Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

“The endgame of biofuels is price parity between food BTUs and energy BTUs”

This quote comes from a comment beneath a story on Grist, Biodiesel in the dumps – original source (for me) of this article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Biodistillers nationwide now realize that their industry’s survival depends on the vagaries of world trade. Cheaper soy and palm oil from Asia, Africa and Latin America increasingly replace domestically grown soy oil. Environmentally conscious Europe takes most of the U.S.-produced fuel.

Globalization of the American biodiesel industry, though, wouldn’t be possible without lucrative assistance — a $1-per-gallon tax break — from Washington. Alterra and other biodiesel producers receive the excise tax credit for each gallon of alternative fuel that is mixed with regular diesel.

And, since most of the biodiesel is shipped overseas, Congress essentially subsidizes the price European drivers pay for fuel.

“And we’re not really lessening our dependence on foreign fuel supplies,” said Mark Ash, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The blame falls mainly on the skyrocketing price of soybean oil used in 80 percent of the nation’s biodiesel production. Soy oil cost 22 cents per pound when Johnson broke ground in Plains. Wednesday, a pound cost 56.4 cents.

It takes 7.7 pounds of soy oil — or $4.34 — to produce a gallon of biodiesel, according to the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. Add overhead and other processing costs (about 70 cents per gallon), federal and state taxes (54 cents) and subtract the dollar tax credit and a gallon of biodiesel could sell for $4.58 at the pump.

Regular diesel sold for $3.86 a gallon Wednesday in Atlanta.

“How’re you going to sell it at that price?” asked Davis Cosey, who owns an idled biodiesel factory in Perry. “The industry’s horrible. It’s in the ditch.”

Farmers aren’t doing producers any favors. In 2006, more than 75 million acres of soybeans were planted in the United States. Last year, only 64 million acres were planted, according to the USDA. Congress’ ethanol mandate — 37 billion gallons annually by 2022 — fueled the switch from beans to corn. In addition, rapidly developing China and India boosted soybean demand, and prices.

Interesting article (“Only federal subsidies keep the industry afloat” – one for the small-government-ers), if including odd lines like

“The American public, with rare exception, is 100 percent price-sensitive,” Johnson said. “They will not pay a penny more to go green.”

I kind of follow the argument – but 100% price sensitive? Dude, we’re all 100% price sensitive. It’s how sensitive we are that defines our markets (and in this “Johnson” is mistaken – of course we will pay more to go green. We just aren’t stupid enough to call something as daft as crop-grown biofuels shipped half-way ’round the bloody world and back “green”).

So US biodiesel manufacturers are importing soy and palm oil (the latter a truly horrible product, vis, the environment) in order to make biodiesel that is shipped to Europe because the market here is too small – meanwhile only surviving thanks to subsidies (meaning your tax dollars are subsidising European motorists).

Stop me when you can’t take the stupidity any longer.

So this would be where the comment came from. Personally I don’t fancy their chances, however much I agree with their sentiment. For a start food BTUs aren’t at all close to being adequately priced – but, then, neither are things like biofuels, oil shale, etc. Maybe one day. One day when we stop IV-subsidies to wasteful industries and make agriculture compete like everyone else.

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“How many people does climate change kill, and what proportion is the United Kingdom responsible for?”

Originally from the Guardian.

In April last year, a group of environmentalists shut down the energy company E.ON’s coal-fired power station in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, in the English Midlands. The goal: to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and, in their words, “save lives”. On February 25, 2008, Judge Morris Cooper presented a 20-page ruling accepting that there was an “urgent need for drastic action”, but convicted the protestors of aggravated trespass, saying their defence — that their crime was necessary to save lives — could not be substantiated.

In the trial, for which I was an expert witness, crucial questions were: how many people does climate change kill, and what proportion is the United Kingdom responsible for? I was surprised to discover that nobody knows. Scientists such as me are involved in programmes to measure CO2 emissions, air temperatures, sea-ice loss and the much more complex impacts on birds, rainforest trees and coral reefs. We know that climate change-related events are killing people, yet there is no comprehensive global monitoring program to document the lives lost due to climate change. There is no official climate-change body count.

The author, Simon Lewis, is, at least, kind enough to offer a concession, that “Admittedly, the impact of climate change on human health and mortality is difficult to quantify.” No kidding.

Lewis’ position is a little at odds with that of George Monbiot, but I suffer a Health Economist’s prejudice: I will take quantification of any and every outcome I can. Even if it means we go about comparing victims of climate change to victims of queues in airports.

The water thing

Speaking of not getting along so well when water is an issue:

Lawyers for Georgia, Florida and Alabama are gearing up again for battle, now that tri-state water negotiations have collapsed and the federal government says it will decide how to dole out water rights.

At the same time, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon issue a short-term water operations plan — a move that could set off a fresh wave of legal maneuvering.

So the Federal Government is moving in. Ah: reminds me of home.

The dispute, by the by, is over things like this:

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“Everyone wants to eat like an American on this globe”

Don’t ever forget that this is exactly the problem – and why not? Remember the famous words of Oscar Brown Jr: “You so rich and free and fat; Son-of-a-bitch that’s where it’s at!”

Whether an American, Brit, Netherlander – it doesn’t matter. Plenty of people on this Earth are rich and fat and clean. We bang wives made out of girls from Ipanema, buy, wear, drive and eat whatever we like and send our kids off to University to learn how to do even better than us. Good God, man, who wouldn’t want a part of that?

From the New York Times:

Everywhere, the cost of food is rising sharply. Whether the world is in for a long period of continued increases has become one of the most urgent issues in economics.

Many factors are contributing to the rise, but the biggest is runaway demand. In recent years, the world’s developing countries have been growing about 7 percent a year, an unusually rapid rate by historical standards.

The high growth rate means hundreds of millions of people are, for the first time, getting access to the basics of life, including a better diet. That jump in demand is helping to drive up the prices of agricultural commodities.

Farmers the world over are producing flat-out. American agricultural exports are expected to increase 23 percent this year to $101 billion, a record. The world’s grain stockpiles have fallen to the lowest levels in decades.

The article mentions, interestingly, how fortunate farmers are (one, in particular – what’s a newspaper story without an anecdotal anchor, after all?). I’m not so convinced. Costs are increasing for them, also. Fuel and food are big parts of their factor costs and, while they can certainly extract greater rent from Consumer (non-lexicographically-inclined readers, this means jack up the price to make more profit), even the mere perception of this is going to put signficant strain on America’s thoroughly embarassing farm welfare. Meanwhile those costs are appreciating rapidly, just as they are for the rest of us (the NYT does mention this). The only difference is that farmers are producing one of the inflating-price goods: how’s your control over the labour market going, these days? Yeah, didn’t think so.

This – the death of farm welfare – is a good thing, certainly – provided it comes off. More likely is that, with even greater control as a lobbied-for group, farmers will also extract rents from Governments trying to get them to grow basic foodstuffs for the common good (not, for example, mustard seeds – and yes, David, I know ‘the market’ should sort all of that out).

In all this, though, what the writer really nailed was one of the two causes: global demand (the other is crop yields – maybe climate change (I think so), maybe not):

As the newly urbanized and newly affluent seek more protein and more calories, a phenomenon called “diet globalization” is playing out around the world. Demand is growing for pork in Russia, beef in Indonesia and dairy products in Mexico. Rice is giving way to noodles, home-cooked food to fast food.

Though wracked with upheaval for years and with many millions still rooted in poverty, Nigeria has a growing middle class. Median income per person doubled in the first half of this decade, to $560 in 2005. Much of this increase is being spent on food.

Nigeria grows little wheat, but its people have developed a taste for bread, in part because of marketing by American exporters. Between 1995 and 2005, per capita wheat consumption in Nigeria more than tripled, to 44 pounds a year. Bread has been displacing traditional foods like eba, dumplings made from cassava root.

Mr. Ojuku, the man who buys fewer loaves, and one of his fellow tailors in Lagos, Mukala Sule, 39, are trying to adjust to the new era.

“I must eat bread and tea in the morning. Otherwise, I can’t be happy,” Mr. Sule said as he sat on a bench at a roadside cafe a few weeks ago. For a breakfast that includes a small loaf, he pays about $1 a day, twice what the traditional eba would have cost him.

To save a few pennies, he decided to skip butter. The bread was the important thing.

“Even if the price goes up,” Mr. Sule said, “if I have the money, I’ll still buy it.”

Eco 1 students, for the extra credit: is Mr. Ojuku behaving rationally?

We all hope we’re wrong about climate change

This is not something that is made explicit enough, or made explicit often enough. This story brought the point to mind:

Europe’s leaders are being warned to prepare for big new flows of migration by 2020 as climate change puts strains on food and water supplies, provokes natural disasters and undermines political stability in poorer, neighboring countries.

A report prepared for the European Union heads of government, who will meet Thursday in Brussels, said that the rest of the world could not insulate itself from the impact of changes that could overwhelm regions that already suffer from poverty and conflict.

In North Africa and the sub-Sahara, drought and overfarming could lead to a loss of 75 percent of arable land. The Nile Delta could be threatened by both rising sea levels and salinization of agricultural land. Between 12 and 15 percent of arable land could be lost to rising seas in this century with five million people affected by 2050. Meanwhile, both the Horn of Africa and southern Africa are vulnerable to reduced rainfall and higher temperatures.

Sounds shit, frankly – worse only for the people doing the moving (I meant shit for me, living in the Midlands of England). This is just a number of all-too-likely consequences of all-too-likely catastrophic climate change, and is exactly why those of us who believe in the problem would like very much to be wrong. I’m happy to have colleagues (known but not named) to call me up once per week for the remainder of my life, giving me stick about my Henny Penny paranoia – if only it meant that none of this misery will come to pass. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

Meanwhile, some war predictions:

There’s also the water one cannot drink – China and the US over the West Pacific, for example. There also are plenty of instances of good and neighbourly management of the scarce resource, but as the resource becomes more scarce still, who knows? We could see Adelaide go to war with Melbourne, for all I know.

There are also plenty of voices who say that the probabilities just don’t match the rhetoric. Could be. I see, though, water the new land – the fixed and needed natural resource of the future, over which we will be prepared to fight long and hard. Because our lives just might depend upon it. Which, sure, makes me a miserable bastard. Like I said, I do hope we all turn out to be plain wrong.

London to penalise gas-guzzling cars

Eeyess.

Owners of gas-guzzling cars will have to pay £25 ($49) a day to drive them in central London from October, mayor Ken Livingstone said on Tuesday.

The decision, following a year of consultations, is part of a package that Livingstone is bringing in to cut London’s carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2025.

The 25 pound daily tax on vehicles in central London’s Congestion Charge zone emitting 225 grams of carbon dioxide per km would apply in the same way as the normal 8 pounds daily charge does to all but the cleanest cars.

But to force home the environmental point of a congestion scheme that initially had no green goal, the exemption granted to residents in the zone will be removed from drivers of the polluting four-wheel drive and top-end luxury cars.

That means that the owner of a gas-guzzler who chooses to drive in the zone every day will end up paying 6,500 pounds a year for the privilege.

Should be interesting. “Gas guzzling” cars are something akin to Giffin goods (unlike normal goods, Giffin goods break the law of demand: as price increases, so too does quantity demand). Hummers, for example, are ever-more popular, despite being ever-more expensive to run – which is precisely where the popularity comes in.

A tax that makes such cars GBP6,500 more expensive to run in the city may send exactly the same “opulence signal”.

Ken Livingstone is gambling however that the other signal will be more important: by sending such a strong signal that society frowns so heavily upon their ass-headed mode of transportation, he is hoping to appeal at least to impure altruism (if not to their bank-books) in getting them to down-size.

Either way, it ought to be fun to watch.

Biofuel farms make CO2 emissions worse

From today’s Guardian:

US researchers calculated that converting natural ecosystems to grow corn or sugarcane to produce ethanol, or palms or soybeans for biodiesel, could release between 17 and 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels.

This is due to the carbon contained in the original plants and soils which is released as CO2 when the vegetation rots after it is cleared. The researchers said this carbon debt must be paid before biofuels produced on the land could count towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In Indonesia the researchers found that converting land for palm oil production ran up the worst carbon debts, requiring 423 years to pay off. Producing soybeans in the Amazon would take 319 years of soy biodiesel to offset the carbon debt.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought people needed this explained to them. Carbon is emitted anyway – our problem is emitting it so bloody quickly, burning things. It’s still emitted as nature dies and breaks down. Burning out or otherwise clearing land for biofuels is most certainly going to convert living matter to dead matter – releasing all its stored carbon in the process.

Getting back to the article, we see that markets are at the heart of the problem – and the solution:

Stephen Polasky of the University of Minnesota, one of the authors of the study, published today in the journal Science, said: “We don’t have proper incentives in place because landowners are rewarded for producing palm oil and other products but not rewarded for carbon management. This creates incentives for excessive land clearing and can result in large increases in carbon emissions.”

Palm oil is a horrendous product. An interview with the primary author can be found over at nature.org.

So what happened? Basically, the pressure to establish a market to counteract the non-market externalities of energy-generation (including the use of oil, but we’ll lump all fossil fuels together – why not?) has given us a market that itself has non-market externalities. The solution? Austrian Economists, where are you when we need you? There are two arguments:

First, this would seem to indicate that the pressure to establish “solutions” is, potentially, doing more harm than good. Perhaps we need to back the hell up. Does a bull ever have good luck in a china shop? We need to ease off, sit down and realise that accuracy over speed will be what saves the planet in the long run.

We need to give more consideration to the sorts of market mechanisms we would like to use to overcome the tragedy of the commons (the depletion of fossil fuels: it is the intensity of this depletion that is both leading to things like Peal Oil as well as creating the condition for so-called Catastrophic Climate Change (I say “so-called” because it is a term of art, not because I dis-believe the sentiment)).

Second, or alternatively, we need to plow ahead, tacking markets onto markets onto markets. I’ve no doubt that throwing market incentives into this market to deal with the follow-on environmental costs will probably generate another set of unintended outcomes – it always does. This argument would base its urgency upon the urgency of the problem, and the absence of time to wait.

I favour the first, personally – or a variation thereof. When we make certain crops highly valued, that incentive will overcome most others – how do you think these problems arose in the first place? Farmers in middle-income countries don’t consider their contribution to the global problem (anymore than first-world agriculturalists): they respond to the enormous difference the market will make to their household income. Once those trees are gone, however, they’re gone – land cannot be un-burnt (trust me: I’m Australian). Reclaiming and de-pastorialising land takes a bloody long time.

Mostly, I take this as more evidence that biofuels are shit. We aren’t trying to ‘fix’ our energy problem: we’re trying to stay behind the wheels of our cars as long as possible. The reason I think we need to step back and reconsider is because the problem we’re trying to solve is such a narrow and self-interested one.

Water and golf courses

I first was exposed to the issue of golf course and (or, rather, versus) water conservation as a Masters student at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, via the complaints of a colleague. Her gripe was that (a) golf courses use a tonne of water, and (b) to the extent that golf courses even use recycled water, or less water than before, golf courses still use a tonne of water – for golf.

Bear in mind, this is population health. We’re sensitive to people washing their cars with potable fresh water, bought at cents per kilolitre. It’s a manner of global insanity, peculiar to the developed world.

So to the National Geographic’s recent article, Drying of the West.

The wet 20th century, the wettest of the past millennium, the century when Americans built an incredible civilization in the desert, is over. Trees in the West are adjusting to the change, and not just in the width of their annual rings: In the recent drought they have been dying off and burning in wildfires at an unprecedented rate. For most people in the region, the news hasn’t quite sunk in.

Between 2000 and 2006 the seven states of the Colorado basin added five million people, a 10 percent population increase. Subdivisions continue to sprout in the desert, farther and farther from the cities whose own water supply is uncertain. Water managers are facing up to hard times ahead.

“I look at the turn of the century as the defining moment when the New West began,” says Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “It’s like the impact of global warming fell on us overnight.”

I was particularly struck by the attending photo gallery (click for larger images):

national geographic image 1

national geographic image 2

A fantastic complement to the argument that the mass depletion of fresh water, regionally, has yet to sink in (this is a recognisable complaint of mine, regarding Australia).

The increasing efficiency with which golf courses use water is not to be denied. However, like Prof. Broom’s original complaint: it’s golf. Is it worth this?

water use table

Example 1: During periods of drought as defined by water level in the Edwards Aquifer, water is not served in restaurants unless requested. During the summer months 4 million glasses of water would have to be refused in restaurants each day to save enough water to equal that used on one golf course. How many people are served in restaurants each day in this area?

There are roughly 1.3 million people in the Bexar, Kendall, Comal County area and about 56 golf courses.

Example 2: Conversion of old toilets to new water saving toilets is a great water saver. Each flush saves at best about 3.4 gallons depending on how much water the old toilet used.

Lets pretend there is only one toilet in the three county area and we convert it to a new water saving toilet.
In peak summer watering months that toilet would have to be used over 138,000 times to save the water put on one golf course each day.

That water saving toilet would have to be used over 6 times each day by each man, woman and child in the three county area to save the water put on all 56 golf courses each summer day.

There is a level, of course, of personal responsibility in this – what are our solutions to this market? Standard, one imagines:

  • We can tax the market, both to restrict, further, the depletion of fresh water, while raising funds necessary to ameliorate the effects of depletion (recycling, etc. – there is certainly no way to create rain with money);
  • We can encourage voluntary off-setting of the effects of the depletion;
  • We can pursue cap-and-trade markets for water use (a distributional implication being should golf courses even start out with a water allocation at all? Who, ultimately, does the State give the property rights?).

Hell, we could form a mob, charge the golf courses and tear them up. Not exactly a market solution, per se – but how many markets will clear, anyway, when we run out of water?

Returning to the National Geographic and news sinking in, there is – again – that idea of personal responsibility. Those pictures were from Nevada; the table from San Antonio data. This is a suburb in Arizona:

national geographic pic

In this world we cannot get people to drive their 4WDs (SUVs) with any sort of efficient multi-occupancy. Here, we see we cannot manage the same with swimming pools. City/public buses are wildly unpopular in most of this country; municipal amenities like swimming pools no doubt suffer the same ignomy. No solution (outside of legislation, i.e. command and control) is going to work in a nation of fence-builders.

Davos: hypocrisy at day one

Wow. Just… wow. I mentioned, previously, that Davos sounded like it’d be a rich man’s burden kind of event, but this is just mind-blowing.

The chief executives of Coca-Cola Co., Nestlé SA and others will warn the World Economic Forum in Davos this week that the world is running out of water, threatening conflict, higher prices and lost production.

Some will likely then strap on skis to take advantage of the Swiss resort’s glistening slopes. But the pistes of the Alps are also contributing to the world’s water woes.

Europe’s ski resorts have been racing to install snow-making machines to bed the slopes with artificial snow as snowfall becomes less reliable and resorts compete with one another to offer guaranteed good skiing. That is great for skiers and businesses that rely on them, but not so great for local water supplies.

Snow cannons suck up a lot of water. As much as 35% of all water used in Davos now goes to making artificial snow, according to a report released last month by the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research to examine the net benefits of snow-making machines. Davos bought 16 additional snow cannons for this season, according to town authorities.

wsj pic

The article is kind enough to include some non-comforting information, too often not seen in such information, concerning water use generally, “moving forward”:

Based on current usage patterns, about 30 countries will be short of water by 2025, according to the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute, a nonprofit supported by 60 governments. That is mainly because most irrigation for agriculture is inefficient, while demand for meat, wheat and other high-protein foods that require a lot of water is growing rapidly as people in China and India become wealthier and more urban.

But the battle against climate change is sucking up water, too, creating what analysts in the field call an accelerator effect. Take biofuels, produced to cut use of fossil fuels such as gasoline that spew the carbon dioxide that causes global warming. Biofuels are mostly made from crops that have to be grown, which puts pressure on land and food prices, as well as on water resources. It takes on average 1,000 liters (260 gallons) of water to make one liter of ethanol-based biofuel, according to the IWMI. For gasoline, it takes 2.5 liters.

The same goes for some of the alternatives to coal-fired power plants that produce less carbon dioxide. Hydroelectric power requires large quantities of water. So do the cooling systems in nuclear-power plants. Clean-coal technologies, too, use more water than regular coal. Overall, industry accounts for around 23% of global fresh water use, compared with around 70% for agriculture and 7% for residential use. Demand is rising in all three areas.

“Some people call water the oil of the 21st century. Whether you like that description or not, one thing is clear, availability of water will be a key driver in the development of the world’s economy and government policies in the next decade,” said Andrew N. Liveris, chairman and chief executive of Dow Chemical, in a statement.

Still, though – blowing water out of snow-cannons during a World Economic Forum meeting is pretty moronic. Particularly compared to, say, not doing so, thereby highlighting exactly one of the world’s most significant problems.

I’m sure the poor countries of the world will be delighted when they hear about how their saviours treat fresh water, while meeting to discuss the needs of the global economy.

Payments for ecosystem services

This is almost becoming a theme. The commodification and market-formation of carbon-trading has been discussed previously (here and here). So, too, the idea that the environment provides a service that should be supported (given that resource depletion depletes also the ability of the environment to provide that service).

Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries, or REDD, did well at the climate talks in Bali, a short while back. REDD is a deforestation-reduction trading scheme – paying local landowners not to cut down their trees (or not to sell their land to those who will cut down their trees). This follows, say, regulation that prevented the same (hence all the burning of the land – no trees, no trees to cut down, no law broken. The Asian “Brown Cloud”, of course, somebody else’s problem).

Deforestation of this type, one way or the other, accounts for an estimated 18 percent of global human-induced greenhouse (GHG) emissions – the second largest source of anthropogenic emissions, behind energy consumption. So the need to do something is acknowledged (more or less).

China Dialogue has an article running through criticism of the REDD model:

REDD and its closely allied “Payments for Ecosystem Services” hope to put a price on standing forest by tying forest protection to market mechanisms. The logic is that if the price is set high enough, there will be more interest in protecting forests than in logging or selling plantation rights. However, there are several problems with this logic.

First, the scheme depends primarily upon carbon trading to generate its funds; a system which has proved to be so inherently dysfunctional that after eight years of the World Bank Prototype Carbon Fund and two-and-a-half years of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI) and European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) the global rate of emissions increases from fossil fuels has doubled and emissions are rising in virtually all developed countries. Using markets does not deal with the drivers of destruction or put in place adequate safeguards to ensure ecosystem protection.

The Kyoto Protocol left rainforests out of carbon trading for well-founded reasons that have still not been addressed. These include the illegitimate transfer of land rights and the displacement (or “leakage”) of logging into new, often pristine regions.

Needless to say, they are not fans. The authors are from Biofuel Watch – a UK-based campaign “against the use of bioenergy from unsustainable sources, i.e. biofuels linked to accelerated climate change, deforestation, bio-diversity losses, human rights abuses, including the impoverishment and dispossession of local populations, water and soil degradation, loss of food sovereignty and food security.”

So – there is a bias here. The signal is not the message, and the message is not the information that would have been to hand. A couple of things about the complaint. First:

There is evidence that deforestation bans and moratoria can work: China, Thailand, Costa Rica and Paraguay have all implemented at least partially successful bans or moratoria. Paraguay achieved an 85% success record in its eastern territory within a single year. Logging companies and some governments are even now calling for payments for non-deforestation. One reporter writing for the Jakarta Post in Bali responded by describing REDD as a set-up for “blackmail”.

Deforestation bans, however, will only work comprehensively if the underlying causes of deforestation are addressed at the same time. The over-consumption of agricultural and forest products, the current rush to biofuels, the corruption and the lack of guarantees for protection of land rights of indigenous and other forest peoples all need to be addressed.

The first part is fine, as far as it goes – which isn’t far. I can police my backyard, sure – but that hardly means me and a cricket bat, or a dozen people so armed, can handle a few blocks. Or the alley full of pimps and dealers. Expansion of the system into meaningfull levels of reduction is the key.

The second is also fine, as far as it goes – again, though, we cannot wish away the tendency of people (in worlds 1st to 3rd) to want more than resources can sustainably supply. The external costs are too far from home. We need to figure out a solution, given that people are, on aggregate, trying to kill their own planet.

Following this:

Bali saw a strong call for a systemic approach to stabilising climate and protecting forests by Friends of the Earth International, the Global Forest Coalition, the World Rainforest Movement, Via Campesina and nearly 60 other organisations who signed the Forest Declaration. The declaration calls for a genuine solution, which combines the twin needs of verifiable fossil-fuel emissions cuts and the total protection of old growth forest ecosystems.

This is also fine, as far as it goes – but you’re not impressing me by telling me that Friends of the Earth International signed such a declaration. White supremacy doesn’t work because KKK-freaks sign a declaration – it fails because the rest of us, with the power, refuse. For a system to work the biggest, worst polluters/emitters have to be on-board. It just won’t work without them.

We don’t like hearing this. We don’t like knowing that the best system for global emission reduction is held hostage to the favour of the people least-inclined to acknowledge or address the problem. Sometimes, though, that’s the way it goes.

There is another flaw in these arguments, which – although I criticise such models, often – is worth pointing out. This is new technology; these markets are young and quite small, relatively speaking. We weren’t killing children born in 1941 because they could fight the war, were we?

This is a similar problem with the Copenhagen Consensus (and that is a link worth following, even though I disagree with some of the outcome): its assumptions. First, that the solutions to climate change are the one’s listed: we know, now of newer and better solutions. Why? New technology, new information.

Similarly, the assumption that a technology will do a certain amount of good, for so long, is flawed. Technological change is endogenous. Reward it, and you promote technological innovation. Increase innovation, and you will most likely get a technological change that increases the effectiveness of achieving the solution. Keep pursing renewables, and you’re likely to hit upon an energy harvesting/storing method (see the latest in batteries) that lets us base-load a grid. Keep trying markets and, through information and synergy, one that works the most efficiently (since all markets are inefficient) will, eventually, emerge.

As Bjorn Lomborg explains in the afore-linked TED talk, the problem at the moment is that we persist in doing nothing, or doing nothing very well.

These authors are correct: such schemes as these are designed to foster economic growth, and economic growth leads to greater resource use. However (a) it doesn’t need, necessarily, to lead to greater resource depletion, and (b) any scheme designed to foster economic decay, decline or atrophy has zero chance of success. So.