains.

    Bows-Larkin asserts there is no way we can roll out nuclear fast enough to reduce emissions at the rate required. France transformed to a mostly nuclear electricity infrastructure in the space of 15 years (they heat mostly with electric), building 56 plants in that time. To do the same for the entire world would require a rate about 6X the rate France achieved per unit of GDP. I believe with standardization and modular construction in factories rather than on-site and with emphasis on smaller units, this would be achievable, and the cost would be a fraction of what has been customary. The volume of units would be approximately 90X what it was when France did it, so factoring in a halving of cost with each order of magnitude increase in volume, a GW of nuclear would be a quarter what it was for France. It would cost about 3 trillion dollars to do the world or one Iraq War.

    Very rough math without checking the numbers.

    There’s been some stuff in the news lately about how the wildlife is thriving in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

    Radioactive wolves of Chernobyl

    Nixon wanted research money to go to California so we don’t have molten salt reactors now when they would be really handy.
    Wistful thinking
    More wistfulness

    Wouldn’t have mattered anyway since hysterical eco-activists got Clinton to defund nuclear research in the 90s anyway.

    I don’t know much about nuclear technology but these videos are very convincing. All wistful thinking because we don’t have the time to wait for gen #4.

    Fukushima was really bad timing.

  76. Pingback: Censoring their own research? | …and Then There's Physics

  77. John Salmond says:

    “economics… and has been wrestled away by the financiers, the astrologists, the numerologists…” This is the core of the problem, economics has entered realm of fantasy on one hand, and capitalists’ pockets on other.

    Sure it is useful tool for minor things, but at the heights it is largely theology. Quoting juice bits of Adam Smith but leaving out most of Adam Smith

    Anderson explains clearly what is missing from today’s economics by examining the linguistic root which reveals what economics could have become

    But this age in west has drunk the neo-lib koolade.

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