Holy Tu Quoque, Batman!

A bard walks in the Breakthrough Bar. While he waits for his Transgmoriffied White Russian, he eavesdrops one particular chit chat led by a cornucopian chemist, who explains how those against GRRROWTH are just a bunch of religious zealots. The chemist follows up with:

Oddly enough Degrowthers don’t even practice what they preach. They are “more equal than others” as Orwell put it [1].

The bard joins the conversation and interjects that the most effective short-term measure might very well be to reduce energy use, not simply to build more nuclear power stations [2]. The chemist asks for specifics, which sounds fair enough, but then switches on attack mode:

I would love to read the work of a Degrowth representative who did not owe their continued employment to the public purse [3]. It is very easy to call for change when you are being paid from the public purse and look forward to a publicly financed pension [4].

This criticism did not appear very factual to the bard [5]. The exchange continued for a while and implicated a squirrel chaser who shall remain unnamed for the moment [6]. The story does not end there (see [7] for the whole ClimateBall ™ episode), but this fragment suffices to illustrate what I often call (to AT’s wonderment) a tu quoque.

Latin lovers [12] might recognize that expression: it means “you too,” a response that any parent of multiple children hears a few times a day. It comes in various forms, forms to be explored in the comments below. Critical thinking professors usually repudiate tu quoques as fallacious, if only because they carry a personalized content. Contemporary argumentation theory disputes this categorical judgment, as it may be possible to find rhetorical situations where words and deeds are interconnected by relevance [8].

Nevertheless, our candid chemist’s cases fizzle. Let’s see two reasons why.

* * *

First, the expressions “degrowthers” and “Degrowth representative” refer to two unindentified targets. The first one may contain less straw [9] than the second, because it would be possible (at least in principle) for the chemist to identify what is degrowthing, what is a degrowther, and how degrowthers degrow. Yet the attack comes from nowhere and deflects from the claim the bard offered to defend. The second one can’t even be patched: it burdens the bard with the irrelevant task of having to defend nameless talking heads. This last argument fails because the bard hasn’t appealed to any authority and clearly indicated his willingness to discuss the claim on its own merit.

Second, GRRROWTH processes inhabit the realm of collective action, just like the free rider problem [10] . Decisions on how to implement them ain’t about me, you, or anyone in particular. Me? We! [11]

To make our candid chemist realize the suboptimality of this kind of priviledge probing, next time you meet him, enquire when he’ll move Downtown Vancouver, if his nuclear kitchen stove works well, and what he’d think of the project to “roundup” all the science [13].


Audits never end. In lieu of an end, I’ll leave a video right beneath. It exhibits a dialogue based on an usual example of a tu quoque, where a tobacco smoker warns his adolescent that smoking kills:


[1]: https://twitter.com/BlairKing_ca/status/683695383155847168
[2]: https://twitter.com/Baardkj/status/683707726321577985
[3]: https://twitter.com/BlairKing_ca/status/683714738988056576
[4]: https://twitter.com/BlairKing_ca/status/683715099190640640
[5]: https://twitter.com/Baardkj/status/683718241953419264
[6]: https://twitter.com/nevaudit/status/683770901301751808
[7]: https://storify.com/willard/holy-tu-quoque-batman
[8]: http://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/informal_logic/article/view/543/506
[9]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man
[10]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_rider_problem
[11]: http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com/post/7198852304
[12]: http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com/tagged/latinlover
[13]: http://www.ecomodernism.org/


About Willard

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94 Responses to Holy Tu Quoque, Batman!

  1. JCH says:

    Somebody once said he’d bring his TTQ to a bar fight, or something like that.

  2. Magma says:

    Call that a bar fight? No claim that those concerned about AGW actually hate humanity and want to return a tiny surviving remnant of it to the state of Neolithic hunter-gatherers? Not even a hint that they harbor a secret fondness for black uniforms and jackboots?

    That’s NOT a ClimateBall™ bar fight. Maybe a genteel croquet match.

  3. Dan Riley says:

    Where’s my publicly financed pension?

  4. Willard says:

    > Call that a bar fight?

    No. It would not even be a bar flythe:

    Flyting is a stylized battle of insults and wits that was practiced most actively between the fifth and 16th centuries in England and Scotland. Participants employed the timeless tools of provocation and perversion as well as satire, rhetoric, and early bathroom humor to publicly trounce opponents. The term “flyting” comes from Old English and Old Norse words for “quarrel” and “provocation.” ‘Tis a form of highly poetic abuse, or highly abusive poetry—a very early precursor to MTV’s Yo Mama and Eminem’s 8 Mile.


  5. Less stylized flyting courtesy of Monty Python:

    GUARD: I’m French! Why do think I have this outrageous accent, you
    silly king!
    GALAHAD: What are you doing in England?
    GUARD: Mind your own business!
    ARTHUR: If you will not show us the Grail, we shall take your castle
    by force!
    GUARD: You don’t frighten us, English pig-dogs! Go and boil your
    bottoms, sons of a silly person. I blow my nose at you, so-called
    Arthur-king, you and all your silly English kaniggets. Thppppt!
    GALAHAD: What a strange person.
    ARTHUR: Now look here, my good man!
    GUARD: I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal
    food trough whopper! I fart in your general direction! You mother was
    a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!
    ARTHUR: Is there someone else up there we could talk to?
    GUARD: No, now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!

    Crude, but effective.

  6. Willard says:

    > Crude, but effective.

    The cow added much impact.

    Because, methane.

  7. Magma says:

    @ Willard

    Much obliged for ‘flyting’. I enjoy obscure old words, and had completely missed that one.

  8. izen says:

    Degrowth is presently operating under the label ‘sustainable lifestyles’.
    A typical leader of the degrowth ideology would be Professor of Sustainable Development Tim Jackson.
    And yes, the research is heavily dependent on government funding.

    Here is an example of the sort of government policy approach that results from this research into promoting sustainable lifestyles or degrowth.


    The far end of this egregious nonsense is probably illustrated with this slideshow of presumably admirable houses in comparison with what it calls the ‘Elegance of Nature based homes’.


  9. Willard says:

    > And yes, the research is heavily dependent on government funding.

    Like research in general, izen, and excluding examples such as Naomi Klein.

    Establishing the connection between this dependence and claims such as the bard’s is far from obvious to me, besides its “but the poor” subtext.

    A quick search led me to this:

    What we today call the degrowth movement started about 30 years after the first appearance of “décroissance” in Lyon. In 2002, the magazine “Silence” published a special issue on the topic of degrowth, which received lots of public attention. It was reprinted twice, 5,000 magazines were sold. In the wake of the publication’s success, the topic of degrowth created a meeting point where environmental activists from Lyon could join Parisian critics of development. More and more voices were speaking of “décroissance”. The “Institute for Economic and Social Studies on Sustainable Degrowth” was founded in Lyon. The following year, the institute organised a symposium on the same topic. Many of the today well-known degrowth thinkers took part in the symposium, e.g. Serge Latouche, Mauro Bonaiuti, Paul Ariès, Jacques Grinevald, François Schneider and Pierre Rabhi. But it was not only scientific debates which were taking place in Lyon. There were also protests for a car- and ad-free city, and the foundation of food cooperatives, as well as communal meals in the streets. In 2004, the ideas made their way to Italy, and in 2006 to Catalonia and Spain. They were taken up as, “decrescita”, “decreixement” and “decrecimiento”. The newspaper “La Décroissance, le journal de la joie de vivre“ was founded in France and François Schneider received attention from both the public and the media by walking through southern France with a donkey in order to raise awareness about degrowth.


    Hippie-punching is hard to resist, I guess.

  10. Willard says:

    The basis of any appeal to hypocrisy is the infamous double standard:

  11. Chris says:


    reminds me it’s time to get up and have de breakfast…..

  12. izen says:

    I suspect the Bard was thinking of the type of energy efficiency advocated in my first link. And Blair King has a concept of degrowthers closer to my second link.

    But La Décroissance is an older idea dating back to the 70s at least.


  13. Pete best says:

    I thought that growth was the problem, so its only logical captain to think of degrowth to combat the problem rather than the idea that science and technology will come up with suitable alternative technologies that will reduce our co2 emissions without us having to change our lifestyles one iota. It all comes down to the idea that for some reason we can tap into energy sources and use technologies to keep on as we are without any climate change as we have saced ourselves with out mastery of our environment though the judicious use of science.

  14. Bernard J. says:

    We can control our (de)growth trajectory ourselves, or the laws of thermodynamics will do it for us.

    There’s no other choice.

  15. Willard says:

    > La Décroissance is an older idea dating back to the 70s at least.

    The link I offered refers to Gorz’ book who mentions “degrowth,” but I think we can go back a bit earlier for the general idea:

  16. Willard says:

    A related concept to degrowth (and less Eurocentric) may be divestment:

    Fossil fuel divestment is the removal of investment assets including stocks, bonds, and investment funds from companies involved in extracting fossil fuels, in an attempt to reduce climate change. Several groups advocate fossil fuel divestment, which in 2015 was reportedly the fastest growing divestment movement in history. By September 2014, 181 institutions and 656 individuals had committed to divest over $50 billion


    This might be why the Breakthrough Bar’s more into decoupling these days.

    Way less religulous.

  17. Willard says:

    Seems that the bard hit a wall of reasonableness:

    I was underwhelmed:

    NB. Emoticon for BBD.

  18. Willard says:

    An economist dine with a physicist. After bread and butter (wives were absent I presume) and salad (or perhaps not), comes the main course:

    Act Three: Main Course

    Physicist: But let’s leave the Matrix, and cut to the chase. Let’s imagine a world of steady population and steady energy use. I think we’ve both agreed on these physically-imposed parameters. If the flow of energy is fixed, but we posit continued economic growth, then GDP continues to grow while energy remains at a fixed scale. This means that energy—a physically-constrained resource, mind—must become arbitrarily cheap as GDP continues to grow and leave energy in the dust.

    Economist: Yes, I think energy plays a diminishing role in the economy and becomes too cheap to worry about.

    Physicist: Wow. Do you really believe that? A physically limited resource (read scarcity) that is fundamental to every economic activity becomes arbitrarily cheap? [turns attention to food on the plate, somewhat stunned]

    Economist: [after pause to consider] Yes, I do believe that.


  19. Willard says:

    From your link, Joshua:

    Picture a furious Bernie Sanders coming at you while brandishing a pool cue and screaming at his mid-speech Full Righteous volume. You’re damn right you’d be scrambling backwards while trying to cover your vital organs. If you see even a hint of an impending tavern brawl, get Bernie on your side immediately, and use him for cover if you’re injured. They shall not pass.

    The make you feel the sheer speed of his magic:

    God bless the Internetz.

  20. anoilman says:

    Willard: Thanks for all that.

    For anyone not familiar… I really do work in oil and gas, and I really am concerned about global warming. Many times I’ve been told my views have no merit because I work in oil. Or…

    By far the most twisted is those who have told me that I should say the things I say because of how I earn my income. I think they are oblivious to the fact that they are implying that they are incapable of using actual logic based on their paychecks. (That sinks in to them later.)

    “But you work in oil.”
    “Yes. I happen to think that we will be using it for some time to come, but we need to start cutting back now.”

  21. Willard says:

    > Many times I’ve been told my views have no merit because I work in oil.

    Right on, Oily One. There seems to be a symmetry between appeals to hypocrisy and appeals to interests. This symmetry can lead to some kind of rhetorical double bind:

    [H] You don’t do what you preach!

    [I] You’re a renewable activist!

    (I’m using the word “activist” just for you, Joshua.)

    Whereas most fallacy typologies are static, I’m more interested in its dynamics, or what I call RHETORICS ™.


    Perhaps I ought to revise the variations on tu quoques. Here could be one:

  22. Willard writes: “This means that energy—a physically-constrained resource, mind—must become arbitrarily cheap as GDP continues to grow and leave energy in the dust.”

    Fossil fuels are a physically constrained resource. Energy is not – at least not in any meaningful sense.

  23. Willard says:

    > Willard writes: […]

    No — “quotes.”


    > Energy is not – at least not in any meaningful sense.

    Energy is constrained by physical laws.

    My main beef against GRRROWTH discussions may be that growth is a law-like concept, and is subject to the same kind of incredulity Newton’s laws of motion may face. (When push comes to shove in a bar fight, bodies are not propelled forward indefinitely.) Perhaps growth and economic energy are more akin to black holes than natural laws: they result from mathematical functions.

    Using asbtracta in slogans is doomed to miscommunication. Candid chemists are not alone in requesting specifics.

  24. anoilman says:

    There’s other similar concerns historically which also brought up the same free market arguments, like;

    Child Labor

    Its hard to imagine not benefiting from cheap labor while arguing against it. Its also easy to see that we’d benefit tremendously by making Child Labor legal again. It would spur growth! ahem… GRRROOOOWTH!

  25. Willard says:

    > Its hard to imagine not benefiting from cheap labor while arguing against it.

    More generally:

  26. verytallguy says:

    Willard, the economist/physicist post is pure gold.

  27. Willard says:

    > [T]he economist/physicist post is pure gold.

    All credits come to MT, Very Tall:

    Krugman does not account for Tom Murphy’s arguments which are crucial. They are not, however, tightly binding yet, and this is a good thing, as we still need some growth in 75% of the world. Can we do this without much retreat in the west? Maybe, if we are very clever. Can we continue “growing”? Not without some care as to what that means, no, probably not. It’s the curse of the exponential.


    I might be MT’s source, but I would have forgotten about it. The whole idea of MT’s Planet3 was to explore sustainability issues. At the time, I wasn’t interested much in growth talk, which seems quite empty to me. To see why, consider this argument:

    [P1] GRRROWTH is a law of economics.
    [P2] Any economic process can be interpreted in GRRROWTH terms.

    [C] GRRROWTH is in the air, everywhere we look around; every sight and every sound; and I don’t know if I’m being foolish or wise.

    Any argument which contains GRRROWTH in its premises is overpowering. Its argumentative force is similar to the good ol’ ontological arguments.

    Also, and perhaps more importantly, if GRRROWTH is everywhere, why the hell would the Breakthrough Bar use it for its tagline? If GRRROWTH is a universal law, it belongs to everyone, including those who’d prefer to talk about degrowth.

    What if I told you that degrowth was just an alternative way to talk about GRRROWTH?

  28. Willard writes:”Energy is constrained by physical laws.”

    As I said, energy is not constrained in any meaningful sense; E=mc^2 notwithstanding.

    Energy is not inherently a scarce resource. Fossil fuels are a physically-constrained resource for which the analogy is proper, but energy is not. This is independent of growth. There are finite amounts of fossil fuels available.There is an essentially infinite amount of energy available.

  29. Willard says:

    > Energy is not inherently a scarce resource.

    Tom Murphy’s usages of “energy” is neither about inherence, inherency, or inerrancy. In the discussion’s context, “energy” was interpreted as a natural resource, and may therefore suffers from exhaustibility.

    There are more than 800 occurences of “energy” on that page. Here are a few to pinpoint the crux of the matter:

    Physicist: How far do you imagine this can go? Will energy get to 1% of GDP? 0.1%? Is there a limit?

    Economist: There does not need to be. Energy may become of secondary importance in the economy of the future—like in the virtual world I illustrated.

    This shows the virtuality (some might argue the inerrancy too) of the traditional laws of economics more than anything.


    There’s something about Euler’s theorem that I have kept in my hand on Pr. Romer’s thread. This might need to be revisited.

  30. verytallguy says:


    .There is an essentially infinite amount of energy available

    Could you please quantify, or at the least exemplify this statement.

    Worth noting how the physicist in Willard’s link takes this point on.

  31. verytallguy says:

    Willard, what if I were to tell you that growwwwth is not an emergent property of economic models used to quantify the impact of climate change, but an input to them*

    Where would that leave us?

    * Dunning Kruger alert- whilst I read this somewhere I am not actually certain this is right. Corrections from the better- informed welcome.

  32. Blaz Bratovic says:

    Ok, here’s a wall of reasonableness…

    That statement of mine was part of much longer discussion I had with Bart. With that particular comment I intended to say that also in developed economy, implementing efficiencies at adequate scales would need additional policy interventions as opposed to ”grandfather” of efficiencies ( or at least apostole ) Amory Lovins trying to suggest that they are resting purely on the business case of free markets.

    Otherwise, my argument was that Bard comment, taken at face up value is incorrect, because developing countries like India and China need to reduce both energy intensity as well as carbon intensity of economy at the same time to meet AGW mitigation objectives.

    Further, I argued that also in developed economy like USA, there’s an issue of retiring units which might mean new capacity added, although, due to implementing efficiencies this might mean no new ”net” additional capacity.

    Lastly, my argument was also consisting of the fact efficiencies as such are competing with every supply source and therefore more correct framing would be new additional capacity then simply nuclear power.

    But I guess I was too much under impression of my FB conversations with RMI supporter and promoter.

    That’s an experience on its own.

  33. anoilman says:

    Blaz Bratovic: Many developing countries are expected and indeed encouraged to use dirty coal. At least how Hans Rosling introduced IPCC AR5. (Note the Tu Quoque in the discussion.)

    India and China are indeed reducing energy intensity as they use Coal. So, what’s the concern? [I’ve mostly read on China, and in that case, small factories which burn coal for energy are switching to more efficient grid provided coal… so new coal plants are cleaner (using western environmental equipment), and more efficient, and shutting down many old plants.]

    I think the developed world can stop adding coal now. We have many options available now.

  34. Blaz Bratovic says:

    My main argument was that for some countries decreasing energy intensity as well as carbon intensity at the same time is absolutely necessary. As per ref [2] , the argument put is false dichtomy.

    If he was arguing in the context of developed word, as Bard suggested, I said that due to retirement of older units it might be still necessary to add new units although no net capacity would be added.

    And I was asked by Willard whether I am disputing Bard’s claim. And I replied as put in ref [2], yes.

    Didn’t follow the original conversation on twitter though.

    I respect SkepticalScience for their contribution to AGW debate.

    However, it seems to me that when it comes to AGW mitigation, they prefer peer-reviewed studies which are outliers in the field while the lead author is talking about ”zero risk” on his twitter account.

    Regarding China and coal fleets in general, this is an excellent article in my opinion:

  35. Isn’t the issue ultimately quite simple? To have a reasonable (66%) chance of keeping warming below 2oC would require emitting no more than about another 300GtC. At current rates, that’s 30 years. Simply reducing energy intensity and carbon intensity is not going to do this. We essentially need to get emissions to zero. We can, of course, choose to miss the target, but if we actually do intend to achieve this goal, then I think that’s the bottom line.

  36. Andrew dodds says:

    Vtg –

    Assume that there is a limit to how much every an individual can use. Only 2 trips to the moon a day or some such. Bear in mind that heating water and cooling air are the big energy users, and in the real world, you only need so much.

    Also assume a mix of breeder-nuclear power and solar power. We can mine asteroids for extra uranium after stripping all the granite on earth.. And cover a few percent of the planet with panels.

    And also assume a stable population of perhaps 20 billion.

    Based on this, is energy ever likely to be a limiting factor in the economy?

  37. Willard says:

    > [T]he argument put is false dichtomy.

    It was more a claim than an argument:

    The bard did not even had the time to forward any argument regarding that claim that the chemist’s tu quoque forced him to defend degrowth in general.

    The dichotomy may pertain to the question itself, e.g. what to choose between (or focus on) reducing energy use or adding more nukes, or it may be related to the bard’s wording. In both cases, clarification could eliminate it.

    The bard’s claim did not seem like a thesis, i.e. a clear claim backed up by a solid argument. It appeared like an opinion for discussion’s sake. Your interaction with him over the Tweeter confirmed this impression. All your explanations were welcome.

    My only dissatisfaction with that exchange was that it was void of ClimateBall ™ content. This comment changes that a bit. I’m not sure why Hans Rosling is an outlier in which field and how this would matter to the price of tea.

    The Cornerstone website seems hacked.

  38. Blaz Bratovic says:

    I don’t disagree with that ATTP.

    Essentially, we indeed need to decarbonize economy. And negative emissions will most likely also be needed at some point.

    My main motivation for posting in this thread was because I believe my twitter discussion was misrepresented in the comment section. I do believe as well that the twitter discussion upon which I was quoted here was ”much ado about nothing”.

    Regarding AGW mitigation it is my firm conviction that, coupled with pricing externalities with carbon tax, the most effective subsidy would be per displacement of GHG emissions due to installed capacity.

    After all, I guess IPCC speaks about abatement costs of GHG emissions avoided with a reason.

  39. Blaz Bratovic says:

    When speaking about outliers, I didn’t speak about Hans Rosling, Willard…

  40. Willard says:

    I thought the last reference to SkS was about Rosling’s presentation. To what are you referring then, Blaz?

  41. My main motivation for posting in this thread was because I believe my twitter discussion was misrepresented in the comment section. I do believe as well that the twitter discussion upon which I was quoted here was ”much ado about nothing”.

    Oh, I thought people were being complimentary in a somewhat ironic fashion. The kind of discussion you were having is meant to end in a fight, not end with each party thanking the other for a good discussion 🙂

  42. Willard says:

    > Based on this, is energy ever likely to be a limiting factor in the economy?

    That’s a big can opener you got there, Andrew. Is it Swiss-made?

  43. Regarding AGW mitigation it is my firm conviction that, coupled with pricing externalities with carbon tax, the most effective subsidy would be per displacement of GHG emissions due to installed capacity.

    I agree about the carbon tax. I hadn’t seen the suggestion about the subsidies being related to the amount of GHG emissions displaced. Sounds like an interesting idea.

  44. anoilman says:

    One part about all this that isn’t obvious is that just ’cause the developing world is using carbon now, doesn’t mean it is or can in the future. 30 years is a good run for a new plant now.

    In the developed world we can afford to change our energy production now. In the developing world that’s a different kettle of fish. For instance the far outliers in remote villages (i.e. the majority of the planet) are already getting a good dose of renewables. In between (India\China) its a different kettle of fish.

    Leading the way to a low carbon future is certainly what we should be doing. The developing world isn’t going to develop low carbon tech now, but everything I’m seeing and reading now is that they’ll use what they can.

  45. VTG: writes: “Could you please quantify, or at the least exemplify this statement.”

    We can reasonably build wind, solar, hydro-electric, geothermal and nuclear to whatever scale we wish. This doesn’t even take into account more exotic measures that advances in or maturation of technologies will afford us. We are not lacking for energy resources – we are lacking the will to build them.

  46. Bård says:

    B. Bratovic, I am not able to disassemble your critique. I may be missing technical understanding and references to do so. More importantly, I just think we make different presumptions/premises for which to assess this issue. I don’t preclude that you may be right under the current system bounded by certain assumptions of how the world should be/is working.

    Nothing presented by Bratovic has made me seriously rethink the veracity of my claims. I wasn’t talking about efficiencies at all, relative measures contingent on other facts of economy/society, economic terms or what have you. I was talking emissions. Reducing the energy pie or at least minimizing the growth of it is the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions short-term. If we live smaller, become more veg-eating, consume less and use less carbon-intensive transport, that’s where our money is best … not spent! * 🙂 Some will claim this is unrealistic or undesirable. Fine, I understand many feel like this and this is probably where at least one crux of the ecomodermism/degrowth debate lies. But this is beside my claim which is contingent on extremely few premises, save for energy mixes, I’d say. If the world ran predominately on renewables or very low carbon, maybe the claim wouldn’t be true, or as true. But of course that’s not the case today.

    I don’t think I was setting up a false dilemma. I was making a general claim and using nuclear power as an example was context/debate specific. Further, we are hearing a lot of talk about nuclear power and renewable energy, but we hear little about ways to reduce energy demand and ecomodernists/politicians/economists are culpable in this regard. The focus of ecomodernists seems to me to be that we need a massive upscaling of nuclear power, when the focus, short-term at least, should be more on effective ways for us to reduce emissions. There’s a real “dilemma” there. What is more important? What should we focus on? Is more of energy X really reducing CO2?

    Given the severity of the problem and the difficulty of solving it with energy per capita increasing or steady for rich countries, this is a most egregious omission, and needs pointing out by comparisons. I didn’t say there wasn’t a role for nuclear power in a lower energy society or that they shouldn’t be built while decreasing energy demand.

    Certainly China could decrease energy use, if the rest of the world reduced it’s consumption of many things.

    * money not spent may sound like a slogan for a bleak and minimalist utopia. A dystopian hippie-dream. Or it could be recasted as something very positive as your time and efforts were spent in other ways, often more local and meaningful than profiteering in an unpersonal gloablized economy.

  47. I was talking emissions.

    I thought you were, which is motivated my earlier comment. At the end of the day we have a relatively simple picture; if we want to give ourselves a reasonable chance of limiting warming to something like 2oC, or less, then there is a maximum amount of CO2 that we can emit. There are some (like Kevin Anderson) who argue that achieving this will require changes to our (and this probably means those in the developed world) lifestyles and using less energy. Others may have different arguments, but there isn’t really an option where we continue to emit as we are and still think we have a chance of achieving this target.

  48. verytallguy says:


    We can reasonably build wind, solar, hydro-electric, geothermal and nuclear to whatever scale we wish… …We are not lacking for energy resources – we are lacking the will to build them.

    and Andrew Dodds

    Assume that there is a limit to how much every an individual can use…

    …We can mine asteroids for extra uranium after stripping all the granite on earth.. And cover a few percent of the planet with panels.

    And also assume a stable population of perhaps 20 billion.

    Based on this, is energy ever likely to be a limiting factor in the economy?

    I think your comments contain the seeds of their own destruction. Just a few points of many that could be made:
    – the named resources are emphatically not limitless. Just for instance, wind is limited by land area; there is actually not enough in the windy UK to be self sufficient in energy based on wind. You can’t get out of this by claiming global resources, as infiniite very long distance very low loss transmission is also not practical, and itself limited by resources.
    – who says there is a limit to what individuals can use? My guess is that current US useage would have seemed unfeasible to a Galileo or Newton. And if energy were infinitely cheap, as it must be in a world of infinite growth?
    – I look forward to finding the EROI for mining asteroids.

    A prediction: that energy useage will peak, driven by costs. Energy will become somewhat akin to house prices in the UK where prices have outstripped wages for generations limiting the ability of people to buy. Akin to social housing, a safety net will come to exist to safeguard the poorest’s ability to access at least minimal energy. The richest will continue to heat mansions, drive SUVs and fly intercontinental. This is inevitable regardless of carbon policies which only affect the timescale.

  49. Andrew Dodds says:

    Regarding reducing emissions by reducing energy use..

    I would personally defy anyone to come to my house and show me how to reduce my emissions by a significant amount (i.e. >30%) without either massive capital investment or extremely inconvenient lifestyle changes.

    (Bear in mind that I already have cavity wall insulation, every appliance is A rated or better, solar panels, cycle the 25 mile round trip to work – there isn’t any low hanging fruit..)

    I could spend a fortune on a ground source heating system. Biomass CHP? No space and not scaleable.. An electric car may be in the future. But these are very serious investments, and I’m not that awash with cash.

    Really, I need the electric grid decarbonised, and then I need to move from natural gas to electricity for the home, and oil to electricity for transport. I don’t see how that can be avoided if my household is to make significant emissions reductions. If anyone can tell me otherwise..

  50. Bernard J. says:

    Economists and lay people need to do several things before talking about economics and sustainability.

    First, they need to study high school and undergraduate physics to the point that the laws of thermodynamics become as reflexive as breathing.

    Then they need to study ecology at the same levels, so that they understand the complexitiies of ecosystem interactions, and how the laws of thermodynamics underpin them, and how evolution responds in crafting genetic adaptation to the pressures of the environment.

    Once they have that under their belts they need to do a bit of pre-Economics, which needs to include Sprengel’s Law of the Minimum and Jevon’s paradox, so that in making economic prognostications about quantities such as energy they don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

    A course in ethics and morality wouldn’t hurt, nor would a test for psychopathic tendencies.

    Once that’s all out of the way then maybe they’d be competent to speak about the welfare of contemporary and future generations.

    Oh… and they’s probably also need some councelling in anxiety/stress, and perhaps some advice on humane ways to end life…

  51. Pete best says:

    Bernard J, how does the law of thermodynamics apply to all of the fossil fuels that have been produced over million of years being used up by humanity could I ask in relation to increasing co2 emissions in the earths atmosphere by 200-500 ppmv before we realise its a big issue?

  52. verytallguy says:

    Andrew Dodds

    Really, I need the electric grid decarbonised, and then I need to move from natural gas to electricity for the home, and oil to electricity for transport. I don’t see how that can be avoided if my household is to make significant emissions reductions. If anyone can tell me otherwise..

    Yes. Which requires *more* electricity (much more!), from low carbon sources. That will not be cheap.

    How are you finding the winter cycle?

  53. Andrew Dodds says:

    vtg –

    I didn’t mention wind.. this is IMO a fairly finite source for practical if not theoretical reasons.

    Solar is limited by the available land area of the planet (although secondary albedo-change effects might come into play).

    Nuclear is limited by the fuel supply – I did once do the calculations for 10% pa growth and in theory, even then your fuel would last for centuries and your waste heat would cook the planet before fuel became a serious concern. ERORI is not an issue once you start using breeder reactors.

    But personal energy use does have limits – there is almost a standard development curve for per-capita energy use for industrializing countries. To repeat, again: Most of your energy use goes to a few very mundane uses – heating, refrigerating, transport and cooking – and once you have these you won’t use a lot more energy unless you really, really try. That’s the practical reality. Unending, aphysical exponential growth is just an oversimplified model – we know this. But there is no particular reason to think that economic growth is a naturally exponential process..

    So – if our energy supply is potentially very large and our energy usage subject to practical, finite bounds, then we can say that shortages are very unlikely on physical grounds. Of course, if we drop reality, then we can’t say this.

  54. verytallguy says:

    Solar is limited by the available land area of the planet

    Yes, and also by transmission limitations and intermittency management (storage or even more transmission costs). Not to mention resource requirements for the build.

    ERORI is not an issue once you start using breeder reactors.

    Breeder reactors have never been used beyond small scale demonstrations. Why not?

  55. Victor Petri says:

    The governing resource for economic growth is infinite and the world economy will grow indefinitely:

  56. snarkrates says:

    Einstein said, “Only two things are infinite: Human stupidity and the Universe…and I’m not sure about the universe.”

  57. Willard says:

    > There’s a real “dilemma” there. What is more important? What should we focus on? Is more of energy X really reducing CO2?

    I don’t know about energy X, but the UK might very well need some nuclear facilities sooner or later:

    (H/T MT, again.)

    Like it or not, we’ll need all the non-CO2 energy sources, including nukes.

    Like it or not, we’ll need to change our lifestyles, including meat.

    Like it or not, the market of ideas needs both cornucopian and tree hugging voices.

    Like it or not, we’re all in it together.

    Billions upon billions of people in the bar, with enough room for spirited disagreement.

  58. Willard says:

    Flaubert’s fine with me, VP.

    Even if we accept all the axioms of GRRROWTH, there’s still an emission problem to solve, which implicates some kind of degrowth, even if in the end there’s still GRRROWTH because, axioms.

  59. Joseph says:

    Even if we accept all the axioms of GRRROWTH, , which implicates some kind of degrowth, there’s still an emission problem to solve

    I think the implication is that we need a solution or a set of solutions. If degrowth means more unemployment, falling incomes, and inflation, I am not sure that is a very practical solution Maybe I don’t understand how we go about degrowing well enough.

  60. Willard says:

    > If degrowth means more unemployment, falling incomes, and inflation, I am not sure that is a very practical solution.

    I’m not sure with GRRROWTH solutions mean more employment, growing incomes, and deflation either, Joseph. Most if not all the GRRROWTH programs we’ve been sold in the Western world have so far failed, unless having 62 persons owning half of that GRRROWTH counts as a success:

    What never fails is the confidence by which reactionary solutions have been oversold in GRRROWTH’s name. If GRRROWTH is the motherload of economic axioms, all its base belong to everyone, not just kings of coal. How right-wing populism is still a thing is the open problem to solve if we want something more than ClimateBall ™ gangfights.

  61. Joseph says:

    Right, most “growth” solutions in the US are sold as trickle down economics or cutting regulations. But I do think that economic downturns or slow growth can have real impacts on people. But anyway, maybe I have missed the point.

  62. Willard says:

    The ClimateBall ™ point is to watch the hips and disregard the head fakes, Joseph. What is our candid chemist’s selling with his tu quoque? That the priviledged among us would benefit from degrowth, or at least suffer less. Why is that? Because, the poor will die, that’s why. That’s just the good ol’ “but the poor” claptrap.

    The implicit premises in that “but the poor” would deserve due diligence. They should vary from one talking head to the next. To take one random king coal, there’s something called rational optimism:

    Mr. Ridley dismisses concern about climate change as another instance of unfounded pessimism. His discussion in this chapter is provocative, but he fails to prove that we shouldn’t invest in reducing greenhouse gases. I asked Ken Caldeira, a scientist who studies global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, to look over this part of the book. He pointed out that Mr. Ridley celebrates declining air pollution emissions in the U.S. but does not acknowledge that this has come about because of government regulations based on publicly funded science, which Mr. Ridley opposes. As Mr. Caldeira rightly observes, “It is a wonder of development that our economy can grow as air pollution diminishes.” What is true of the U.S. case, I’d suggest, can be true of the world as a whole as we deal with the challenges posed by climate change.


    When a king of coal tries to sell you an ism word, reach for your wallet.

  63. Blaz Bratovic says:


    It certainly wasn’t my intention to change anyone’s mind, besides, I believe we both have much more in common than probably one could infer from our exchange.

    Willard, as far as your question is concerned, I was talking about visionary who surpasses even the visionary spirit of Amory Lovins… More seriously, I guess my comment in the context was probably an unnecessary one, so let me reiterate that SkepticalScience has done an excellent job in providing necessary information for an interested reader on the topic of science of climate change.

  64. BBD says:

    @ Blaz

    Mark Jacobsen?

  65. Blaz Bratovic says:

    @ BBD

    No, Mark Jacobson… 🙂

    While I probably would sooner or later search for review of his work ( due to sheer popularity of his work ), the following study could be found in the relevant comment section of Skeptical Science:

    This is for his 2011 study.

    He has newer study, which he presented at COP21 in Paris.

    It seems that China and India, with more traditional regulated top-down approach to energy markets, weren’t that impressed though.

    But since he is introduced now in the comment section, let me correct myself and say that exact comment on his twitter account I had in mind was, I believe, ”public wants zero risk”. So that I am not unintentionally misrepresenting something…

  66. verytallguy says:

    How right-wing populism is still a thing is the open problem to solve

    Which is more powerful, a story or a fact?

  67. anoilman says:

    I’m not convinced that degrowth is the evil entity its made out to be.

    When I was a kid (1970s) I was a lot poorer. We didn’t have stuff like we have now. But I don’t see anything wrong with it. Was life so bad?

    Also, there are many enemies of growth, and they are mounting, notably a big portion of our recent growth spurt has been exporting jobs to China for cheap labor. That’s all over now, and we’re slowly repatriating jobs.

    I think that to sustain our current level of growth, we’ll need an alien planet full of mundane laborers to export all our jobs to. Hopefully we can do that with low emissions.

  68. Willard says:

    Speaking of alien planets, Riker to the rescue:

    Don’t know why it’s also called Planet X.

  69. Willard says:

    > Which is more powerful, a story or a fact?

    Two facts merged into a story:

  70. BBD says:

    Love potion number nine.

    Shockingly sloppy. We’ll have people misspelling ‘Jacobson’ next.

  71. Blaz Bratovic says:

    Whatever. As long as you are not skeptical too much. it’s fine I guess.

  72. Willard says:

    Planet Nine, BBD:

    And then there’s astrophysics.

  73. Blaz Bratovic says:

    Answer depends upon your question.

  74. Blaz Bratovic says:

    Ok, it’s both good to mispell one’s name or quote him with a same degree of relevancy of mistake as long as you don’t doubt the Man.

    Love potion number nine is good.

  75. anoilman says:

    I still don’t get it. I mean if high energy prices are leading to degrowth, then the most expensive country on the planet for energy will closing shop and shutting off the lights. Right?

    Germans pay double what I do. Double. 32 cents US per kwh. That’s a lot.

    All I’m saying is that perhaps there’s more at play than a simple assumption that energy prices are all there is to look at for growth.

  76. Pete best says:

    Thats becuase in certain countries (we point the finger at the USA mainly) per head of capita you use a lot. I dont know why you lose such a lot but I guess thats why the USA need to peoduce it cheaply.

  77. anoilman says:

    Pete best: I can see that… but that implies that its not a global concern.

    I’m in Canada. We’re real energy pigs. One part is long distances between anything so transportation is an issue. The cold winters mean lots of energy for heat. Then there’s the summers which get pretty hot, so airconditioners are also pretty popular.

    A lot of houses are very badly insulated, even as late as the 1990’s. I live in a 1950’s bungalow with essentially R-2 insulation in the walls. (2 not 20. 2.) I just checked out what it would cost to upgrade at the number came back at $50k or so. I have asbestos\cellulose in the attic (R13ish?), and I’m planning to get the re-mediated and upgraded to R50.

  78. Willard says:

    An example of an important tu quoque:

    This type does not compare what is said and is done by a proponent, but what is said at time T and at T+N. If the two beliefs are contradictory, the circumstances of expressing them are similar, and if N is a very short while, there’s a problem.

    The strength of the contradiction depends upon the revisability of the beliefs expressed. It’s possible and oftentimes welcome to change one’s mind – Keynes did that at least once. The contradiction needs to be resolved, and resolving it is more important than the tu quoque itself.

  79. Willard says:

    Thanks, VP. The Economic World Forum would indeed deserve due diligence:

    “Davos Man” is a neologism referring to the global elite of wealthy (predominantly) men, whose members view themselves as completely “international”. It is similar to the term Masters of the Universe attributed to influential financiers on Wall Street.

    Davos men supposedly see their identity as a matter of personal choice, not an accident of birth. According to political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, who is credited with inventing the phrase “Davos Man”,[62] they are people who “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the élite’s global operations”. In his 2004 article “Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite”, he argues that this international perspective is a minority elitist position not shared by the nationalist majority of the people.[63]

    John Fonte of the Hudson Institute has suggested that the transnational ideology of Davos Man represents a major challenge to Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that liberal democracy represents the fulfillment of The End of History and the Last Man.[64]


    GRRROWTH as an elitist ideology. An ultimate clash with Fukuyama. Can it get any better than that?

  80. An interesting form of an implicit tu quoque from Judy’s guest appearance:

    [R]esearch of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported.


    The implicit tu quoque is that celibate clergy are no worse than other kinds of clergy, because we don’t know.

    Another implicit one there too, in a talk about Europe’s secularisation:

    Clearly environmentalism has a very strong religious content and many of us would say, in terms of the literture on climate change, it also has developed its own wing of apocalyptic sentiment. They are people who speak the language of religion even if they don’t believe it. But one lesson I get very strongly is that when you look at elite global institutions like the United Nations, I never know who they’re representing except for themselves. They’re not speaking for their countries or the populations in their countries, and it’s never more true than in the UN.


    The implicit tu quoque is something like “American religiosity is no worse than European secularism, because language of religion.”

  81. Victor Petri says:

    Who needs nationalists anyway?

  82. A recent tu quoque:

    Michael Brown’s response was good, but uneffective in ClimateBall ™ terms.

    More on this (hopefully) later.

  83. I saw some of that exchange. I thought Michael Brown did well. I had been thinking about writing about the #astroSH issue, but am not really sure what to say.

  84. Willard says:

    I’m having a chat with Michael about how we could talk about this here, AT.

    This may be a next post.

  85. Pingback: #astroSH Haslitudes | …and Then There's Physics

  86. Willard says:

  87. Willard says:

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