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Against the doomsayers

June 5th, 2006

Today is World Environment Day, and it’s a good day to celebrate past achievements and point out the errors of the doomsayers who’ve long been over-represented in the environment debate. The central message of the doomsday school is simple:
we can’t protect the environment unless we are willing to accept a radical reduction in our standard of living.

Although they agree on this point, they disagree radically about its implications, dividing into two opposed groups[1]

* Deep Greens who say that we should radically reduce our standard of living and protect the environment
* Dark Browns who say that we should do nothing to protect the environment because to do so will wreck our standards of living

Experience since the first World Environment Day in 1972 suggests that neither of these positions is true.

On the one hand, claims that we are bound to run out of resources, made most vigorously by the Club of Rome in the 1970s, have repeatedly been refuted by experience. Most natural resources have actually become cheaper, but even in cases where prices have risen, such as that of oil, the economic impact has been marginal, relative to the long-run trend of increasing income. The recent increase in the price of oil, for example, might, if sustained, reduce income by about 1 per cent, or around 4 months of economic growth.

At this point, doomsayers usually point to a growing world population and the increased demands on resources that will arise when people in China and India aspire to Western living standards. The tone isn’t quite as apocalyptic as in the 1970s, when the Paddock brothers were advocating letting Bangladesh starve, but the analysis often hasn’t caught up with the data. Population growth peaked (in absolute terms – the percentage growth rate has been declining for decades) around 1990. Current UN estimates have a population of 9 billion in 2050, but if the declining fertility in wealthy countries is followed elsewhere this will probably turn out to be an overestimate.

In most respects, economic growth is consistent with improvements in the environment rather than degradation. Wealthy countries are unwilling to put up with polluted air and water and have the technical and scientific resources to fix them.

On the other hand, the Brown doomsayers have an equally bad record. Time after time, they’ve opposed environmental improvements as too costly, repeatedly overestimating the costs and underestimating the benefits. The debate over CFCs and the ozone layer provides a good example, since it was one of the first issues to be addressed on a global scale. The doomsayers repeatedly attacked both the science behind the ban on CFCs and the economics of the policy, claiming it would cause massive economic damage. In reality, even without taking account of health benefits, it seems likely that the CFC ban yielded positive net economic benefits. Most of the leading participants in this debate (Fred Singer, Sallie Baliunas, Julian Simon, Tom DeLay, the Marshall and Oregon Institutes) are familiar to anyone who’s followed the global warming debate, except that Bjorn Lomborg has taken Simon’s place.

All of this leads up to the one big remaining problem that of global warming (and the inter-related debate about Peak Oil). The doomsayers on both sides are out in force on this one. For the Deep Greens, it’s the one remaining chance to achieve support for radical change. For the Dark Browns, this is the real fight, for which the CFC debate was just a rehearsal.

All the evidence, though, is that we can reduce emissions to levels consistent with stabilising global CO2 levels over the next few decades at a cost of around 5 per cent of GDP – a few years worth of economic growth at the most. Quite possibly, as in previous cases, this wll turn out to be an overestimate.

fn1. Both groups engage in a fair bit of wishful thinking about their position, the Greens arguing that we’ll all be happier in the long run and the Browns claiming that the environmental problems will solve themselves if we ignore them.

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  1. Kanga
    August 4th, 2006 at 21:26 | #1

    Dear all,

    There is currently an interesting enquiry going on with regard to doomsaying; specifically with regard to the problems of global oil supply. People on this particular discussion list often ask for hard indicators that things are deteriorating. This document might be of interest to them.

    Original source: Hansard: Enquiry by the Commonwealth Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, Tuesday 11 July 2006, Sydney. (1)

    Kanga’s report on
    the Senate Enquiry into Australia’s future oil supply and alternative transport fuels:

    The vast populations of the modern world are the product of fossil fuel. This enquiry attempts to deal with the alien concept of managing Australia’s oil-dependent population without plentiful oil. Dr Bakhtiari, an expert witness on OPEC supplies, spoke very well and at length on the general problems attending expected petroleum decline. He was amazed to hear that Australia has sold all its gas off at a fixed price to the Chinese. He has no idea of the forced population growth in Australia, nor of how prevailing models in planning increase oil-depletion vulnerability in our cities. This vulnerability was the subject of a report on mortgages and oil vulnerability by Dr Jago Dodson, Research Fellow, Urban Research Program, and Dr Neil Sipe, Head of School of Environmental Planning, Griffith University, using an index they call VAMPIRE – vulnerability assessment for mortgages, petrol, interest rate expenditure.

    Dodson and Sipe combined ABS census data on car dependence with data on the proportion of households with mortgages, using income rather than socioeconomic status, because “for assessing the impact of rising fuel prices on these households, income was a better measure than socioeconomic status—largely because those at the very lowest end of the socioeconomic spectrum were less likely to be homeowners.” They stated that they had chosen to investigate mortgage vulnerability because the Reserve Bank now addresses rising fuel costs as a key issue inflationary factor in control of interest rates. Perhaps alluding to the new industrial laws, they also suggested that wages might not be able to keep up with increases in transport and interest rate costs.

    Their report covers five Australian cities and the planning issues flagged all result from the impacts of population growth and its political mismanagement.

    They find oil and mortgage vulnerability particularly in “the outer growth corridors of Brisbane” and “the western suburbs of the Gold Coast, away from the coastline”, and in “the outer western suburbs along the growth corridors of Sydney. The greatest vulnerability in Melbourne is “distributed in a broad arc right around the outside of Melbourne”. In Perth there is a “phenomenon of a lower vulnerability in a city with a much higher vulnerability arc around the outer and middle suburbs.”

    They feel that these patterns in Australian cities “are primarily related to the operation of housing markets which tend to provide the cheaper and newer housing in outer suburban and fringe localities. Households seeking to purchase a home for the first time are more likely to locate in those areas, and those on modest and lower incomes who are seeking home ownership are also more likely to locate in those areas because of the way that the housing market is structured. However, this means that they run into the problem of the relatively poor provision of public transport services in fringe and outer suburban areas compared to the inner-city localities.”

    They date this back to the “shift in Australian transport planning practice that occurred after the Second World War, when planners began to move away from the previous Australian model of largely transit oriented development based around the existing rail and tramway lines to modes of urban development based on the private motor car and the provision of roads and major freeways.”

    They see this “as the key point of vulnerability in the context of the rising fuel prices in Australian cities.”

    They display little confidence in the ability of State Planning Departments to deal with the increasingly serious need for better public transport:

    “In terms of our suggestions or recommendations regarding improvements to public transport, we think there needs to be dedicated public transport statutory type authorities within each state government that stand alone and are independent from the immediate departmental control of state bureaucracies. ”

    They see some “scope for expansion of rail services to new fringe estates, particularly in the growth corridor areas of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and remark that “… Rowville in Melbourne’s outer south-east” has been waiting for a promised train line for almost 40 years, and now also faces rising fuel prices.

    To claims that the states cannot afford public transport they pointed out that billions of dollars are already spent on roads:

    “If you look at the total transport budget that state governments currently expend, there is actually multiple billions of dollars available for transport. The trouble is that most of it is currently dedicated to providing major road infrastructure such as freeways and tunnels. If you add in tollways, the sums are in the multiple billions.”

    They suggest that these “projects can be postponed in the budgetary process and the money [for them] could be transferred to the funding of specifically local scale public transport services to make sure that the outer suburbs have as high a quality of service as those in the inner city.”

    They see “a need to improve local-scale amenity in terms of walking and cycling and access to local shopping trips so that households, in responding to rising fuel prices, are able, even if they do not make all their trips by public transport, to start to cut out a few of those minor local trips that might save them money over time. Those primarily involve walking to the local shops and to employment and other services.”

    The following exchange between Senator Webber (of Perth) and Dr Dodson is indicative of the problem of paradigms that pass like ships in the night. Webber is not able to consider that the city might have to stop growing:

    Senator Webber – “…What do you mean by the provision of local public transport in terms of that swap from developing roads to developing local public transport? It is much cheaper for me to build a major road or extend the freeway to allow people to get into the city to work than it is to build the train line. It is quicker. Surely, it is not necessarily an either/or, if I am going to allow the city to keep developing. It has to be both.”

    Dr Dodson— “… given the concern that has been expressed to this committee about rising fuel prices, there is strong potential that there will be less demand for those radial roads that provide access to the CBD.”

    Dr Sipe added that, ” In south-east Queensland with the latest regional plan, basically about 20 per cent of the transport funds are spent for public transport and 80 per cent is for roads. Some of those roads are not necessarily to service newly developing areas. They are trying to move traffic faster through the city by spending $3 billion on a tunnel. We would really question whether, in 10 years, there is going to be anybody who can afford to pay the toll and the fuel to use the tunnel. It is really that issue of bringing things a little bit more into balance, because clearly at this point in time the roads lobby is in charge.

    Dr Dodson pointed to a “serious inequity [that governments should address through their transport policies] when you have your lowest and most modest income households in localities on the fringe, where now they are facing high transport costs.”

    Senator Joyce of Queensland exclaimed that putting in rail infrastructure would require “moving houses and roads and changing everything around”. She concluded, “A lot of this is a nirvana; it is never going to happen because the cost of putting in new rail networks will be prohibitive.”

    Dr Dodson responded by suggested that the very high cost of buying up inner-city real-estate and re-routing roads through the centre of Brisbane did not seem to be deterring the Queensland government from its project to build tunnels for inner urban road traffic.

    (1) General Hansard reference is http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard
    (Based on an uncorrected proof of evidence taken before the committee, available under the condition that it is recognised as such.)

    Senators in attendance were: Senators Hutchins, Joyce, Milne, Siewert, Sterle and Webber

  2. August 6th, 2006 at 16:31 | #2

    Kanga,
    Just a quick comment. I’m sure Dr. Bakhtiari was “…amazed to hear that Australia has sold all its gas off at a fixed price to the Chinese…”. So would the rest of us. We have forward sold only a small proportion of the reserves. The undeveloped reserves of the North West Shelf dwarf what has been forward sold to the Chinese.

  3. August 6th, 2006 at 20:42 | #3

    Andrew, you wrote:

    If you are trying to put together a case for a massive, forced change that would mean that I, my children and everyone else would need to change for a life that is vastly worse then I would need to be convinced by more than “So what?” …

    I have put forward a case for change. If you can’t see that, then that’s your problem and not mine.

    If my ideas are as silly as you would have people think that they are, I don’t see why you need feel any concern.

    If, to the contrary, it it turns out that the majority comes to realisation, as I have, that continuing with ‘business as usual’, will lead to a catastrophic collapse of our society, then can they be expected to allow a minority, who are either too selfish or too stupid to understand that there is a problem, to stop them from doing what needs to be done?

    … and platitudinous statements about central planning of everything, …

    Where have I advocated ‘central planning of everything’, anywhere, let alone in this thread?

    … including who can breed.

    I consider this to be hitting below the belt. Promotion of policies aimed at reducing populaton levels is not the same as governments dictating who can and who cannot have children.

    If you continue to misrepresent me in this way, don’t presume that I will take the trouble to respond in future.

  4. August 7th, 2006 at 19:15 | #4

    James,
    Identifying a possible problem, without recognising the mitigants to that problem, do not constitute a case for change.
    You have said repeatedly that we need to move back to 1066 England, or thereabouts. This would involve a crash in population of in excess of 95%. You have also said that this would need to be achieved by a government planning process. Even if we adopt a full one child policy (enforced, presumably, by the government) it would take in excess of 200 years to make the required drop in population. Even the Chinese government, with the ability to enforce forced sterilisation, cannot achieve that.
    A program of simple persuasion would simply not be enough. Force would have to be used. Ignoring the practicalities of you position and then saying that pointing them out is “bleow the belt” is disingenous at best. If you have a solution that works within the required timescales that is likely to work, let me know.So far, despite frequent requests, you have not done so.
    On central planning – you explicitly reject the use of the price mechanism several times. Other than allowing people the freedom to decide resource allocation through prices by themselves, what else is there besides force and planning?
    Again, saying that you are simply the messenger and ignoring the requirements of your message at best is disingenous. I contend that, through what we as a species have learnt, the freedom to deploy that properly as expressed through the price mechanism the need for any radical action is simply not there. You contend (I believe, feel free to correct me) that strong government action is needed to drop the population to a level you believe is sustainable as well as leving most of the benefits of technology behind (except, for a period, perhaps the internet, refrigeration and others as yet undefined).
    If we look through history, government action of this sort has been uniformly disasterous. I see no basis for your seeming confidence that any government could get it right this time.

  5. August 8th, 2006 at 09:58 | #5

    Andrew,

    you continue to misrepresent my position. What you have done this time is to reduce it to an absurd simplification.

    Pre-Norman England – a sustainable society

    My point about pre-Norman society was that it was a sustainable society, which did not require the use of non-renewable resources that will soon be unavailable to us, thanks to the profligate waste caused by the free markets, which you encourage and welcome.

    The overall quality of life and life expectancy of people living in that era, were not again matched until the latter half of the twentieth century as Kanga pointed out in her earlier post.

    It seems logical to me that if civilisation is to endure after this form of society inevitably fails, that it will need to change to look more like previous successful civilisations, one example being the aforementioned pre-Norman England. Perhaps, very hopefully, with the knowledge we have gained since then, we may be able to support population considerably higher than existed then, but I would not be too certain that we are so much more knowledgeable now, overall.

    Measures to achieve sustainable population levels

    You dismiss my proposed solution to the problem of over-population on the grounds that you see it as being unworkable unless draconian means are employed:

    A program of simple persuasion would simply not be enough.

    So, instead, you would have us do nothing, and instead wait until nature does it for us.

    Market forces vs collective human decision making

    You write:

    I contend that, through what we as a species have learnt, the freedom to deploy that properly as expressed through the price mechanism the need for any radical action is simply not there. … If we look through history, government action of this sort has been uniformly disastrous.

    This is extreme blinkered ideological claptrap which, yet again, confirms your inability to draw obvious conclusions from known incontrovertible facts.

    How about, just for a start the reduction of the manufacture of CFC’s which have saved our ozone layer, which protects the earth from deadly Ultra-violet radiation? I note that you have avoided any mention of this central point of Professor Quiggin’s original article, and this seems to be only one of many inconvenient facts which you have chosen not to confront. As Clive Hamilton writes in “A trump card in the nuclear power play” in today’s SMH:

    The world did not eliminate the production of ozone-depleting substances by relying on the good sense of consumers in buying CFC-free fridges. We insisted governments negotiate an international treaty that banned CFCs.

    Another of many examples where Government action has markedly improved the lives of ordinary people is the provision of universal free education. If you truly maintain that we would have been better off if it had been left to market forces, then you are deluded.

  6. August 8th, 2006 at 11:57 | #6

    James,
    Reduction in the use of CFCs, when alternatives were clearly available, is hardly in the same class as a wholesale reduction in population. I have never said that all government actions should be stopped: some are useful. The ban on CFCs was a clear case where there was an identifiable harm being done, a low cost alternative and few on-costs of the decision. No problem.
    Thanks for your first attempt, in this entire thread, to provide some information on how to reduce population. I will read it when I have some time.
    If you believe that universal education is “free” then you are the deluded one. It is not. It is funded through taxation. If you want to have a debate about education funding, I would be happy to – but I suggest you and Ernestine would then blame me (again) for going off on to a tangent, which would be yet again another tangent of your making.

  7. August 8th, 2006 at 12:35 | #7

    Andrew,

    Glad to see that you actually agree that it was better for governments to have acted against the CFC threat to our ozone layer instead of having just waited for ‘price signals’ to take effect, presumably some time after 99% of life on our planet would have shrivelled from exposure to ultra-violet radiation.

    That was an easy problem to fix in comparison to overpopulation.

    Again, I say, the stark choice facing humanity is to either implement means to bring back population levels to sustainable levels through the relatively humane means I have suggested, that is, of adopting a policy of encouragement of one-child families, or allowing nature to reduce our population levels for us far more brutally.

    We certainly must not compound the problem that we will have to deal with in the near future by encouraging further population growth as our boy-genius Federal Treasurer and would-be Prime Minister would have us do.

    In regard to education, obviously it is not ‘free’ in the literal sense of the meaning, but that’s not an argument I don’t wish to pursue here. I had misread your previous post as opposition to any government intervention whatsoever, anywhere (which I recall is not that very far from what you have written elsewhere). That is why I raised that example.

  8. August 8th, 2006 at 12:49 | #8

    James,
    Thanks. However, I disagree that a policy of one child families would have this effect. The only country where one child families have been tried has not been a good example.
    You and I will have to agree to disagree, again. I maintain that the transition to a non-fossil fueled future is one that will occur gradually and without substantial disruption, thanks to the considerable technological, educational and economic base we now have. I also believe that, through free choice, world population will level off at around 13 billion in about 2050 and decline gradually thereafter for the foreseeable future.
    The situation could be improved, and any required transistion sped up, if governments took a step back and did not mandate either the means or the outcomes, but did make sure that the infrastucture, including education and law and order, was maintained.
    I take it you would disagree with all except the last little bit.

  9. August 8th, 2006 at 13:03 | #9

    Andrew – “You and I will have to agree to disagree, again. I maintain that the transition to a non-fossil fueled future is one that will occur gradually and without substantial disruption, thanks to the considerable technological, educational and economic base we now have.”

    I am not sure this is a point that needs agreeing. Your idea here is sheer folly. You are “preparing for the best and hoping for the best”. Our ideas are “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best”. Your only justification for your position is that you would like to ensure that people continue to make lots of money.

    Your position, and that is what we are in fact doing, leaves us in pretty bad shape if the worst predictions come to pass. At least with our position if the worst happens then we are prepared. You are betting the farm on your postion being correct. We are not prepared to take such a risk and would prefer some risk mitigation just in case the worst happens.

    Again I am in no way saying the worst IS going to happen, I am not a doomsayer, I would just like to be prepared just in case.

  10. August 8th, 2006 at 14:59 | #10

    Ender,
    I believe the medium case will be the outcome – the best would be the immediate cesation of all war, universal peace, complete free trade and free movement of people, no crime, sustainable development only, etc. etc. etc.
    Whichever is the outcome, I would still maintain that a minimum of government interference would be for the best.

  11. August 8th, 2006 at 16:30 | #11

    Andrew – You misunderstand me. The best outcome is what you descibe, a seamless transition to a non-fossil fuel technological society. The worst is total collapse of the global economy with all the disruptions to food supplies, medicine supplies and war over remaining resources including water.

    Preparing for the worst by transitioning hard and early and paying the cost, with government intervention, is to me the only sensible thing to do. Wait and you are flirting with the chance that the worst will occur.

  12. August 8th, 2006 at 19:09 | #12

    Ender,
    An early, forced transition would, to me at least, be the worst outcome. Both the process and the outcome would be fully mandated and would probably be forced through no matter the cost, either in terms of lives or outcomes. A process where relative prices adjusted over time would allow for a sense check at all stages of the transition and would also allow for developing technologies to show their abilities through the process.
    I keep coming back to Lord Acton’s maxim about power corrupting. Trusting anyone with the sorts of powers needed to force a transition like this trough is just asking for rampant corruption.
    A laudable goal, a belief that we simply must get there at any cost, and giving someone the powers to force it is a recipie for disaster – no matter how well intentioned.

  13. August 9th, 2006 at 01:52 | #13

    Andrew, you wrote:

    Trusting anyone with the sorts of powers needed to force a transition like this trough is just asking for rampant corruption.

    This is a sleight of hand.

    Is anyone actually suggesting that ‘power’ be given to an unaccountable dicatator?

    If people demand of their democratically elected Governments that they use the powers they have in their hands to meet the crisis and to lead society through the transition I believe will be necessary, then who are you to say that they can’t?

    Why should the exercise of the powers necessary to achieve such a transition be any more likely to lead to corruption than did the exercise of the necessary powers by President Lincoln in order to win the American Civil War lead to corruption there or the exercise of powers by Churchill in order to win the Second World War lead to corruption in the UK?

  14. August 9th, 2006 at 11:07 | #14

    Andrew – I guess we will see what is the worst or best outcome in the future.

  15. August 9th, 2006 at 12:29 | #15

    James,
    You tempt another tangent – war powers. Again, I am happy to discuss the power George Bush has used to lock up people without charge or trial (a democratically elected President, BTW) in a self-declared “warâ€?, but I suspect another charge of tangent initiation would be forthcoming.
    To be brief, though. A democratically elected dictator is a dictator nonetheless – the more power is concentrated in their hands, the more likely corruption is. Several people have been democratically elected initially and go on to be dictators, subverting and destroying the electoral process. You have discussed in the past how a democratic choice can be subverted (the examples I may have disagreed with, but the principle I did not) so, to me at least, it is very important, indeed critical, that no matter what the people want there are some principles that should never be set aside. To me, the sorts of changes you are discussing as necessary are so large that the powers to effect them would need to be very strong.
    I would regard the chances of corruption of the process, and its ultimate subversion, as being much higher than the risks that the preferences of the people, as revealed through the prices they pay for goods and services, will lead to the wrong result.
    I would agree with Ender – lets see what happens.

  16. August 9th, 2006 at 13:10 | #16

    Andrew, you wrote:

    A democratically elected dictator is a dictator nonetheless – the more power is concentrated in their hands, the more likely corruption is.

    And you have shown yourself to be foremost amongst the apologists for that ‘democatically elected dicatator’ who now rules from Canberra.

    You’re the one who thinks that governments, once elected, have mandates to do anything they please, even to pass legislation such as the “WorkChoices” legislation without it having even been put to the public.

    You defended the circumvention of the normal powers of scrutiny by the Senate so that this Government could rush through its privatisation legislation.

    Here are your own words:

    As for the government – for some odd reason it is full of politicians. In this case they are trying to do what is right (at least in their opinion), rather that what they believe to be popular. As a result, they are trying to keep their heads down. The reason it is being rushed through is to get it done ASAP so that it will be forgotten by the next election.

    and :

    James, politicians are politicians. Do not expect great and brave stands from them, on either side of the House. When they are doing something they know they need to do, or at least believe they need to do, do not expect then to poke their heads above the barricades. They do it as quickly as possible with the minimum possible fuss. This happens regardless of which party is in power.

    Unlike you, I have more faith in the intelligence of ordinary people, if they are properly informed, and, unlike you, I don’t think it is acceptable to have political ‘leaders’ who want the public to forget, by the time of the next election, what they are now doing in their name.

    I see no reason, why it shold not be possible for a government, which is far more democratic, open and accountable than the current Federal Government, to be able to lead society in making the necessary hard choices that have to be made if we are to avoid the collapse of our society.

  17. August 9th, 2006 at 18:42 | #17

    James,
    In the first case, with Workchoices, I believe it is an improvement on what went before. The pity is that they had to do it in a rushed way and get it in quickly so the (expected) good effects would occur before the next election. It is because they are not brave that they had to do it that way.
    I was not making any value judgements, nor saying what is right or wrong on either of those. Of course, I would prefer the incorruptible, fearless pursuer of the public good to be those who get elected.
    We do not get them, even with the most transparent, open electoral process possible. People lie. Power attracts the imperfect. No matter how good the elections, power changes people. This is why the process has to be regular and as open as possible to keep the corruption down. The amount of power they have also has to be limited, again for the same reason.
    Trusting anyone, even someone with a full democratic mandate and an impeccable history with the sorts of powers needed to enforce the changes you seem to believe are needed is, to me at least, a recipe not for an optimal outcome, but disaster.
    In any case, you basic presumption, that radical change is needed, is wrong. There is only one resource we are likely to run out of over the next century – oil. All the other resources we are currently using are either plentiful or recyclable. Substitutes already exist for all of oil’s functions. Granted, some are higher cost. Some may be lower cost, but all would have a substantially lower cost than the risk of allowing an elected dictatorship.

  18. August 10th, 2006 at 08:48 | #18

    Andrew,

    I wrote in my previous post:

    Unlike you, I have more faith in the intelligence of ordinary people, if they are properly informed, …

    Your first response is to tell me how both you and the Government know better than the electors what is good for them than they do themselves:

    I believe (“work choices”) is an improvement on what went before. The pity is that they had to do it in a rushed way and get it in quickly so the (expected) good effects would occur before the next election. It is because they are not brave that they had to do it that way.

    If you want to argue that “Work Choices” will somehow eventually turn Australia a better society, then you are welcome to do so elsewhere, but the simple incontrovertible fact is that John Howard would not be Prime Minister today if he had told workers that he had planned to take away their protection from unfair dismissal, entitlements to shift penalty rates, overtime penaty rates, public holidays, annual leave and so many other rights we had taken for granted up until now.

    When you rationalise in this way one of the most grotesque examples of deceit by government that I know of in a Western democracy, then it seems to me that your objection to government action to confront the threat posed by fossil fuel depletion on the grounds that governments must necessarily always be corrupt and dishonest is extremely disingenuous.

    You wrote:

    There is only one resource we are likely to run out of over the next century – oil. All the other resources we are currently using are either plentiful or recyclable. Substitutes already exist for all of oil’s functions. Granted, some are higher cost. Some may be lower cost, but all would have a substantially lower cost than the risk of allowing an elected dictatorship.

    There are no alternatives to petroleum that are anwhere near as conventient and cheap to produce. Adaption to alternatives will require at least the replacement of hundreds of millions of motor vehicles and items machinery in use today as well as the whole infrastucture which extracts refines and distributes petroleum. Also means to continue the production of plastics, fertiliezers, pesticides and pharmaceuticals have to be found.

    There is simply no basis to assume that markets can somehow find a replacement for this resource upon which the whole world’s economy is now dependant. Governments must take action now in order to preserve what little of this resource we have left so that it can be used to make the necessary transtion, instead of being needlessly wasted.

    Copper is another resource which is likely to soon reach its peak in production. I have also explained above why we cannot depend upon the recycling of copper and metals and other materials indefinitely.

  19. August 10th, 2006 at 11:47 | #19

    James,
    The reason you gave on recycling was patent hogwash. Energy is not running out. There is plenty of it arriving from the sun day after day to recycle everything, and, best of all, this does not increase the universe’s entropy above the levels it would already get to. That makes it sustainable for about the next 4 billion years, which I think gives us just about enough time to muddle through in the mean time.
    The problem is, as I have said ad nauseum, a technical one. This is why virtually no economist or scientist of any repute is to worried about an overall lack of energy, the problem is whether oil will run out too fast to allow an orderly change over. You, and Ender, seem to think that oil will run out faster than we can change over. I disagree, but there are many people with a large amount of data who can argue over this. Most of htem, AFAIK, agree with me, but they coul d be wrong and it is a legitimate topic of debate.
    Of on the (horrors) tangent on the government (a tangent you started, before you start pointing the finger) there are so many examples of governments promising one thing in an election campaign, only to do exactly the opposite (Hawke and Keating promising “never� to introduce a CGT springs to mind) that when a party campaigning for government does not say exactly what they are going to do and then do it, it almost counts as telling the truth.
    Grow up. Stop expecting the full truth, or even the truth, from the people we elect. You will never get it from any of the parties, even the Greens change position occasionally and they do not have the pressure of actually having any responsibility or power.
    This is one of the reasons why they cannot and should not be trusted with absolute power, no matter how strong the mandate.

  20. August 11th, 2006 at 11:29 | #20

    Andrew, you wrote:

    The reason you gave on recycling was patent hogwash.

    Had it occurred to you to at least first pay me the courtesy of demonstrating that you had understood the arguments I had put, before dismissing them as ‘patent hogwash’? Are saying that you therefore believe that materials can be recycled at 100% efficiency in every cycle? Unless this can be done, or at least done at an efficiency very close to 100%, then recycling cannot be continued indefinitely. Also I think I recall that you agreed with my point that it is not possible to recycle concrete or ceramics. Do you now instead maintain that those points are hogwash also?

    There is plenty of (energy) arriving from the sun day after day to recycle everything, …

    Yes, there is energy arriving from the sun, but capturing it, concentrating it, storing and distributing it so that we can use it for tasks such as transport, mining, agriculture, recycling and manufacturing on the massive scale that needs to be done to maintain the humankind’s current requirements, which, as I said before are orders of magnitude greater than what have been humankind’s requirements for nearly all of its history, is something that has yet to be demonstrated in practice and there is no way you can possibly know that it can be done.

    The problem is, as I have said ad nauseum, a technical one.

    What is the point of this cliche?

    Of course it is a technical problem, but one that has to be solved on an unimaginably massive scale. For you to attribute to the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market an ability to cause technology to conjure, out of a world depleted of fossil fuels, sufficient wealth to maintain a world population of 13,000,000,000 presumably on average incomes of well over AU$100,000 PA, makes the cargo cultists of New Guinea look immeasurably more rational and numerate by comparison.

    … virtually no economist or scientist of any repute is to worried about an overall lack of energy, …

    Garbage!

    Stop wasting people’s time with such unfounded sweeping generalisations.

    … the problem is whether oil will run out too fast to allow an orderly change. You, and Ender, seem to think that oil will run out faster than we can change over. I disagree, …

    And if you are wrong, what then?

    I put it to you that most people who care enough to have thought about the issue are very worried that there may not be time. Certainly, if people were to pay any undue attention to the kind of nonsense you are peddling, we would waste what little time we do have left.

    there are so many examples of governments promising one thing in an election campaign, only to do exactly the opposite (Hawke and Keating promising “never” to introduce a CGT springs to mind) that when a party campaigning for government does not say exactly what they are going to do and then do it, it almost counts as telling the truth.

    As I know I have asked elsewhere, where have I ever made excuses for the behaviour of Hawke and Keating? What possible relevance does this have to anything?

    Grow up. Stop expecting the full truth, or even the truth, from the people we elect. …

    This time, you have taken things too far.

    You rebuke me and insult me for daring to take exception to your own miserable low expectations of our political leadership.

    As far as I am concerned you would be doing myself and everyone else a huge favour if you were to cease wasting our time by posting your tedious repetitive message that no matter what the problem is, the answer is always the free market.

  21. August 11th, 2006 at 12:21 | #21

    James,
    On peak oil – if you are wrong, what then? We have wasted a large amount of growth that could be used to bring a lot of people out of poverty, wealth that could have been used to further scientific endeavour, fund our schools etc. There is considerable downside to effecting massive change if it is not needed.
    On the other question – perhaps you should look at your tendency to believe that, whatever the problem is, the answer is government action.
    I have low expectations of governments and politicians for a good reason – they consistently fail to live up to high expectations. The more power we give them, or they take, the worse they are. It is that simple and that complicated. Governments are needed for certain tasks – national defence, law and order, some infrastructure and ensuring minimal educational standards for the young. These are what governments tend to be better than the market at. Wielding enormous power to effect society wide changes is simply not on that list. The market is not the answer to every problem, but it has a very useful part to play in most of them.
    Society has a long, long history of change, both rapid and slow. It changes rapidly when needed and slowly when not. We are, at the moment, in a period of rapid change – perhaps in a direction you do not like, but we have been shown to be capable of rapid change.
    All you need to do is convince enough people you are right. You have failed, so far, with me. You are welcome to keep trying, but I have not seen any reason yet why you even may be right.

  22. September 18th, 2006 at 11:00 | #22

    I have posted blog a copy of a post to the Energy Resources mailing list in response to an article by John Horgan, The Final Frontier, in Discover Magazine of September 2006, which challenges the accepted wisdom that human knowledge can expand forever without limit are included below. To the contrary, the article and the post argue that we stand to lose most of the knowledge we have gained over the past few centuries as our society very likely collapses due to the destruction of our natural capital caused by our industrial system.

    I don’t entirely accept its pessimism. I think that there is a chance that its most grim predictions can be avoided if we can begin to change the direction of our society soon. A necessary first step would be to challenge the predominant ideology of neo-liberalism which has been the rationale for handing across so much power from elected governments to unelected corporations in recent decades, the most striking and disastrous example being the privatisation of Telstra.

    On “The Final Frontier”

    Hello Everyone,

    The latest issue of Discover Magazine contains a very important article by John Horgan’s titled, “The Final Frontier: Are we nearing the limits of knowledge? A new investigation seeks the truth behind an old scientific taboo”:

    http://www.discover.com/issues/oct-06/cover/

    Though the article’s subject matter generates a lot of heated argument from scientists, John Horgan is merely stating the obvious: Humans are not omniscient, therefore science is limited.

    What John Horgan has noticed is diminishing marginal returns for scientific research. The most dramatic example of science’s diminishing returns, notmentioned in the article, is seen in NASA’s degeneration following the monumental accomplishment of the Apollo project. Technological optimists really did believe that walking on the moon was merely a stepping stone to bigger andbetter things: A lunar base, colonization of Mars and exploration of space. Since Apollo, however, NASA has remained stuck in Earth orbit, and it has done so very poorly with an obsolete and deadly Space Shuttle technology.

    There’s a distinct possibility that the Peak Human Space Flight occurred back in the 1970′s.

    Why is science experiencing diminishing marginal returns? In the article, David Lee or Cornell University is quoted, “Fundamental discoveries are becoming more and more expensive and more difficult to achieve.” In other words, human scientific efforts have already obtained nearly all of the cheap and easy knowledge, most of the expensive and difficult knowledge, and is now encountering the prohibitively expensive and hence impossible knowledge.

    But the most important observation in the article:

    “The ‘that’s what they thought then’ response implies that because science advances rapidly over the past century or so, it must continue to do so, possibly forever. This is faulty inductive reasoning. A broader view of history suggests that the modern era of explosive progress is an anomaly — the product of a unique convergence of social, economic, and political factors — that must eventually end. Relativity theory prohibits travel or communication faster thanlight. Quantum mechanics and chaos theory constrain the precision with which we can make predictions. Evolutionary biology reminds us that we are animals, shaped by natural selection not for discovering deep truths of nature but breeding.”

    Any thinking person should recognize that limits exist. The general public, however, has been fed a steady diet of science-fiction optimistic misconceptions. People really do believe that humans have an infinite capacity to increase knowledge and technology, and also that technological solutions will always materialize just-in-time (seconds before disaster during a television program’s climax).

    (The full post can be found here on Energy Resources or here. The post concludes )

    Was it worth it? That’s what I would like to know. Did we destroy the Earth and our own future for a worth while cause? At this point in which life is so easy (for the prosperous people of the world) it all might seem worth it, but billions are allowed to suffer. In the future, prosperity will come to an end and the formerly prosperous people will suffer like everyone else. At that point,I suppose, people will begin to realize that we humans are fools, and that we have doomed our species to Hell on Earth by destroying so much for so little.

    Our gains are transient, our losses will endure. A day will come in which humans will really need to have healthy ecosystems to provide their food supplies, but they will find that previous generations have so destroyed the environment that their ecosystem cannot possibly sustain humans. What will they think of us, then?

    They are going to hate us. We will represent a physical manifestation of Satan to them. And for good reason, the price of our technological “heaven” will bepaid in their living Hell.

    We have destroyed humankind’s future and driven our species to the brink of extinction. Human footprints on the moon won’t mean much when there are no longer any human footprints on the Earth.

  23. September 18th, 2006 at 19:02 | #23

    James,
    Strange how almost every example I have seen on the failures of science are example of the failure of government funded science. Once you look at private, profit driven or not, science, the gains are much more evident. Look at the computer on your desk and compare it to the ones being used in 1969, the moment of NASA’s greatest triumph, if you are in any doubt.

  24. November 6th, 2006 at 08:17 | #24

    JQ states ” we can’t protect the environment unless we are willing to accept a radical reduction in our standard of living”. Sorry, but I cannot accept this statement. If you define a high standard of living as ‘owning stuff’, then you are simply wrong. If our standard of living is so great, why is it we have to spend so much money repairing people? Why is there so much depression?

    Our modern lifestyle is crap! I know, because on the whole I have divorced it. I have never been happier than since I quit working (for a wage of course, at the age of 46!) June next year, I will ditch my car, and I can’t wait! Finally organised so I no longer need it.

    I grow much of my own food (spent $50 shopping in the last 2 weeks), am totally water and energy self sufficient (apart from the 60L of petrol I still use a fortnight), and I’m debt free. Free of the economy. I need so little money to live on, it’s AMAZING! I’m also so healthy now, I haven’t even so much as had a cold in over two years (I’m 54 now). Once I’ll have ditched the car, my footprint will be sustainable. Totally. And my living standard is the BEST it’s ever been. I do what I want, when I want, well almost. Just give me six more months.

    JQ then goes on to say: On the one hand, claims that we are bound to run out of resources, made most vigorously by the Club of Rome in the 1970s, have repeatedly been refuted by experience. Most natural resources have actually become cheaper, but even in cases where prices have risen, such as that of oil, the economic impact has been marginal, relative to the long-run trend of increasing income. The recent increase in the price of oil, for example, might, if sustained, reduce income by about 1 per cent, or around 4 months of economic growth.

    Really JQ? We’re not running out of resources? So they fall out of the sky to replenish do they? I don’t know where you’ve heard commodity prices have been falling. They’re all UP! Copper wire has doubled in price just this year (I know, I’m still building my house). Gold, silver, zinc, lead, nickel, all up, all past their peak of production most likely. Supply can no longer meet demand, just as the Club of Rome predicted! Why is it they are ALWAYS mis-quoted? They tried about six different models of growing resource use, and every model predicted a collapse of civilisation within 100 years of their report, 1970. We are now 35% of the way into this period, and they are BANG ON!

    But of course, you’re an economist JQ, and you measure everything with dollars! I’m an energy man, and I measure everything in MegaJoules (MJ). So when you say the increase in the price of oil will reduce income by about 1%, I say so what? What if you can’t drive to work because of shortages, how much will your income be reduced then?

    By ABARE’s very own figures, unless a shitload of oil is found very very soon, Australia could be totally out of the stuff within SIX YEARS. It will then be all imported, just as everybody else in the world wants a piece of the action.

    Worse, as we ‘run out’ and slide down the backside of Hubbert’s Peak, the quality of the oil worsens (thicker, sourer) and the depths at which it needs to be extracted from get deeper and deeper, such that more and more energy has to be wasted to distil it to the standard we have all become accustomed to. The same applies to ALL resources. The easiest and best resources get used first, known as the low hanging fruit syndrome.

    Furthermore, food volumes produced on this planet have been in decline for five years straight. Of course, the number of people keeps going up at about 4 Australias per annum. So less food is available, and the price goes up. But she’ll be right JQ, market forces will ensure that we with the most money will always be able to get our lot….. Hang everyone else.

    Your precious economy is on the brink of collapse. Right now. Yes, the end is nigh. Inflation and interest rates rises will see lots of people going bankrupt as they can no longer fuel their 4WD’s, and nobody wants to take them off their hands.

    Your statements on air quality are also fanciful. All we’ve really done is export the pollution to where all our ‘stuff’ is now made, namely China.

    Do yourself a favour JQ, buy a copy of “Limits to Growth”, and read it again (you have read it, right?).

    Mike Stasse

  25. November 17th, 2006 at 21:19 | #25

    The program put forward by IP comes in a series of stages. The first is to fit coal-drying technology to two units of its eight-unit Hazelwood plant, the most greenhouse-polluting generator in Australia. That technology, IP’s LETDF submission claims, will cut emissions from its oldest two generation units by as much as 30 per cent, to about 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity generated.

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