Home > Economics - General, Environment > CO2 emissions levelling out?

CO2 emissions levelling out?

April 7th, 2015

Preliminary estimates from the International Energy Agency, released in March, suggest that energy-related emissions of CO2[1] were unchanged in 2014 compared to 2013. Countries experiencing notable drops in emissions included China, Britain, Germany and the EU as a whole, but not, of course, Australia[2]

This has happened before, but only in years of global recession, whereas the global growth rate in 2014 was around 3 per cent. Of course, there are plenty of special factors such as a good year for hydro in China. Still, after looking carefully at the numbers, I’ve come to the conclusion that this really does represent, if not the long-sought peak in emissions, at least the end of the link between rising living standards and CO2 emissions.

The most striking feature of 2014 in this context was the behavior of fossil fuel prices. Coal prices had already fallen a long way from their peak levels in the years around the GFC, and they kept on falling through the year, even as coal mines began to close and lots of projects were abandoned. Oil prices remained at historically high levels until the middle of the year but then joined the downward trend, which has continued into 2015. Natural gas is a more complex story, since there isn’t a global market, and I haven’t figured it out yet.

Still, it seems to me that the 2014 outcome is a consistent with a story in which most growth in demand for energy services will be met by a combination of renewables and energy efficiency, and in which coal continues to lose ground to gas. The lack of demand implies that fossil fuel prices are likely to stay permanently below the levels anticipated when most recent projects were initiated.

Behind all this, it seems as if the various piecemeal measures introduced with the aim of switching away from fossil fuels are working better than almost anyone expected, and with minimal economic cost. Hopefully, this will encourage world leaders to set more ambitious targets, consistent with stabilising the global climate at temperatures 2 degrees or less above pre-industrial levels.

fn1. This excludes, for example, the effects of land use change, on which the IEA doesn’t collect data
fn2. At least after the repeal of the carbon tax

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  1. Terry Hilsberg
    April 7th, 2015 at 20:07 | #1

    This also suggests to me that measures that operate only at the margin are probably more effective and efficient than those that apply to all of the market, whether they be taxes or pseudo markets. I am suspicious of both such camps. Tony Abbott may have inadvertently got it right.

  2. plaasmatron
    April 7th, 2015 at 20:14 | #2

    Are there any recent studies on the viability of the Carmicheal and Whitehaven mines that are in the pipeline in Australia, based on current and projected prices?

    Surely these mines are no longer profitable. Still, if coal is “good for humanity” then we have a moral duty to dig it up and burn it.

  3. John Quiggin
    April 7th, 2015 at 20:38 | #3

    @plaasmatron

    My view is that the Galilee Basin mines, including Carmichael, are never going to happen. GVK already missed its payment to Hancock for the second half of the purchase price, and Adani hasn’t found any finance for its projects

    http://www.asiaenergysecurity.com/newsdetail.aspx?pid=1948

    On the other hand, Whitehaven is already shipping so it only has to cover extraction costs to keep going. Prices will have to fall a fair bit further before that happens

  4. Ikonoclast
    April 7th, 2015 at 21:33 | #4

    To recap, we have grown 3% on the same fossil fuel energy emissions. It could be any or all of;

    (1) More “emission-efficient” fuels like gas.
    (2) More use of renewable energy.
    (3) More use of nuclear energy.
    (4) More efficient production per unit energy use.
    (5) Less energy wasted in non-production consumption.

    Do the figures tell us in detail which effects as above are occurring?

  5. plaasmatron
    April 7th, 2015 at 22:59 | #5

    @John Quiggin
    John, the article you linked to refers to GVK missing the payment to Hancock. Aparrently Adani and Carmicheal are all systems go, albeit with significant headwinds.

    http://businesstoday.intoday.in/story/gautam-adani-group-australian-coal-mine-investment-analysis/1/213956.html

  6. plaasmatron
    April 7th, 2015 at 23:00 | #6

    @John Quiggin
    John, the article you linked to refers to GVK missing the payment to Hancock. Aparrently Adani and Carmicheal are all systems go, albeit with significant headwinds.

    (this time without the first part of the url)
    businesstoday.intoday.in/story/gautam-adani-group-australian-coal-mine-investment-analysis/1/213956.html

  7. James Wimberley
    April 8th, 2015 at 00:33 | #7

    @Ikonoclast
    You leave out the likeliest factor: a structural shift away from energy-intensive manufactures. The weight of German, British, French anf Japanese GDP has been falling for a while. Chinese heavy industrial production has been growing slower than GDP, and the production of pig iron has flatlined. Some links here in a post of mine, anticipating JQ’s by a fortnight.

  8. John Chapman
    April 8th, 2015 at 08:18 | #8

    Cool.

  9. Hermit
    April 8th, 2015 at 08:35 | #9

    The levelling out could be correct now we want a steady decline. Some of the IPCC’s high emissions scenarios like RCP 8.5 can now probably be ruled out. I suspect most countries will keep their big coal stations until they need replacing 20 years from now. For example Germany remains steadfastly fossil fuel dependent despite up to 26 bn euro a year in clean energy subsidies; see e.g.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Germany
    Perhaps decarbonising is much harder than we think when fossil fuels remain abundant, cheap and largely un-carbon taxed.

    The fact that so far we’ve just tinkered around the edges of carbon reduction makes me wonder how far we can go before it hurts. With say 50% less emissions (as opposed to 5-10%) we’ll probably have less personal mobility, more expensive food and lower real disposable incomes. So far no country has decarbonised both its electricity and transport systems. Achieving the emissions flatline is just the first step.

  10. John Chapman
    April 8th, 2015 at 08:51 | #10

    They write: “At this moment in history, it is paradoxical for universities to remain invested in fossil fuel companies. What does it mean for universities to seek to educate youth and produce leading research in order to better the future, while simultaneously investing in and profiting from the destruction of said future? This position is neither tenable nor ethical.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/07/top-academics-ask-worlds-universities-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels

  11. Newtownian
    April 8th, 2015 at 09:45 | #11

    Maybe its not lies damned lies and statistics. For the moment.

    But how much is this to do with us being in that economic malaise known as austerity? Perhaps this plateau is absolute. Or its just a temporary step as India and the rest of China demand more stuff just like us and economic fashions change back to Keynesian growth and kick start global growth with a warm and fuzzy PR exterior (circular economy, green growth, pick your oxymoron).

    Beyond that as has already been pointed out is the problem of really large reductions. Moderate reductions say 20% would probably be possible simply through efficiencies driven by cost of petrol e.g. trashing those pointless Tourak and Balmain tractors that are still the rage.

    But any close examination of CO2 budgets shows you need far more change tantamount to a change in production systems. The latter is possible technologically. And we would all be better off with a degree of small is beautiful. But that would require a change in the economic paradigm as radical as Marxism but far more effective. Not to mention the opposition of the fossil fuel companies.

    But I dont see it or even the seeds, my favorite wipping post being the Australian Greens joke economic policy….motherhood statements and a complete lack of collective evidence they even understand conventional economics let alone have an alternative.

  12. April 8th, 2015 at 10:56 | #12

    Newtonian, there is an Australian state that went from almost 0% renewable electricity to getting 40% of it electricity from wind and solar inside a decade. And so far there has been no change in the economic paradigm. More the opposite really. The dominant paradigm has just gotten paradigmier. And I’ll mention the state went from almost 0% to 40% renewable electricity via policies and technologies that I am given to understand are supported by the Greens. Though I could be wrong about this, as I don’t pay much attention to politics. Maybe the Greens have actually been supporting coal mining and coal seam gas like the Coalition. It’s possible something like that escaped my attention.

  13. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    April 8th, 2015 at 11:18 | #13

    It is intriguing that the falling price of coal does not seem to be accompanied by increased consumption.

  14. Ikonoclast
    April 8th, 2015 at 11:25 | #14

    The world is entering long term stagnation, sometimes called “secular stagnation”. This will bring CO2 emissions down but most likely in a “too little, too late” manner.

    The real underlying causes of stagnation now are the Limits to Growth. Although, very poor macroeconomic policy and structural changes in global capitalism also have a lot to do with it. Of the developed world, the EU and Japan are now in permanent stagnation. The USA fends off stagnation for the moment. The New World is not as resource exhausted as the Old World and the US has more power (military) to get resources from the rest of the world.

    China benefits for now from the shift of global manufacturing to China. But in many ways, China look to become resource exhausted well before Russia and North America. Collapse will happen on a regional basis: Middle East and North Africa first, then Pakistan, S.E. Asia, India, the rest of Africa, Europe, China, Sth America, and USA/Canada in about that order. Russia is the wild card. Resource reservess say it should collapse last but its authoritarian ineptitude and social issues suggest a much earlier collapse.

  15. Ivor
    April 8th, 2015 at 11:31 | #15

    @Ikonoclast

    Yes. But, also it is bringing down, or leveling, emissions for the wrong reason.

  16. Donald Oats
    April 8th, 2015 at 12:24 | #16

    We were told that if we hit 10% renewables on the grid, it would destabilise it and we’d all be rooned; well, in South Australia we went way past that and nothing bad happened. Considering how often load shedding occurred prior to renewables popping up, and the inconvenience of the load shedding happening—I had it happen several times during my cooking for dinner—our current renewable energy sources are no inconvenience.

    More recent developments in renewable energy, more efficient solar cells, for example, and micro cells as another, mean that significant numbers of households have little need for the grid, or at least a substantially reduced need for the grid.

    There is a lot of inertia of the social kind, but once the barriers come down, the pace of change is rapid. Governments are enablers, or disablers; sadly, we have the latter at the federal level, for the time being.

    With respect to the levelling off of CO2, until we see a few more years of it, or even a real decrease, I won’t be calling it a peak. Having skimmed the IEA report, I notice they say carbon dioxide, rather than CO2-e, which makes me wonder if they accounted for CH4 (methane) emissions, a much more significant greenhouse gas than CO2, molecule for molecule. Given the very recent boom in coal seam gas, fugitive CH4 emissions are important to consider as well now.

    China claim to be reducing their use of coal because of the urban pollution; clearly this reduces CO2 emissions, all other things being equal. However, if they are still growing their economy, they must be getting energy from somewhere else, or have figured out how to be more efficient in using what they have. Since China’s economy isn’t easy to put a value on for a single short period (e.g. a year), I’m not confident yet that the so-called levelling off of CO2 is in spite of a growing economy. Hopefully it is.

    Personally, I am confident it is possible to move to renewables on a mass scale, change how we do certain things—personal travel among them—to adapt to renewable energy sources in the same way we adapted to centralised energy production in the past, and to find further efficiencies in our use of a given unit of energy. Humans are versatile, when encouraged enough.

  17. Hermit
    April 8th, 2015 at 13:14 | #17

    Ronald & Donald
    I wonder if that unnamed Australian state has now found that at ~30% wind and solar (per official statistics) it needs to hold an inquiry into getting other forms of energy. One option is to connect more strongly to a neighbouring state that has the dirtiest energy of all. Yet another state with a historical 86% clean energy mix finds on account of reduced rainfall it will also need more of that dirty interstate energy in 2015.

  18. Donald Oats
    April 8th, 2015 at 15:02 | #18

    @Hermit
    If a proper emissions trading scheme were operational, coal fired power would be finding it tough to stay in the market. Thanks to the coal people writing the gov white paper, with nought mention of Anthropogenic Global Warming, climate change, call it what you will, our current mob has rolled over for a tummy tickle and a fist full of filthy lucre. Of course dirty coal is cheap power, and while it is cheap, people are going to want some of that; an ETS might just have made the difference, but it is unlikely we’ll get another run at it for at least half a generation. After going to an election on the simplistic mantra of axe the carbon tax, no major political party is going to risk bringing it back in as an election policy for the next election, whatever they think of the arguments on the issue. Only the Greens can risk it, and they aren’t a major party (yet).

  19. Hermit
    April 8th, 2015 at 15:41 | #19

    I think carbon pricing is the way to go but it seems the public doesn’t. Opinion polls report 65% approval of the RET which according to ACIL Allen has a cost of CO2 avoided of $59 per tonne. When carbon tax was repealed the official price was $25.40. Call me cynical but I think part of the federal RET approval is the desire to preserve state based solar feed-in tariffs most of which seem set to revert to low levels (say 5c/kwh) around 2019.

    They say a camel is a horse designed by a committee so I wonder if our pollies can actually implement an ETS that isn’t riddled with giveaways. Case in point Sen. Lambie wants smelters to not have to pay the relatively minor renewable energy certificate component of their electricity bill. What about Aussie Mums and Dads? Her former mentor thinks high emitting nickel refineries should pay the same carbon tax arrears as low emitting refineries. I think the public will have to lead and politicians follow.

  20. Jim Birch
    April 8th, 2015 at 16:35 | #20

    Ikonoclast :
    The real underlying causes of stagnation now are the Limits to Growth.

    Does that fit with a global growth rate of 3%? This sounds a little religious to me. I’d like a more proximate explanation. It seems to me that it is more likely that everyone, or really enough people to make a difference, have realized that the gig is up for fossil fuels and looking for efficiencies and alternatives. There are some good reasons to think that the linkage between fossil fuel use and growth is not that robust and this is what we are seeing.

  21. Ivor
    April 8th, 2015 at 17:28 | #21

    @Jim Birch

    You have not provided any source for your 3%?

    It appears to me that capitalist funds seek higher returns than this?

    From 1960 to 1973 Average annual growth was higher at least for;

    4% Africa
    4% South Asia
    5% Latin America

    5% France
    4% Germany
    9% Japan
    3% UK
    4% USA

    [United Nations Human development Report 1993 table 3.1]

    World GDP growth has been trending down since 1974. See:

    http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/historical_statistics/horizontal-file_03-2007.xls

    And as a result we have gone through Thatcherism, Reganism, and Keatingesque frantic efforts to prop up their system.

    The current result is 200 trillion of debt and climbing.

    There may or may not be limits to growth – but there are limits to capitalism.

  22. Ikonoclast
    April 8th, 2015 at 17:33 | #22

    @Jim Birch

    How long can the global economy keep growing on a finite planet? That is the key question. What is your guess?

    (1) Forever?
    (2) Until the sun dies?
    (3) 1 billion years?
    (4) 1 million years?
    (5) 1,000 years?
    (6) 100 years?
    (7) 50 years?
    (8) 20 years?
    (9) 10 years?

    The scientists in several disciplines are predicting on average about 10 more years. I listen to scientists a heck of a lot more than I listen to economists. Scientists have a far better predictive record.

    I think regional Limits to Growth are occuring right now. It might take another decade or two for the phenomenon to go global.

  23. Newtownian
    April 8th, 2015 at 18:54 | #23

    @Ikonoclast

    Just remembered there was this topic discussion relevant to climate change.

    Along these lines you might want to look at this article. Its excellent.

    http://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/apr/08/can-world-economy-survive-without-fossil-fuels

    Cheers

  24. Newtownian
    April 8th, 2015 at 19:29 | #24

    Ronald Brak :
    Newtonian, there is an Australian state that went from almost 0% renewable electricity to getting 40% of it electricity from wind and solar inside a decade. And so far there has been no change in the economic paradigm. More the opposite really. The dominant paradigm has just gotten paradigmier. And I’ll mention the state went from almost 0% to 40% renewable electricity via policies and technologies that I am given to understand are supported by the Greens. Though I could be wrong about this, as I don’t pay much attention to politics. Maybe the Greens have actually been supporting coal mining and coal seam gas like the Coalition. It’s possible something like that escaped my attention.

    Thanks for the response Ronald. I’m well aware of South Australia’s efforts which are a great start. And please dont mistake my comments as trying to trash PV and related efforts. My problem is that I’m a ‘fine’ details person and regretably what I’m seeing still doesnt add up – its still too little too late given a free market economy. I could rant on for hours but I’ll confine myself to 4 bits of evidence as to why by implication (some of ) the Greens greatly disappoint me. I simply dont see them taking seriously the range of issues beyond motherhood policies not rooted in reality as evidenced for example by their lack of economic policy.

    – Firstly there are the contradictory forces beautifully summarized by Larry Elliot of the Guardian (see link just above).

    – Secondly there is the problem EROEI Energy Return of Energy Input. The present economic paradigm which was heavily subsidised renewables has worked well on the margins to show what is possible. But the more you go for solar or wind without subsidy the more it will cost and cut into resources that might be used for poverty alleviation etc. I think its affordable with a change in lifestyle and economics but only with that. To appreciate the problem have a look at this article which I’ve posted before : Murphy D.J. (2014) The implications of the declining energy return on investment of oil production. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 372. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2013.0126. It seems to presage a very economic structures.

    – Third while renewables are fine for standing energy, transport poses a lot bigger and I suspect costly challenge. The technologies are advancing but the biofuel disasters (e.g. taking food crop land to fuel SUVs) illustrate how the devil is in the detail. Most fundamentally the energy density and convenience of carbon fuels is and probably will remain very hard to replace given a car dominated transport. Its easy to say the market will change things but the physics and chemistry continue to be against it.

    – Fourth, a large chunk of the Greens are in denial that population is part of the problem. Its this being wedded to ideology first and reality second which grates on me. We are already at what 1.6 earths in the way of impact. And to bring the 9 billion people to that level might take 4 to 6 earths which is plainly not possible without serious changes in economics and social structures. I say without reservation all people have a right to equity when it comes to their access to resources. But the numbers say this is not possible without massive redistribution which implies a very different economic system especially here in Oz.

  25. Donald Oats
    April 8th, 2015 at 20:57 | #25

    I’m not real sure that a large chunk of the Greens are in denial that population is part of the problem. The people I have had cause to rub shoulders with who are in the greens target group certainly do think population, and population growth, are substantial issues. Nearly every environmental issue is compounded by scale, scale which is a function of human population. If we had only a hundred million people on the planet, it would be possible to at least contemplate a relatively stable coexistence with the rest of the ecosystem. Seven billion people, of whom two billion participate in a very capital intensive, conspicuous consumption society, is two or even three orders of magnitude more destructive than the hundred million I chose for an example. It is hard to miss population’s consequences.

    So I suspect very few green-thinking people would feel population is not a deleterious factor.

    Transport is an issue, no doubt, but then I am impressed with the bike culture resurgence in my city of Adelaide; in the CBD, most days of the year, it is no big deal to scoot along on a bike. Even the inner suburbs are quite accessible. If people didn’t feel so compelled to own a car, at least in the inner suburbs, the road space and road upkeep would change dramatically. Perhaps we need to think of how we can transform our urban environments so as to minimise the need or desire for car-like vehicles? Heck, we even have rickshaws here now.

    The 3D printing concept, or additive printing as it is more commonly called, is demonstration of how a change in method of production has been almost revolutionary, in that made-for-single-instance objects, quite sophisticated objects, can be manufactured on the spot. The team going around the US getting children to design their own customised prosthetic limbs is an illustrative instance of how a shift in thinking opens the way to a whole new world of possibility. Instead of one or two very expensive prosthetic parts, an individual may have several cheap parts, each optimised for a specific function—eating vs writing/grasping, for instance. Well, the same kind of shift in thinking just might be required when we look at transport in a non-fossil fuel world.

    Meanwhile, back in la-la-land, the Abbottian government has a white paper which can’t even bother to deny AGW, it simply ignores its existence completely.

  26. April 8th, 2015 at 23:12 | #26

    This is probably for Megan, but why won’t the ALP stand up for something? They keep trying to negotiate and offering deals on the RET, but the more they do that, the more the Coalition will ask for
    http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/apr/08/labor-offers-lower-renewable-energy-target-to-break-deadlock-with-coalition

    Stuff em. Go for a real target and let the coalition negotiate. Not as if they’re ever going to get their proposals through the senate, so why conciliate?

  27. April 8th, 2015 at 23:18 | #27

    @Donald Oats
    On population, here’s something I prepared earlier http://fairgreenplanet.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/plea-for-clearer-thinking-on-population.html

    Please people, stop over simplifying this issue. Most high emitting countries already have low birth rates. The goals should be:
    – Reduce emissions rates in wealthy high emitting countries (first priority, if you can do the maths, which I sometimes wonder about)
    – Improve the living standard (using renewables not coal) in poor countries and improve the status of women. That will bring the birth rate down.

  28. Donald Oats
    April 8th, 2015 at 23:32 | #28

    What would be the short term consequences, especially downstream consequences, like between now and this time next year, if the opposition (including cross-bench) simply refused to pass any changes to the RET legislation? Perhaps the ALP should just say it is in opposition, it isn’t its problem if the government can’t get a bill through.

  29. Megan
    April 8th, 2015 at 23:40 | #29

    @Val

    I’ll give it a go.

    why won’t the ALP stand up for something?

    Because, to “stand up” for something you first have to “stand” for something. The ALP doesn’t stand for anything except the 1% fascist dominant paradigm status-quo business-as-usual credo of their US masters.

    In Australia we have a 2 right wing dominated political duopoly. As Tony Windsor says, instead of a choice between any kinds of differing political philosophy we have a choice between two management teams. Both of which are far right neo-liberal, neo-conservative free-market fundamentalists.

    This may sound counter-intuitive, but I blame the supposed “moderates” or “progressives” across the ALP/LNP duopoly divide for everything that is hateful and damaging about our country.

    As an example: “Labor 4 Refugees”. These people have unconditionally supported a party that has put children and refugees into potentially permanent torture camps. In my mind, those people are more to blame (for continually advocating blind support for the ALP) than the cold-blooded ‘whatever it takes’ crew who so cunningly exploit their blind support.

    It’s very simple. If they really oppose the policy then they must oppose the party. But they can’t, because they are weak and hopeless vassals, serfs or toadies of a cult.

  30. Megan
    April 8th, 2015 at 23:46 | #30

    @Donald Oats

    That would be nice!

    And then we could all have a pony. (/sarc)

    This “ALP” you speak of, that would be the one that just waved through the mass-date-retention laws? The one that the LNP votes through legislation WITH more often than AGAINST?

    When I get my pony can I have a small white kitten as well?

  31. April 9th, 2015 at 00:48 | #31

    I am reasonably confident that emissions have peaked or failing that will peak in the next year or two. The reasons why I am optimistic are:

    China’s coal use declined last year and may decline this year or at least hold steady. The nation is rapidly increasing its renewable capacity which now is staring to offset coal generation rather than merely feed growing demand. China now produces about three quarters as much electricty per capita as the developed nation of Italy. They have considerable room for household energy consumption to increase but this will only happen slowly and new appliances Chinese citizens buy will be small, modern, and highly efficient. Emissions from Chinese construction will fall as China shifts to maintaining their current infrastructure instead of building new infrastructure. Basically they have enough, or nearly enough, modern buildings, roads, transmission capacity, and mechanised farm infrastructure. Coal use for heating, cooking, and industrialised processing has been reduced and will be reduced further. Their massive pollution problems will mean pressure will continue for reduced coal burning. China’s modest nuclear program also helps, though is being phased out thanks to cheaper alternatives. China will not take advantage of lower oil prices to increase oil consumption as to do so will immediately push oil prices back above $100 a barrel as it is one of two elephants in the global room. If it wants to continue to enjoy cheaper oil prices it knows it has to restrict its consumption, and if possible export electric buses and other oil conserving items overseas. (China’s BYD dominates electric bus sales.) Currently there is a steel glut where China is producing steel for less than it costs to produce even at today’s low prices. (We know this because we sell them both the iron ore and coke.) The end result is world steel production will fall, further reducing emissions.

    New coal power plant starts have plunged worldwide. This is because new renewables are now cheaper than coal in most areas, even in places that have little in the way of restrictions on pollution. And even where new renewables may not clearly be cheaper there is concern about future carbon pricing or coal taxes and declining renewable costs and the future price of electricity as wind and solar push it down.

    India plans to increase its domestic coal production but hasn’t had much luck straightening out its coal sector in the past, so they may not have much success this time round, particularly now that renewables are competitive with coal and Indian cities often have worse air pollution than Chinese ones. India is rapidly expanding its wind and solar capacity. They have a long way to go to catch up with China, but with the cost of renewables falling and their currently mild coal tax recently doubled, the rate of renewable growth is only going to accelerate. For the large portion of the Indian population who live off grid, solar will become their main source of energy and this will slow the expansion of their currently coal dominated grid.

    Emissions in developed countries will continue to decline, despite Austalia’s recent carbon fart caused by a fart in Canberra. Australia will never build another coal plant and neither will other developed countries except maybe for a few already under construction or where where the local coal industry manages to cash in on its remaining influence before it completely evaporates. While nuclear power shows that uncompetive generating capacity can hang around for a long time, coal will not receive the support nuclear did.

    Every developed country except one or two small ones ruled by mad men have car fuel efficiency standards and are sticking to them despite the fall in oil price. We are unlikely to see a resurgence in oil use and if we do oil prices will shoot up and fix that problem. Electric cars are not yet as cheap as petrol and diesel vehicles if fuel taxes are ignored, but they are approaching that point and their uptake will continue to increase. The oil producing country of Norway is leading the world in this with a quarter of new car sales being electric.

    So, the above reasons, I am optimistic that CO2 emissions have peaked. Whether or not we will reduce emissions from this point rapidly enough to prevent deaths in the millions, I don’t know.

  32. April 9th, 2015 at 00:59 | #32

    Here’s a recent article on electric car sales in Norway: http://insideevs.com/norway-electric-car-sales-nearly-26-market-share-march/

    Just to be clear, I include plug in hybrid cars as electric vehicles as they spend most of their time operating as electric vehicles, or at least the serial hybrids do. The plug in Prius is weak in this area as they are stuck in the word of parallel hybriding where they try to fit in a niche where it doesn’t make sense to just give up on parallel hybrid technology and go serial. They’re not doing a good job of it.

    (Parallel hybrids power the wheels using the electric motor and petrol motor at the same time, although they might use only the electric motor at low speeds. Serial hybrids only use the petrol motor as a generator and only use the electric motor to send power to the wheels, which is a much simpler design. And rapidly becoming a cheaper design.)

  33. James Wimberley
    April 9th, 2015 at 01:47 | #33

    @Ikonoclast
    To answer your question, we need to dig out of the cupboard the old Soviet “material product” aggregates: physical stuff not services. Material product has already stopped growing in OECD countries. The worst that can happen is everybody else catching up, but there is no paradox of exponential growth. The service and rent components of GDP can grow without limit, as they are not constrained by matter. El Bulli charged €250 a meal before it closed. I’m not sure whether a world of free T-shirts and €1000 concert tickets makes sense, but it’s not ruled out by running out of resources.

  34. John Quiggin
    April 9th, 2015 at 09:51 | #34

    @James Wimberley

    I liked your post. As you say, the shift to services is crucial.

  35. Uncle Milton
    April 9th, 2015 at 10:12 | #35

    @James Wimberley

    Without in any way endorsing Iconoclast’s claim about limits to growth, services also require resources to be produced. The €1000 concert needs electricity to power the amplifiers, accountants need computers, doctors need imaging equipment which (for all I know) might require rare materials, and so on.

  36. derrida derider
    April 9th, 2015 at 10:25 | #36

    Ikonoclast, you are dead wrong on limits to growth. Where to begin?

    Well for a start, on resource depletion/environmental limits the economists have a FAR better predictive record than the physical scientists (Club of Rome anyone?). That’s precisely because they understand that prices change behaviour – and that rising prices for a depleting good forces relatively painless creation of substitutes (BTW that’s actually the reason why heavy taxes on ANYTHING causes far less damage to overall living standards than the small government people would have you believe).

    It is also the reason why pricing carbon properly will, in the long run, reduce CO2 emissions markedly with minimal effect on said growth and living standards. The really, really frustrating thing with global warming is that, unlike some other environmental problems, it is eminently fixable – but won’t be fixed!. The reason it won’t be fixed is mainly the fault of those who believe any fix must radically reduce living standards.

    Far and away the most influential and damaging of these people are the industry-sponsored denialists, who have obvious vested interests in claiming this. But people who believe capitalist consumption is ipso facto wicked and therefore we should reduce living standards in the name of avoiding climate change don’t help us arrive at that fix either, precisely because they will never persuade the mug punter in the street that their consumption is wicked.

    As for piecemeal action being effective in reducing carbon emissions, yes – have enough of them and they will be. But they will certainly cost more in living standards than a more rational tax-based approach, and there are theoretical reasons (from political economy, not economics) to believe they may not be as politically sustainable in the long run.

  37. Ikonoclast
    April 9th, 2015 at 11:15 | #37

    I do wonder how many of the public truly understand anything about physics? Although they would deny it, they (people, business, government) are basically propounding that economic production can occur without real inputs (matter and energy). This is the endpoint of the argument that there are no limits to economic growth on earth and/or that we can “de-materialise” the economy somehow.

    Human beings are made of matter. They need food and water which are made of matter too. They need shelter, infrastructure and industrial food production at global population levels anywhere in the billions. All this involves the use of matter and energy. You cannot ever de-materialise the economic basics. At some stage relatively soon material growth must stop. Footprint analysis has already demonstrated we are over-populated and in overshoot beyond sustainable levls. There are clearly not enough resources on a finite planet for indefinite growth or even to maintain current overshoot.

    Qualitative growth (knowledge, science, technology, culture) appears somewhat different at first glance. It is indeed leveraged (more and better outputs for less inouts) but it is still not ultimately de-materialised in any way and there are also natural limits to all efficiency gains. Qualitiative growth also ultimately runs up against physical limits, particularly energetic limits in the battle against entropy but also material limits, electrical limits, quantum effect limits and so on. Qualitative growth will imply, indeed mandate, higer levels of complexity. How are higher levels of complexity created and also maintained against decay? Yep, by the input of energy. Energy limits will still apply.

    I guess people keep their spirits up by denial. Good luck to them if they can delude themselves in this manner. It makes one happier for the moment. However, these delusions that we are not already at an emergency juncture are exacly what makes it hard to get any real changes. It is clear we are on target for damaging levels of climate change. It’s something like 95% certain. It’s clear species extinctions are de-stabilising our whole ecology. It’s clear the oceans are dying. It’s clear we have well exceeded a sustainable footprint. The science is in on all of this.

  38. Ivor
    April 9th, 2015 at 11:22 | #38

    @derrida derider

    It is also the reason why pricing carbon properly will, in the long run, reduce CO2 emissions markedly with minimal effect on said growth and living standards. The really, really frustrating thing with global warming is that, unlike some other environmental problems, it is eminently fixable

    How so?

    We get unnatural rate of warming when CO2 atm. concentration is over 300 ppm.

    How does pricing carbon either remove existing carbon? or prevent warming?.

    At best it seems to me that carbon pricing only reduces the rate of increase.

    A zero rate of increase of CO2, a levelling off, is not sufficient even if maintained 100 years.

  39. Megan
    April 9th, 2015 at 11:33 | #39

    I read a piece in the New Zealand Herald which contained the following:

    China embarked on an infrastructure spree after the global financial crisis. Over the three years to 2013, China poured 6.4 gigatonnes of concrete, which was more than was poured in the US in the entire 20th century. All that concrete needed reinforcing with steel and China didn’t have enough iron ore and coking coal to make it.

    Mindblowing.

  40. Ivor
    April 9th, 2015 at 11:46 | #40

    John Quiggin :

    I liked your post. As you say, the shift to services is crucial.

    Is this domestic services or services exports? I have my doubts about services exports. Except for education services Australia runs a services CAD deficit or close to. Services exports also have lower labour content.

    Australian services – provided offshore to not necessarily produce much domestic benefit.

    Australia has no real comparative advantage with services except being English speaking and in the same time-zone as Asia.

    Service exports are very vulnerable to exchange rate variations.

    While there are short-term possibilities, most developing nations will foster their own services. There is a period when developing countries will increase per capita GDP and will look to purchase services from the OECD. But this strategy has a use-by date.

    I would imagine that future trade agreements will make it harder to retain the benefits of services exports in Australia.

    Domestic services are a different matter.

  41. Jim Birch
    April 9th, 2015 at 11:52 | #41

    Ivor :
    @Jim Birch
    You have not provided any source for your 3%?

    The source was John’s original post.

  42. Megan
    April 9th, 2015 at 12:02 | #42

    @derrida derider

    I’m reminded of the Golgafrincham “B Ark”. In particular the part about designating the leaf as a unit of currency and its consequences.

  43. Uncle Milton
    April 9th, 2015 at 12:05 | #43

    @derrida derider

    they will never persuade the mug punter in the street that their consumption is wicked

    That’s because with very few exceptions, such as child …graphy, consumption isn’t wicked. It’s just consumption. There’s a real whiff of the old Methodism amongst those who scold consumption for environmental reasons.

  44. Ikonoclast
    April 9th, 2015 at 12:44 | #44

    There seems to be this illusion that services don’t cost material resources and energy. Indeed, they do incur such costs albeit lower costs than heavy industrial manufacture or moving heavy freight (including masses of people whom we can also characterise en masse as heavy freight).

    There is, as I said in a comment above, a base level of light to heavy manufacture, fabrication and industrial food production (mechanised farms) necessary to maintain a modern society and all its people and infrastructure. Yes, there are enlightened ways we could approach this and add quality services and save energy in other areas. There are also thermodynamic and other physical limits to these improvements. Nothing is infinitely improvable.

    Modern gasoline engines have a maximum thermal efficiency of about 25% to 30% when used to power a car. Steam fossil fuel power stations operating at the critical point have efficiencies in the low 40% range. “Tesla, …quotes a 75% round-trip efficiency. Tesla and Leaf owners report slightly lower real-world charging numbers, with the charger and battery portions of the cycle on the order of 80% to 85%. If we use those numbers we get:-
    0.90 (motor and drivetrain) x 0.95 (inverter) x 0.8 (battery and charger) = 68%.
    This isn’t a huge difference, so we’ll split it and call it 70%.”- Energy Matters website.

    Australia could remain self-sufficient and within its own ecological footprint for a long time if we develop a population policy. We could achieve enduring sustainability by capping our population at about 35 million to 40 million people.

    Climate change will hit Australia very badly. Without these climate change effects our safe carrying capacity might have been larger than 40 million as an upper limit. The fact that Australia has some demographic space should not delude people into thinking that the globe also has demographic space. It does not. It is already in overshoot.

    Footprint analysis is scientfically sound although it does have measurement error like any scientific measurement or measurement set.

    “Ecological Footprint accounts do not say anything about what should be, or what any person or group of people should do. Rather, they provide an objective and reproducible answer to the question of how much of the planet’s regenerative capacity is occupied by human activities. No normative or opinion-based judgments or weighting factors enter into Ecological Footprint accounting methodology. For example, the equivalence factors that allow different land types (uses) to be aggregated in the common unit of global hectares are based on empirical measurements of productivity.” – Footprint Network.

    Common criticisms of Footprint analysis are answered here.

    http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/responses_to_published_criticisms/

    People who deny the science of LTG and Footprint Analysis (the basic science founded on the notions of a finite earth and material, energetic and in particular, thermodynamic limits are comple Science Denialists (Reality Denialists) pure and simple and engaged in faith-based reasoning. Economics (as bourgeois economics) has become their faith. It’s a faith not a social science and certainly not a hard science.

  45. Jim Birch
    April 9th, 2015 at 12:53 | #45

    Ikonoclast :
    @Jim Birch
    How long can the global economy keep growing on a finite planet? That is the key question. What is your guess?

    “The economy” is defined by production not by resource use. Over time resource use must become sustainable at some point, hopefully before the planet is totally trashed, but production and resources are not linked in a rigid linear way. Recycling of materials can potentially occur (almost) forever with each iteration producing a more valuable product. Services can grow indefinitely with level or decreasing raw material requirements.

    I think regional Limits to Growth are occurring right now. It might take another decade or two for the phenomenon to go global.

    What I was getting at is that very few people wake up in the morning and and say “I won’t do X because of limits to growth,” even if there are rock solid limits to growth at play. There’s got to be a proximate reason, like, it’s too expensive, it’s illegal, it’s not available, we’ve run out, etc. If the cost of coal is dropping but use is decreasing then this doesn’t seem an obvious case of limits to growth. Kinda the reverse. So, maybe something else is happening. A shift in norms, perhaps? We might not have a universal carbon tax but anyone with a functioning brain can see a real threat of one coming into effect fairly soon and this itself changes planning and thinking. Also, it is possible that some decisions might be being made by people actually be interesting in protecting the environment.

  46. David Irving (no relation)
    April 9th, 2015 at 13:20 | #46

    @derrida derider
    I think you’re wrong about the Club of Rome predictions, dd. My recollection is that they predicted we would start running out of stuff between about now and 2030. We’re starting to see evidence of that.

  47. Peter T
    April 9th, 2015 at 13:41 | #47

    As Sandwichman notes http://econospeak.blogspot.com.au/ it’s important not to confuse a flow (global CO2 emissions) with a stock (level of CO2 in the atmosphere). It’s the latter that counts, as the level of CO2 is the driver of heat retention. To reduce the stock to a level that does not lead to temperatures increasing for a decades (there are long lags in earth systems adjustment), we need to cut emissions by at least half.

    With my Quiggin optimist hat on, I can acknowledge that zero growth in one year is better than an increase, but it remains a steep uphill battle.

  48. John Quiggin
    April 9th, 2015 at 13:58 | #48

    Back in 2008, I took a look at what Club of Rome actually said. My bottom line is that their central case had resource constraints biting sharply by 2000.

    http://johnquiggin.com/2008/05/08/looking-back-at-the-club-of-rome/

  49. Donald Oats
    April 9th, 2015 at 15:08 | #49

    A look at a Google-Farm demonstrates that service provision is a big consumer of energy; however, much of that energy can be extracted via renewable energy methods, as it isn’t tied to transportation of product. The benefit of providing an e-book compared to the physical book is the obvious one that the e-book doesn’t require the use of paper products, transportation, etc. That doesn’t mean it is entirely immaterial in resource use, but it is surely better than the material product.

    As for the Club of Rome, I saw a copy of it when I was at uni in the early 80’s, and my understanding of the objectives behind their work was that they were trying to model the effects, not necessarily trying to make a definite prediction. In other words, they were examining the mechanisms by which limits to growth present themselves. Given the boundless energy with which we humans can innovate, making a specific prediction some 30 to 40 years down the track, pre-dating cheap and abundant computing horse-power with which to run simulations, crunch numbers, is a pretty risky proposition. Perhaps no different to the recent well-known business economists’ predictions that the RBA would lower interest rates in April…Anyway, I’m sure there were reasonable academic criticisms of their work, but the popular media’s representation (and the publisher’s “push piece” on the jacket’s flap) really went walkabout.

    To me, although my recollection of the book is now quite hazy, I think the take home message of limits to growth was that there can be large overshoots, time passes, passes, and then the (by now inevitable) crunch comes with a loud bang. That isn’t a guarantee, just a potential behaviour of the system worth making an effort to avoid.

  50. April 9th, 2015 at 15:14 | #50

    Newtonian, could you explain the problem you see with Energy Return Over Energy Input for renewables to me, using simple sentences so I will understand? I don’t see the problem. Energy has to be put in to build any generating capacity and if it uses fuel it takes energy to get it to the generating capacity. New renewables are now beating fossil fuel generating capacity on this measure, particularly where coal or liquified natural gas has to be transported long distances.

  51. jt
    April 9th, 2015 at 16:08 | #51

    I think we shouldn’t underestimate the potential of adaptive geoengineering.

    I recall talk of digging a channel from the ocean to the Eyre Basin to restore the old inland sea many years back. If sea levels rise, not only might this become feasible, it might become an ethical necessity (to reduce ovverall sea level rise for the benefit of low lying countries). A side benefit would be increased inland evaporation and hopefully increased rainfall in the SE of the continent.

  52. Hermit
    April 9th, 2015 at 16:28 | #52

    @jt
    The effect of the evaporation would be to clog the channel with salt so water no longer flowed. Pumps and salt removal may be needed. It would also need an eastward range of hills say 1,000m elevation to cool the moist air to ensure rain. if all the earth works were done with diesel machines there would be an enormous CO2 debt before it was even completed.

    Interestingly that narrow channel where Spencer Gulf peters out near Pt Augusta has been the subject of several other ‘big’ ideas. Some wanted a solar thermal power station to replace the nearby coal fired power stations but the economics don’t look good, A bit further south a large desalination plant was to be built. Again too expensive, nowhere for the brine discharge to go and marine species notably giant cuttlefish like it the way it is.

  53. derrida derider
    April 9th, 2015 at 16:30 | #53

    Ivor, on carbon you have to realise that the stock of CO2 in the air is a product of the FLOWS – and these are very large. The reason that stock is rising is we’re creating CO2 faster than it is being absorbed by plants and oceans.

    Now the more CO2 in the air, the quicker the rate it is absorbed (basically because there’s more available to be absorbed – d’uh). So for any given rate of CO2 creation there is an equilibrium level of CO2 in the air which will be reached after some centuries. The point here is that temporarily increasing the rate of CO2 creation only causes a temporary increase in CO2 levels – stop doing it and the damage will in time reverse. Therefore controlling CO2 emissions now not only slows global warming (which it does), it also reduces the temperature the planet eventually reaches. This remains true regardless of how much CO2 we’ve emitted in the past.

    For CO2 emissions, bygones are not bygones – there is no sunk cost fallacy. That is because every year mother earth not only oxidises carbon, it also reduces CO2.

  54. jt
    April 9th, 2015 at 17:11 | #54

    Salt has value. Water plants could be used to control channel erosion. Excess silt can be flushed out onto the vast Eyre Basin floodplain. Australian scientists hit the 40% mark for solar panel efficiency last year. The Germans later hit 46% in the lab and are confident they’ll get over 50% this year or next. The sky’s the limit.

  55. Ivor
    April 9th, 2015 at 17:52 | #55

    @derrida derider

    Yes, but the temporary increase declines over many half-lives.

    CO2 in the atmosphere has a half-life around 30-40 years, so the current stock at 350 ppm will flow out to reach 300 ppm in 6 or so years provided there is zero replacement (flow rate is 2.4%).

    But if civilisation ejects CO2 from any cause whatsoever, even from animal breathing after eating food, volcanos and from microbial action, the existing concentration will remain much, much longer and could increase.

    Carbon pricing cannot reduce the flow of CO2 into the atmosphere to zero because animals including humans will always produce Giga-tonnes annually.

    For stabilisation, the maximum amount of CO2 all activity on Earth can produce each year from all causes is just 2.4% of the current concentration.

    For the necessary reduction, the available budget is substantially less.

    Carbon pricing is simply not sufficient.

  56. plaasmatron
    April 9th, 2015 at 18:24 | #56

    @Ikonoclast
    What is a “quantum effect limit”? Are you talking about the reduction in size of the interconnects on microchips? Chip designers got around this one years ago by going to duo and quads. I can’t recall any other fundamental limits to growth based on “quantum effects”.

  57. ZM
    April 9th, 2015 at 18:44 | #57

    James Wimbereley,

    “Material product has already stopped growing in OECD countries.”

    I was reading a report a few weeks ago and globally the use of resources has increased – the only decrease is in the rate of increase but that’s in the context of a continuing absolute increase.

  58. ZM
    April 9th, 2015 at 18:53 | #58

    Ivor,

    that is not correct about how long CO2 stays in the atmosphere:

    “Between 65% and 80% of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20–200 years. The rest is removed by slower processes that take up to several hundreds of thousands of years, including chemical weathering and rock formation. This means that once in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can continue to affect climate for thousands of years.”
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jan/16/greenhouse-gases-remain-air

    And all the extra CO2 going into the ocean contributes to ocean acidification which is very bad for corals and crabs, and there is also work that suggests the oceans will not continue to take so much CO2 which means a higher proportion will stay in the atmosphere than has recently been the case

  59. Ivor
    April 9th, 2015 at 18:58 | #59

    @Peter T

    That “bath-tub” approach is right.

    You can also use a spreadsheet software including the FV function which is usually available.

    The key point is that the rate of re-absorption includes plant growth and therefore the food cycle and the half-life of CO2 is fixed.

    ,

  60. ZM
    April 9th, 2015 at 19:30 | #60

    John Quiggin,

    From your 2008 post:

    “Baumol and Oates also present in Chapter 9 a “Standard Run” from the World Model showing catastrophic collapse a little over halfway between 1900 and 2100, that is, right about now. Baumol and Oates, like most economists, are critical of Limits to Growth, but they aren’t rightwing anti-environmentalists by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s fair to say that most readers at the time, whether they agreed with the Club of Rome or not, focused on predictions of imminent resource exhaustion, and not on what might happen in 2070”

    If you google image search “Limits to Growth Standard Run Scenario” there are lots of reproductions of the graphs of the standard run scenario, and although different lines begin declining at different times I read this as being generally around 2015-2030ish period rather than in the 2000-2015 period.

    The Smithsonian Magazine image has a nice colour graph and the article reads the graphs as forecasting the collapse to begin around 2030 : “Written by MIT researchers for an international think tank, the Club of Rome, the study used computers to model several possible future scenarios. The business-as-usual scenario estimated that if human beings continued to consume more than nature was capable of providing, global economic collapse and precipitous population decline could occur by 2030.”
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/looking-back-on-the-limits-of-growth-125269840/

    The New Scientist article The Limits to Growth Revisited (2012 vol 213 iss 2846) also has a nice colour graph (with lines for the historical date since 1972 as well as modelling) and says the 2000 date attributed to LtG is an inaccurate interpretation of the modelling and that the 2000 date specifically relates to LtG treatment of known oil resources at the time — which was before the oil shock and subsequent search for more oil resources. Also some modelling was less accurate e.g.. population (in reality it grew more slowly) and pollution (in reality ghg are a worse problem):

    “One of the most common myths is that Limits predicted collapse by 2000. Yet as a brief glance at the “standard run” shows, it didn’t (see graph, right).

    The book does mention a 1970 estimate by the US Bureau of Mines that the world had 31 years of oil left. The bureau calculated this by dividing known reserves by the current rate of consumption. Rates of consumption, however, were increasing exponentially, so Limits pointed out that in fact oil had only 20 years left if nothing changed. But this calculation was made to illustrate the effects of exponential growth, not to predict that there were only 20 years of oil left.

    When Matthew Simmons, a leading oil- industry banker, finally read Limits in the 1990s, he was surprised to find none of the false predictions he had heard about. On the contrary, he concluded, population and energy growth largely matched the basic simulation. He felt Limits got so much attention, then lost it, partly because the oil shock of 1973 focused minds on resource shortages that were then largely resolved.

    And while the model was too pessimistic about birth and death rates, it was too optimistic about the future impact of pollution. We now know that overshoot – the delayed response to problems that makes the effects so much worse – will eventually be especially catastrophic for climate change, because the full effects of greenhouse gases will not be apparent for centuries.

    Instead of declaring we are doomed, or proclaiming that technology will save us, we should explore the future more rigorously, says [Yaneer] Bar-Yam [head of the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.] . We need better models.

    “If you think the scientific basis of those conclusions can be challenged, then the answer is more science,” he says. “We need a much better understanding of global dynamics. We need to apply that knowledge, too. The most important message of Limits was that the longer we ignore the problems caused by growth, the harder they are to overcome. As we pump out more CO2, it is clear this is a lesson we have yet to learn.”

  61. ZM
    April 9th, 2015 at 19:39 | #61

    Also, with regard to LtG MIT has just published Australian researcher Kerryn Higgs book Collision Course: Endless Growth on a Finite Planet which is about how the LtG were criticised and neoliberal economists from the 1970s argued for continuing growth in order to help the poor — but this ignored resource and environmental issues and in fact as we have seen global inequality and inequality within many nations has grown rather than declined over this period.

    There is a review of the book here: https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/privacy-and-security/125-november-2014-no-366/2218-the-inconvenient-truth ; and there will be a Victorian launch of the book at Trades Hall on Thursday 30th April at 7pm

  62. Ikonoclast
    April 9th, 2015 at 20:02 | #62

    @John Quiggin

    Sorry John, your bottom line is incorrect. Clearly you did not read the report carefully enough. It is a common fallacy that the Club of Rome LTG report predicted that constraints would bite sharply by 2000. This is not correct, it did not say that. What the report actually said, in essence, is that if we did not change BAU by 2000 (and by implication kept growing unchecked thereafter) then the resource constraints would bit sharply at about 2035 (plus or minus 10 years).

    The above is made patently clear if you look at their graphs. The main peaks (population, industrial output) are at or about 2035. The main post-peak declines occur from circa 2035 to circa 2050. A lot of people do not understand carrying capacity and overshoot though I am sure you do with your background (agricultural economics). Carrying capacity refers to long term sustainability (for example stocking in agriculture) where the “natural annual income” (grass, water) is eaten but not eaten out. Over-stocking will degrade the pasture and reduce its carrying capacity (overshoot and collapse) at least temporarily. Though some damage can become semi-permanent due to erosion, weed invasion, loss of natural seed banks etc.

    With humans and LTG, the issue very much revolves around natural capital and natural income if I may use those terms. The natural capital of coal and oil (or at least the natural capital of a 280 ppm CO2 level benign holocene / pre-industrial revolution climate) has been used up in 200 years and mostly in the last hundred).

    Soon we will only be able to live on “natural income” in many respects. There are many examples of us living for too long off natural capital as well as natural income. De-forestation, the destruction of natural fisheries, top soil loss and so on are examples. When the natural capital is gone, we will have to live off natural income which in many cases (just like bare, beaten earth, over-stocked paddock) has been drastically lowered by environmental destruction.

    Modern science and technology can do a lot that is true. But they cannot do things which are materially, energetically and ecologically impossible. Certain key limits and laws will always pertain in this universe.

    If you don’t accept LTG and Footprint science it means you don’t understand their physical underpinnings. I am a bit surprised… or not. Orthodox economists seem to have a lot of trouble with the fact that the economy is a dissaptive system.

    “Thermoeconomists argue that economic systems always involve matter, energy, entropy, and information. Moreover, the aim of many economic activities is to achieve a certain structure. In this manner, thermoeconomics applies the theories in non-equilibrium thermodynamics, in which structure formations called dissipative structures form, and information theory, in which information entropy is a central construct, to the modeling of economic activities in which the natural flows of energy and materials function to create scarce resources. In thermodynamic terminology, human economic activity may be described as a dissipative system, which flourishes by consuming free energy in transformations and exchange of resources, goods, and services.” – Wikipedia.

    Your colleague, John Foster, asked the question, “Why is Economics not a Complex Systems Science?” in Discussion Paper No. 336, December 2004, School of Economics, The University of Queensland. It seems a good question to me.

    Without going into it in detail here, Economics needs a unified theory combining the full suite of relevant Real Systems and Formal Systems. Real systems include the real economy and the real biophysical world underpinning the real economy. Hence the need for adding in the strand of biophysical economics or thermoeconomics as it is sometimes called. At the other end is the need of political economy or as some will call it institutional economics. Institutions, from constitutions to legal laws, ownership laws, rules of finance, axioms of national accounting and theories of macroeconomics (and many other formal systems) all also need to be included in a full study of economics. In addition there is the issue of “entities” or actors (programmers will call them intelligent agents and economists will call them rational agents).

    What links human developed formal systems and real systems? The answer is information transmitted and acted on by intelligent agents. For a human formal system to be useful and useable it needs to possess a set of analogical correspondences with the real world (real systems). In that way accurate and applicable information (in the best case scenario) can be transmitted both ways and acted upon. Any unified theory of economics will have to find a way to unify and integrate an understanding of the interaction of formal systems and real systems all under the heading or aegis of systems science. Anything less than that will never be a genuine full discipline of economics. None of this is to suggest that such complex system economics will be become cut and dried like classical physics. Modern quantum and cosmological physics themselves are of course far from cut and dried.

  63. Ikonoclast
    April 9th, 2015 at 20:12 | #63

    Footnote: I did not mean to imply that the last two paragraphs of my last post where a precis of John Foster’s paper. They are in fact a precis of my own theories about how economics could be developed as a system science.

  64. jt
    April 9th, 2015 at 20:22 | #64

    Gish gallop

  65. jt
    April 9th, 2015 at 20:38 | #65

    The kids get scared about peak phosphorus, Worstall sets ’em str8 in the second last comment.

  66. Ivor
    April 9th, 2015 at 20:46 | #66

    ZM :
    Ivor,
    that is not correct about how long CO2 stays in the atmosphere:
    “Between 65% and 80% of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20–200 years.

    I am not sure what the point is?

    A half-life of 30-40 years is consistent with your source. All these data have a variability of 20%.

    There is no issue.

  67. plaasmatron
    April 9th, 2015 at 22:35 | #67

    @Ikonoclast
    “Modern quantum and cosmological physics themselves are of course far from cut and dried.”

    There you go again with the quantum theory. How does quantum theory have anything to do with limits of growth and economics? The systems you are discussing are by definition statistically macroscopic systems, which immediately rules out any quantum effects playing a role. I suggest you drop the term in your arguments (which I agree with btw). Unless you can give a concrete example of quantum theory playing some role, it just makes it sound like you are “theory dropping”.

  68. jt
    April 9th, 2015 at 22:48 | #68

    Just reading about how the Japanese are already mining poop to recover precious metals, gold, silver and so on. This means the leftover is safe to use as NPK rich fertiliser. Apparently the US millions upon millions of tonnes of poop in landfills jst waiting to be mined. The doom and gloom merchants should spend more time reading the tech sites; it is apparent that we already have three quarters of the tech we need to see us thru to the next millennia.

  69. Megan
    April 10th, 2015 at 01:04 | #69

    “just reading” ?

    The American Chemical Society has been putting out this stuff for centuries! OK, maybe just over one century.

    But please go digging in “feces” for a pot of gold, if you like.

  70. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2015 at 08:05 | #70

    @plaasmatron

    Point taken.

  71. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2015 at 09:24 | #71

    @jt

    And then the last commenter who states he is James Dyke, Lecturer in Complex Systems Simulation at University of Southampton, says;

    Yes, the earth contains quadrillions of tons of phosphorus. But there are few concentrated deposits. We are rapidly depleting these and while it is never lost from the Earth system, to all intents and purposes that phosphorus is lost to us after it is washed away from the soil.

    If energy wasn’t a constraint, we could run all manner of recycling.”

    His last point is crucial and bears repeating. If energy wasn’t a constraint, we could run all manner of recycling. The point is that reserves or deposits of minerals need to be sufficiently concentrated to be economically recoverable. In the case of energy reserves (stocks) or energy supplies (flows), the resource must be energetically recoverable too, in the sense that it must show an energy profit upon recovery and use. Otherwise it’s an energy sink, an energy loss maker.

    The Limits to Growth thesis is simple, elegant and irrefutable. Growth cannot continue indefinitely in a finite system. It’s so simple in principle one wonders why people don’t get it. My theory is that many people have trouble with two fundamental concepts. One, they confuse “big” with infinite. The earth is “big”. Many people cannot conceive that something that “big” still has limits. Two, people do not understand the power of exponential or geometric growth. Continual doubling of the global economy, even at say 2% per annum (a doubling every 35 years) will rapidly, in historical terms, reach earth’s limits.

    On the emotive side, there is the natural “optimism bias” of humans. The fact that this bias exists and is so pervasive probably indicates it had and still has some sort survival-promoting value. Now however, it presents a significant obstacle to a rational assessment of the dangers we face.

  72. John Quiggin
    April 10th, 2015 at 09:25 | #72

    @Ikonoclast

    As I mention in the post linked above, the interpretation “unless we change our ways over the next 30 years, things could get bad in 60 + years time”, is undermined by a dust jacket referring to “‘The headline-making report on the imminent global disaster facing humanity’.” (emphasis added).

    And not that long ago, commenter ZM pointed me to report, based on LtG and predicting collapse in 2015. Those resource constraints, particularly on oil and coal, aren’t looking too tight right now.

    Of course, this is all to the good. We can’t afford to burn all the oil and coal we’ve already found, so the increasing likelihood that lots of it will be left in the ground is great news.

  73. Newtownian
    April 10th, 2015 at 10:34 | #73

    @Donald Oats
    “So I suspect very few green-thinking people would feel population is not a deleterious factor.”

    Regarding overpopulation denial Donald, it surprised me too. But its real and not trivial.

    Some years back I was at an environmental NGO meeting and the issue was brought up by the organisation chair. The organisation’s manager who is normally broadminded immediately squashed discussion based as I understood at the time that it would give oxygen to Nazis. But the style of the suppression worried me and made me wonder.

    Much more recently a friend started exploring this as part of addressing the question of what getting to a steady state (non-growing abnd maybe shrinking) global society would involve. At a moderate sized talk it became quickly clear that parts of the Green movement who attended were in denial.

    Around that time I also located some literature such as a Sydney FOE’s “A Statement On Population and Climate Change” which illustrates one common position which can be reduced crudely to population controllers = fascists. Note its about playing the wo/man and not the reality. There is actually quite a lot out there.

    Another example I remember around the time we passed 7 billion was a Guardian writer reiterating this position seriously when the adjacent story was projecting a population in Nigeria of 800 million around 2050!!?? No problem?

    I think there are several sources for this mess. Firstly Marx reportedly dismissed Malthus as a religous elitist which he probably was, giving the ideological left an excuse to dismiss the mathematics very long ago. Then in the 1950s the UK in their twilight of empire pushed Malthus’s line again presumably to again control the lower classes when world population was about 2 billion. Such elitism does not go down well. Then you had all the sterilization’s in India promoted by Indira Ghandi’s son. And of course you have promoters of uncontrolled growth like the religions who see it as a way hitting their KPIs.

    So unfortunately ideology and science got muddled understandably and it has not been sorted out.

    Interestingly on this topic I’ve heard Ehrlich repeatedly state whenever asked that the best way to control population is through empowering women and addressing poverty and inequity so you have small families. Which I concur with. For the record my take on it is also beautifully summarised by Saints Paul and Anne Ehrilich’s I=PAT metaphor/equation. Its simple arithmetic.

    But how do you lift the world out of poverty to say European standard of living while not trashing the biosphere. The Rio 20+ conference promoted (this is Gro Brundtland’s line) a 4 fold increase in the global economy??!!

  74. Newtownian
    April 10th, 2015 at 10:51 | #74

    @derrida derider

    Would they be the same economists who didnt see the 2008 crash coming?

    Regarding the limits to growth lot having prediction troubles, have you seen Graeme Turner’s 30 years on analysis of the LtG scenarios.

    In a trivial sense the LtG people were spot on as verified 30 years later despite having an extremely simple model.

    In a more nuanced sense the LtG people made several different predictions depending on how the cards fell – like the IPCC.

    What the 30 years check also shows is that all the cornucopian expectations of growth economists were not in fact realized. The other predictions are still on the table and whether it will be a catastrophic collapse or slow crash landing still isnt clear.

    As to the timing of material depletion based on the model – anyone who does modelling knows the precision of predictions isnt perfect and the real test is whether unexpected trends start coming in which seems to be happenning. In respect to materials this is certainly the case. On one hand there have been adaptations and new resource discoveries but there has also been a degradation of resource quality. This can be addressed by finding new sources but this has costs.

    The contrast here is illustrated by deep water oil drilling. They arent doing this for fun but because easy land based supplies are running out.

    It you want another illustration LtG in miniature have a look at coastal and oceanic fisheries including whaling. They are stuffed and despite decades long moratoria are still not recovering to what they were like even when I was young.

  75. Tim Macknay
    April 10th, 2015 at 11:14 | #75

    I find it remarkable that this kind of discussion about the LtG/Meadows Report is still going on.
    The sensible way to regard that report is as an early (and primitive) experiment in using systems modelling to analyse global trends and sustainability issues, which highlighted the limitations of such modelling as well as its potential uses.

    The fact that it continues to be regarded as a sort of prophecy is a testament to the power of religious thinking among those who purport to believe in science.

  76. Tim Macknay
    April 10th, 2015 at 11:21 | #76

    @John Quiggin

    As I mention in the post linked above, the interpretation “unless we change our ways over the next 30 years, things could get bad in 60 + years time”, is undermined by a dust jacket referring to “‘The headline-making report on the imminent global disaster facing humanity’.”

    I must say I think that is a rather weak argument, Prof Q. I don’t think the marketing blurb on the cover of a book can be reasonably treated as an accurate reflection of its contents. Of course, I have no personal recollection of how the debate around LtG actually played out during the 1970s, being a wee bairn at the time.

  77. Newtownian
    April 10th, 2015 at 11:39 | #77

    Ronald Brak :
    Newtonian, could you explain the problem you see with Energy Return Over Energy Input for renewables to me, using simple sentences so I will understand? I don’t see the problem. Energy has to be put in to build any generating capacity and if it uses fuel it takes energy to get it to the generating capacity. New renewables are now beating fossil fuel generating capacity on this measure, particularly where coal or liquified natural gas has to be transported long distances.

    Thanks Ronald. Here is an explanation in our old friend Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_invested

    Lets start from the extremes. On one hand you used to have petroleum whose extraction costs in energy terms was trivial compared to what you could get from it, some of which was fed back into petroleum production.

    At the other extreme when PV was first invented the amount of energy you could get during the life of the solar cells was far less than what was needed to go into manufacturing say the aluminium and glass and the zone melting.

    The point here is to have useful energy supply you have to find a basic source which you can get much more out of than you put in.

    Now the good news as you note is that the amount of energy you can get out of a PV panel over its lifetime in theory based on life cycle analysis exceeds that put into the manufacturing currently.

    But what does the future hold?
    – As resource quality is reduced financial and energy costs of component products – lets say the aluminium for PV panels will likely increase. This isnt fully factored in yet because we are still hooked on cheap fossil fuel.
    – Then there is the construction and servicing and replacement of the PV infrastructure. Currently this involves trucks and cars and ships all powered by fossil fuel. These could be replaced by renewables to a degree but the costs of electric cars and hybrids which can do the same job are substantially higher. So again a like future increased energy cost.
    – Most rooftop PV at the moment is putting power straight into the grid so storage is not needed. But the future will need storage facilities, another extra cost – manufacture = energy.
    – Somehow at the same time we need to bring 5 billion people out of poverty, stretching resources even thinner.
    – More widely our infrastructure in the west is now decaying because that is what it does (take a look at the US). So there are further costs in the future including energy to factor in for replacement just to keep what we currently have.
    – It is presumed we will recycle more resources in the future. Unfortunately this is more costly than extracting native ores…so again more energy.
    – It is still early days and there is a long way to go. My and my wife’s roof PV which is pretty optimal produces 1.9 kW at peak in summer. By contrast the average per capita Australian energy footprint is probably around 10 kW. So allowing for day v night production rates even if every house had a per capita system like our this would only be about 2-4 % of Australia’s total energy needs. So really we’ve barely started on this road.

    Add these up and you have a challenge whose magnitude cannot be denied anymore than climate change.

    Now on the other hand there are new PV technologies and lots of efficiencies which can be made. And I agree smaller would be better. But its unlikely IMHO that we will have vast amounts of additional energy with little cost as was the case when oil was discovered.

    The market will help a bit but there are also absolute constraints on how far it can go. Exactly what the numbers are we dont know. The function of EROEI analysis is to identify where and what these are for now and into the future if we are not.

    The Phil Trans article I referred to is a pretty easy to read illustration of the fascinating problems which will arrive.

    Hope this helps.

  78. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2015 at 11:45 | #78

    @John Quiggin

    I hope you don’t judge all books by the cover or by the dust jacket. I am not sure what the dust jackets of various editions said. I go by the contents of the book. Dust jackets are designed and written by advertising types. We know how poor their grasp of objective realities is as opposed to their considerable ability to hype, spin and push emotive buttons. Publishers and editors also interfere, if they can, with the title, promotion and message of articles and books as I am sure you will know. Commercial objectives are not the same as objective objectives. I am sure in a moment of objectivity you will admit that “the dust jacket said x” is not a good argument.

    Just as I have been guilty in the past of serially forgetting to make explicit the point that a carbon tax is a price too (and which you pulled me up on), so you are guilty of serially mis-interpreting and mis-representing what The Club of Rome LTG Report said (in text and graphs) and what Graham Turner’s report said. If you argue against what they didn’t say instead of what they did say then you are putting up a straw man.

    The Report clearly said we must change BAU by 2000 to avoid collapse in about 2035 plus or minus about 20 years. The graphs of the runs very clearly illustrate this with peaks in about 2035. I know you can read and interpret graphs so I wonder why you persist in a fallacious argument on this point.

    Turner did not predict collapse in 2015. He predicted peaking in about 2015. Various factors may well make this predicted peak a plateau of kinds running on for years or a decade of more, IMO.

    Apart from the above kerfuffle, you keep avoiding the substantive point. Growth cannot continue endlessly in a finite system. We must keep the essential principle separate from predictions about when the essential principle will finally manifest itself.

    A certain kind of false prediction does not obviate its a basic principle. It’s a basic principle that a car on a journey will run out of petrol if it is not refueled. If I make sequential predictions that the fuel will run out before towns x, y and z and I am proven to be wrong in each case, this does not obviate the basic principle that a car on a journey will run out of petrol if it is not refueled.

    Equally, incorrect predictions about the timing point of “peak economy” do not obviate the basic principle that the economy must peak at some point due to limits to growth. De-materialisation of the economy (and substitutions) act as extenders but do not and cannot obviate the basic principle. Substitution possibilities are not infinite. De-materialisation (a kind of efficiency at meeting needs and/or modifying needs) has limits. We are material and energetic beings with unaterable basal material and energetic needs. Our economy obeys this same system principle.

    Even qualitative growth (as science, technology and culture) has limits as maintaining ever higher orders of complexity requires ever more energy. There are both theoretical quantitative and qualitative limits. The science I have read tells me the quantitative growth limits are close. The qualitative growth limits still appear distant provided we do not collapse too heavily materially or destroy ourselves.

    For reasons I can’t quite fathom you are sceptical or dismissive about the science in this arena. Perhaps you could expand on your grounds for this scepticism.

  79. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2015 at 11:50 | #79

    @Tim Macknay

    The basic principle (growth of a sub-system cannot continue forever in a finite system) is elegant and irrefutable*. It has nothing to do with religious thinking and everything to do with empirical thinking.

    *Note: This holds true if you accept that science has discovered highly dependable laws about this universe, for example the laws of thermodynamics. To (attempt to) refute the proposition you would have to declare all modern physics bunkum.

  80. Ken Fabian
    April 10th, 2015 at 11:52 | #80

    derrida derider :

    For CO2 emissions, bygones are not bygones – there is no sunk cost fallacy. That is because every year mother earth not only oxidises carbon, it also reduces CO2.

    I think expecting CO2 takup to continue unaffected is overly simplistic and misleading – there are feedbacks that mean that warming will cause CO2 sinks to cease taking up more and begin releasing it back to the atmosphere. Relying on these natural mechanisms to fix our waste could mean waiting a long, long time for CO2 levels to get reduced.

  81. Tim Macknay
    April 10th, 2015 at 12:09 | #81

    @Ikonoclast
    I wasn’t talking about the “basic principle”. The idea that growth cannot continue forever in a limited system is common sense. I was talking about the Meadows Report/LtG, which is mostly what people on this thread have been talking about, except where they gish gallop and pretend to be talking about the “basic principle”.

    The thing about the “basic principle” is it tells you precisely nothing about, which, when, where and how limitations on growth will manifest themselves. It’s just a truism, like the fact that we are all going to die. Your claim at near the top of the thread that the world is currently entering “secular stagnation”, caused by the Limits to Growth (your caps – is the capitalisation a reference to the publication, or an expression of deference to the divine?), is clearly not derived from the “basic principle”, which is equally compatible with (say) a claim that economic growth will continue for another 500 years before collapsing.

    But I’m pretty sure we’ve had this conversation before, or at least one like it. You’re in broken record mode again, Ikon. 😉

  82. David Irving (no relation)
    April 10th, 2015 at 12:49 | #82

    @jt
    Two problems.

    1. We won’t share food equitably in the future, based on past performance.
    2. Unless we drastically change farming practices, we’re still going to hit those limits even ignoring the population problem.

    I don’t think you thought this through.

  83. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2015 at 13:35 | #83

    @Tim Macknay

    It’s all very well to say I am in broken record mode. However, what mode are the economists, politicians etc. in when they promote endless growth? If one keeps replying to and exposing their ad nauseum repetition of rank faslehoods (same goes for climate change denial), one does not bear primary responsibility for the endless-record aspect of the debate. That responsibility lies with the deluded and deliberate purveyors of endless growth propaganda.

  84. Tim Macknay
    April 10th, 2015 at 13:49 | #84

    @Ikonoclast
    To my mind, responsibility for the perpetuation of that particular “debate”, through repetition of dubious claims, rests equally on both sides of it. It’s true though, that the critics of the LtG/Meadows report are often just as prone to treating it as a “prophecy” as its fans are.

  85. John Quiggin
    April 10th, 2015 at 15:53 | #85

    “I hope you don’t judge all books by the cover or by the dust jacket”

    Authors are responsible for the cover of their book, just as much as for the contents. I’ve scrapped covers at the last minute because I regarded them as misleading. If you sign off on a book cover predicting imminent disaster, you can’t weasel out of it by pointing to a graph on page 150 that can be read to suggest something different.

    Tim is right – this was an early attempt at large scale modelling that gave some useful insights, but also showed up the limits of such exercises.

  86. John Quiggin
    April 10th, 2015 at 15:58 | #86

    Turner did not predict collapse in 2015. He predicted peaking in about 2015. Various factors may well make this predicted peak a plateau of kinds running on for years or a decade of more, IMO.

    Give me a break.Turner says quite unambiguously that “This scenario results in collapse of the global economy and population in the near future. It begins in about 2015 with industrial output per capita falling precipitously, followed by food and services. Consequently, death rates increase from about 2020 and population falls from about 2030 – as death rates overtake birth rates. ” (emphasis added)

    This (first published in 2012, and restated in 2014) can’t possibly be read to refer to a plateau lasting a decade or more.

    If you want to be taken seriously on LtG, you should either endorse this prediction, with any specific adjustments to the timescale you want or admit that it’s wrong. Otherwise you’re just like the various kinds of fundamentalists who predict the end of the world/capitalism/civilisation as we know it, and keep shifting the dates.

  87. jt
    April 10th, 2015 at 15:59 | #87

    The energy problem is ovverated. The sun is a constant source of energy and wind is renewable. Currently roof top solar operates at only 15% efficiency. These things are Model T Fords.

    We continue to see records for solar efficiency being smashed both in the lab and in the field (46% and 40% respectively last year) The scientists working on these projects know they aren’t within cooee of hitting the technical limits of what is possible. See this Catalyst program for details.

  88. Hermit
    April 10th, 2015 at 16:27 | #88

    A Guardian article summarising the Turner study came away with this take home message

    in Limits to Growth those effects only start to bite around 2015-2030

    I can well believe things will go bad in the next 15 years. For example the weirdness of oil price deflation. A century of happy motoring and 800 million cars globally yet the price of the finite amount of the magic elixir gets cheaper. Also note appeals to technical salvation on this thread. In my opinion we should assume things will get tougher and aim for a least-worse path.

  89. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2015 at 17:35 | #89

    @John Quiggin

    OK, I expect an admission that you are 100% WRONG in this matter as I will prove. I happen to have a PDF copy of Limits to Growth. The edition is billed on the front cover as a Potomac Associates Book and is published by Universe Books NY according to the frontispiece page inside. It is the fifth printing 1972. Library of Congress catalogue card number 73-187907.

    The text on the back side of the dust jacket says and I quote;

    “The message of this book is urgent and sobering: The earth’s interlocking resources – the global system of nature in which we all live – probably cannot support present rates of economic and population growth beyond the year 2100, if that long, even with advanced technology.” It goes on but I need quote no more.

    It is VERY, VERY crystal clear. The year 2100 is mentioned in black and white or rather black and a sort of burnt orange (in my file / screen combination anyway). I can send the entire PDF to your email if you want it.

    Now it may be that earlier dust-jackets bore a misprint but I find this unlikely. It is more likely you have made the kind of perceptual or memory error to which we are all be prone at times when we strongly wish to prove a point.

    However, I cannot let your mis-characterisation of the dustjacket AND the entire book cloud this debate. It is a very important debate. You need to re-think your recollections, concepts and arguments in relation to limits to growth. I suggest you need to re-read the book. I do you the justice of assuming you have read it in the past.

    I will reply to the Turner issues in a further post. I have to cook a fish pie now. Mundane matters take up so much of all our lives.

  90. ZM
    April 10th, 2015 at 17:48 | #90

    John Quiggin,

    I think you are being unfair to Graham Turner , he maybe should have been more careful about how his report was represented and the wording – but sometimes wording is emotional and I know when I heard him give a talk last year he finds the results of his research very worrying and also the lack of any strategy to deal with it being discussed in the political arena.

    As I studied history I think several decades is the short term – but people from business often think 10 years is the long term, so unless specific numbers of years are stated it can be a bit subjective.

    The collapse is predicted 2015-2030 period. You point out that deaths increase as if that is wrong , but given that there are wars in the middle east and Africa I reckon deaths have increased. And these ears often relate to the Arab Spring which is caused by food shortages (as turner predicts) due to droughts in Russia and elsewhere. With climate change droughts and food shortages are likely to get worse. So this could be the start of declining food harvest and related higher deaths

    OTOH as I studied history I think modelling is better for physical things than social things – so maybe social changes can assist in preventing a collapse. But time is running out to implement these social changes

  91. Tim Macknay
    April 10th, 2015 at 17:54 | #91

    @Ikonoclast

    I have to cook a fish pie now. Mundane matters take up so much of all our lives.

    I hope it’s not bluefin tuna…

  92. jt
    April 10th, 2015 at 18:07 | #92

    “However, I cannot let your mis-characterisation of the dustjacket AND the entire book cloud this debate. It is a very important debate.”

    Dunning-Kruger in bright flashing neon lights with a chorus of can-can dancers and, my God, did Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson just enter the building!!!!

    But more seriously, for 20 years I’ve tried to place a bet with Chicken Littles who think the End is Nigel. I’ve even offered generous odds, but no-one ever steps up to the batting mound. I think economists call this revealed preference.

    Meanwhile, according Nature, the earth has become more forested over the past decade:

    From 2003 onwards, forest in Russia and China expanded and tropical deforestation declined. Increased ABC associated with wetter conditions in the savannahs of northern Australia and southern Africa reversed global ABC loss, leading to an overall gain, consistent with trends in the global carbon sink reported in recent studies

  93. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2015 at 18:29 | #93

    @Tim Macknay

    Actually, snapper and smoked cod. The thought did cross my mind that a person who talks about collapsing wild fisheries and then eats Australian snapper and South African smoked cod is a hypocrite. I suspect the snapper is wild but I don’t know about the cod. I do know of course that the Newfoundland cod fisheries (a long way from South Africa) were destroyed as viable fisheries a long time ago.

    Then again, a mentioner / predicter of these kinds of mutiple man-made ecologicaldisasters is a hypocrite for even living. Excuse me for living. 😉

  94. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2015 at 18:30 | #94

    @jt

    Dunning and Kruger are looking over your shoulder as you look in the mirror.

  95. Tim Macknay
    April 10th, 2015 at 18:37 | #95

    @Ikonoclast
    My comment about the tuna was in jest. I don’t think you’re hypocrite.

  96. Tim Macknay
    April 10th, 2015 at 18:37 | #96

    That should have read “I don’t think you’re a hypocrite”. Aargh.

  97. Megan
    April 10th, 2015 at 18:59 | #97

    This entry on Amazon has an image of the front of, it looks like, an original edition of the book from 1972.

    The disputed quote can be seen if you click on “see this image” (left side, just under a small picture of the book).

    It is a quote, not from the authors but from “Anthony Lewis – New York Times”.

  98. Megan
    April 10th, 2015 at 19:03 | #98

    Sorry, scrub that.

    The quote is NOT from Lewis, his quote “one of the most important documents of our time” immediately follows the quote in question. The quote in issue seems to be in the form of a subtitle to the title.

  99. Ikonoclast
    April 10th, 2015 at 19:17 | #99

    @Megan

    Sorry but I cannot see the disputed quote on the image you suggest. The disputed quote is from the back of the dust-jacket and is in my PDF image of the 5th edition (1972):

    “The message of this book is urgent and sobering: The earth’s interlocking resources – the global system of nature in which we all live – probably cannot support present rates of economic and population growth beyond the year 2100, if that long, even with advanced technology.”

    NOTE THE YEAR!!! 2100! NOT 2000!

    Sorry Megan I am not shouting at you, I am shouting at all the people who repeat urban myths or rather neocon myths about this report. It is very frustrating.

  100. Megan
    April 10th, 2015 at 19:17 | #100

    Actually, it looks like the quote was only on the 8th print run edition.

    So it could easily have been put there by the marketing machine.

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