Home > Economics - General, Environment > Hard cash and climate change: repost from 2005

Hard cash and climate change: repost from 2005

January 20th, 2016

While thinking about decarbonizing transport, I dug out this old post from 2005. It’s interesting to see how the debate has evolved (or not) since then.

The big change has been that the prospects for technological alternatives like alternative energy sources and electric vehicles have improved dramatically. As regards transport, I don’t see much reason to change the analysis I presented in 2005. Unfortunately, while some progress has been made along the kinds of lines I suggested, it’s been very limited compared to the radical changes in electricity generation. So, we are only at the beginning of the process of decarbonizing transport.

Tim Worstall gets us past that pesky NYT paywall to link approvingly to a John Tierney column arguing that the way to encourage energy conservation in the US is not to fiddle with standards but to raise prices. Broadly speaking I agree. At a minimum, getting prices right is a necessary condition for an adjustment to sustainable levels of energy use. Nevertheless, the rate of adjustment and the smoothness with which adjustment takes place can be greatly enhanced by the adoption of consistent pro-conservation policies, or retarded by the adoption of inconsistent and incoherent policies.

This is as good a time as any to restate the point that, given a gradual adjustment, very large reductions in energy use and CO2 emissions can be achieved at very modest cost. Rather than argue from welfare economics this time, I’ve looked at the kind of adjustments that would be needed to cut CO2 emissions from motor vehicle use (one of the least responsive) and argued that price increases would bring this about over time, without significant pain.

With the price of gasoline in the US passing $3/gallon and most of the remaining sceptics now conceding the reality of human-caused climate change, it seems like a good idea to re-examine some fundamental assumptions in the debate over climate change. Rather than focus on the short-run arguments about the Kyoto protocol, it seems more useful to focus on the question of whether anything can really be done to stop climate change.

A common estimate is that to stabilise the global climate, we would need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent, and proposals to achieve this by 2050 have been put forward. Assuming only a limited role for alternative energy sources, it seems reasonably to look at a 50 per cent reduction in primary energy use.

It’s a widely-held view that the kinds of changes required to stabilise the global climate must imply a fairly radical reduction in our material standard of living. This view is shared by radical environmentalists, who see such a reduction as a good thing, and by opponents of such changes most of whom, at least in developed countries are on the free-market right.

The fact that radical environmentalists view the modern economy as critically dependent on unsustainable patterns of energy use is not surprising. On the other hand, supporters of the free-market generally praise the flexibility of dynamism. Currently, energy use accounts for about 6 per cent of GDP. The suggestion that reducing this proportion to, say, 3 per cent, is beyond our capacity seems to represent a very pessimistic view of our economic potential.

There’s a standard economic technique for giving a rough estimate of the economic cost of such a shift. Begin with the assumption that in the long run, the demand for energy is sufficiently flexible that a 10 per cent increase in costs will eventually produce a 10 per cent reduction is usage, relative to the underlying trend. Although energy use responds slowly to price changes in the short run this is a fairly conservative estimate of price responsiveness over periods of a decade or more.

Given this assumption, halving energy use would require a 100 per cent increase in prices (by coincidence this is about the change that’s been seen in US gasoline prices in the last few years). A standard economic calculation suggests that the reduction in economic welfare associated with such a tax would be somewhere between 50 and 100 per cent of the revenue raised, or between 1.5 per cent and 3 per cent of GDP. That’s about one year’s worth of economic growth. Remember that this estimate is not for the modest first steps required under Kyoto, but for a reduction in emissions on the scale required to stabilise climate.

Is such a broad-brush estimate reasonable? One way to check is to look in detail at the kinds of changes that would be needed to achieve such a reduction in the most sensitive single category of energy use, that of private motor vehicles.

Consider changes over twenty years, a period long enough for the vehicle fleet to turn over, and for people and firm to make adjustments to home and work locations, commuting and shopping patterns, and so on.

First, a significant reduction could be achieved simply by improvements in the technical efficiency of fuel use. The motor vehicle industry, although technologically mature, still exhibits steady improvements in the efficiency of engines and other aspects of vehicle design. When fuel prices are low, much of the effort is allocated to improving performance.

When fuel prices are high, and policy is oriented towards reducing energy use, innovations that improve fuel economy are favoured. Over 20 years, and with support from publicly funded research, it seems reasonable to anticipate a 20 per cent improvement in fuel economy, for all types of vehicles, relative to the ‘business as usual’ trend.

Second, some shift towards alternative fuels could be anticipated. While radical alternatives such as ethanol and hydrogen and alternatives to internal combustion such as electric cars have so far proved disappointing, an increase in the effective cost of petrol would encourage greater use of existing alternatives such as LPG and diesel, which are more efficient in terms of carbon emission.

Yet further improvements could be achieved with measures to reduce traffic congestion, including purely technical innovations such as more sophisticated management of traffic lights and market innovations such as congestion charges.

Next, the mix of vehicles in the fleet would change over time. The gain from this source can be illustrated by a simplified example. Suppose that half of fleet uses 10l/100km, and half uses 5l/100km, yielding an average of 7.5l/100km. If the proportions changed to 25:75, the average would fall to 6.25,and fuel use would fall by 15 per cent. Most of this change would arise as a result of consumer responses to changing prices. However, existing policies that favour the use of large, inefficient vehicles (such as the special treatment of SUVs in US fuel economy regulations) should be scrapped, and replaced by policies pointing in the opposite direction.

A small further saving, say 5 per cent, could be achieved through discretionary decisions on which vehicle to use for a given trip. Given high fuel prices, a household with a small car and a 4WD might be more inclined to use the small car when dropping the kids off at school, for example.

A similar small change, say a 5 per cent reduction in fuel use, could be achieved through improved driving habits. These include stricter adherence to speed limits on open roads, and avoiding excessive acceleration and braking in urban areas.

So far, we’ve considered changes which involve no change at all in travel patterns (with the exception of congestion pricing, which would actually improve things), and only marginal adjustments in lifestyle. The biggest single change, in the fleet mix, would do little more than restore the mix prevailing in, say, 1980. Yet taken together, these changes would be sufficient to reduce energy use by between 30 and 40 per cent and CO2 emissions by an even larger amount.

Now consider some changes in travel patterns. The most important single variable is the distance travelled by each person. To get an idea of feasible magnitudes let’s consider a 20 per cent reduction in distance travelled. For commuting, the biggest single use of time, this could be achieved if people chose to live a little closer to work, to rearrange schedules to allow a four-day week, or to telecommute one day each week. Similar savings could be made on shopping and leisure travel with only modest costs.

The fuel cost of travel also depends on the extent to which people share cars. The average occupancy of cars has declined steadily reaching about 1.1 persons per vehicle for commuting trips in the US in 2000, and about 1.5 persons per vehicle for all trips. A partial reversal of this trend, raising occupancy to 1.65 persons would reduce fuel use by 10 per cent for a given number of person-km travelled.

Finally, there’s public transport and alternatives to cars like bicycles and walking. Doubling the share of these would reduce the number of vehicle trips by around 10 per cent, though the reduction in fuel use would be smaller since mostly short trips would be avoided.

Adding all of these modest changes together would yield a reduction in fuel use of more than 50 per cent Some of these changes would be imperceptible, others would require marginal adjustments over a couple of decades. Taken all together, they would be barely noticeable relative to the changes in lifestyle that most people experience over such a period.

You might think that adding together a whole lot of small changes in the same direction is stacking the deck in some sense. But this is the way markets work. An increase in the effective cost of some commodity generates adjustments on many different margins, all in the direction of economising on that commodity.

It is also the way coherent public policy works. If a goal of reducing energy use or CO2 emissions is properly embedded in public policy, it will be reflected in modest shifts in many different dimensions of policy, producing a significant aggregate impact.

The combination of price responsiveness and public policy can be seen working together in the reduction in tobacco use over the forty-odd years since the link between smoking and cancer was first officially recognised in the US in the Surgeon-General’s report of 1964. At the time, the proportion of men who smoked was 52 per cent and smoking among women was rising rapidly as older social taboos lost their effect. In 2000 the proportion who smoked was down to 25 per cent for men, and 20 per cent for women and was declining for both groups.

Admittedly, the health risks of smoking are borne mainly by the smoker, so the link between giving up and receiving benefits is direct and personal. Against this, nicotine is possibly the most addictive drug known to humanity. Giving up smoking requires an effort far greater than the modest changes discussed above.

The reduction in smoking was achieved by a combination of higher taxes, aggressive public information campaigns and public policies that gradually limited smoking in various public places, but without any radical changes or any element of compulsion comparable to Prohibition of alcohol or of the many drugs that are currently illegal.

What is true for driving and smoking is even more so for other forms of energy use, particularly in business and industry. Given a consistent upward trend in prices and a coherent set of public policies, massive reductions in energy use would follow as surely as night follows day.

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  1. John Chapman
    January 20th, 2016 at 09:57 | #1

    The RACQ’s and NRMA’s of this world could have been doing a lot more about this.

    Meanwhile GM and Tesla are mobilising electric cars.

  2. Ikonoclast
    January 20th, 2016 at 10:44 | #2

    Not so long ago, in historical terms, GM played a role in killing the electric car. See “Who Killed the Electric Car?”.

    Now that Elon Musk and his company Tesla have revived the electric car, will we see GM (saved via Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and massive govt monies of course) coming along to the party and saying “Oh yeah, we knew all along it was a good idea.”

    Of course, the contention that the electric car is a good idea depends on an assumption that the car itself is a good idea for our future. As Val pointed out, this assumption is very doubtful.

    However, as part of a weaning process it might have a value as in;

    ICEV to EV to clean (no private cars)

    In the process of weaning us off our “diddums-must-have-his-car” culture and getting us to grow up into ecologically ethical adults, EVs should become all of smaller, more efficient and less numerous; helping us on in time to a full no-private-car culture.

  3. James Wimberley
    January 20th, 2016 at 11:22 | #3

    It shows how much things have changed that JQ’s starting point was the aim of a large reduction in primary energy use. With practically limitless cheap wind and solar, energy is hardly a long-term constraint. The nice joke is that you get the reduction in primary energy intensity anyway, from the massive reduction in waste (see the LLNL Sankey charts of US energy flows).

    Also, a 50% reduction in fossil fuel use in Australia and OECD countries would have barely dented the doomsday machine of rising ICEV and electrical fossil fuel use in the developing world. We really do have a lit to thank Germany for.

  4. Lt. Fred
    January 20th, 2016 at 11:35 | #4

    The bottleneck is congestion. As everyone knows, if you build a new road or add another lane on a freeway, you just get more people driving (and fewer people staying at home, or catching some form of public transport, or walking, or cycling). Cities with lots of freeways and lots of suburbia have lots of driving.

    So the solution is really easy: blow up all the freeways and replace them with railways, reducing available roadway. Reverse induced demand. Describe demolition as an “upgrade” like they did when they got rid of the trams – cause railway is cheaper and much higher capacity than freeway. Cancel the tax deductibility of the RACQ in order to achieve this, politically (and slash Main Roads’ budget, obviously).

    In Brisbane, the obvious first target is the Riverside Expressway. Hire some Danish engineer you pay to find it structurally unsound then blow it up immediately. Then do the same thing with the Gateway, and you’ve cut car use/total trips in SEQ from 90% to about 70%.

  5. Ivor
    January 20th, 2016 at 12:41 | #5

    And in another 10 years you will probably want to post it again … because nothing will have been done.

    In 10 years there may be a few electric cars running around OECD streets but this will only be a cosmetic feel good factor for domestic consumption. There have been improvements in battery technology.

    Petrol/diesel car numbers, plane flights, ship journeys and train trips in the rest of the world will not stay constant at 2015 levels.

    CO2 will continue its current trend until well past 2020.

    And that is the end of the line.

  6. GrueBleen
    January 20th, 2016 at 13:12 | #6

    @John Chapman

    “…depends on an assumption that the [electric] car itself is a good idea for our future…”

    Don’t worry, Ikono, as one of JQ’s other interlocutors has pointed out, there isn’t enough copper in the world to build enough EVs for the present world population, never mind for double that in 40 or so years (goodness, what are we going to do about Malware’s Fraudband Network then ?).

    Unless, of course, we find a way to more or less economically extract the huge tonneage of copper (and iron and lots of other stuff) from solution (and/or suspension) in the world’s oceans and seas. Then we’d have enough. Hallelujah !

    PS ProfQ: you really did write big, long blogposts back in 2005. Just as well that tl:dr hadn’t been invented back then.

  7. GrueBleen
    January 20th, 2016 at 13:14 | #7

    @John Chapman

    Ooops. Dunno how the above got directed to you John, it was intended for Ikonoclast. Mea culpa.

  8. TerjeP
    January 20th, 2016 at 13:16 | #8

    Admittedly, the health risks of smoking are borne mainly by the smoker, so the link between giving up and receiving benefits is direct and personal.

    It’s an admission that few public policy advocates seem willing to make. There is a public health cost associated with end of life diseases from smoking but they are arguable equal to or even less than the public health cost for end of life diseases that non smokers suffer. The fact is that most people make an expensive exit irrespective of whether it is from smoking or not. And even if we ignore that comparative issue the current regime of tobacco taxes raises vastly more revenue than can ever be justified by public health costs.

    As for your point about the impact of prices on behaviour I would think smoking was a bad example. Smoking rates have declined but it has hardly been rapid. It’s been a stubborn social problem. Personally I think we would get a more rapid rate of cessation if we simply permitted and promoted technical alternatives like e-cigarettes. A better example would be road tolls or fuel taxes.

    But on decarbonising the economy I do agree that a price signal, via a carbon tax, remains the most sane policy response. As long as it’s instead of rather than as well as the other regulatory tools. eg handouts, mandates etc.

  9. Ikonoclast
    January 20th, 2016 at 13:16 | #9

    @Lt. Fred

    I like the way you think. I am promoting you straight to Field Marshal.

  10. TerjeP
    January 20th, 2016 at 13:23 | #10

    On electric cars I’m bullish. I think the switch to hybrids and then electricity will happen and the pace will just depend on progress in batteries and fuel costs. But whether it’s plug in hybrids or full electrics I think most personal transport will be powered by electricity in the not to distant future. Of course we have to allow for swapping out the current fleet.

    I continue to be bearish on wind power and solar power. Even with storage options as cheap as hydro they don’t have a high enough EROEI to sustain a developed economy. Although for both, even with storage, it is certainly higher than one.

  11. John Quiggin
    January 20th, 2016 at 13:55 | #11


    40 odd years after the Club of Rome, I think it’s pretty clear that the availability of metals is never going to be a serious constraint on anything. What matters, as the problem of climate change indicates, is the assimilative capacity of the environment.

    I didn’t see the purported demonstration that electric cars would exhaust the world supply of copper, but I’m confident it’s wrong. Looking at an individual in the developed world, it’s obvious that they are already using far more copper (in piping, their connection to the electricity grid and various indirect uses), than could possibly be required to give them an electric car.

  12. Donald Oats
    January 20th, 2016 at 14:13 | #12

    [Aside: The risks of smoking are not primarily borne by the smoker: everyone they smoke around is subject to risks associated with cigarette smoke. My grandfather smoked like the proverbial train, and we would sit in the lounge with him, sucking it up. You could cut the air with a knife.
    Same was true at the local pubs: the air was thick to point of cloying, thanks to cigarette smokers. The only pub at that time with a non-smoking bar was a joke: it was this little corridor, about 2 metres in length, with a no smoking sign and a couple of stools—and it was the conduit between the front and the back bar rooms. So if you were a non-smoker you were effectively excluded from enjoyment of a pub, club, etc.]

    Anyway, on to the topic at hand. I disagree with the statement that most of the “sceptics” are accepting human-related climate change, if by sceptics we mean the shills and charlatans. They have been very busy of late, ensuring that the republican nominees have talking points with cherry picked time series, or just outright bunkum. As usual, Eli Rabett and Tamino slaughter the nonsense, not that the politicians are concerned, for once they’ve presented to a senate committee, their bulldust does its magic, same as it always did. Politicians don’t care much for evidence as a means of winning a debate.

    As for renewable energy and storage and distribution, I think now that a more robust response from more nations is forthcoming, there is a significantly greater level of innovation occurring: in short, the smart inventor types, and some of the big corporations, are seeking ways of entering this space. With time, we’ll see if there are any “break-through” ideas or not, but even without such disruptive change, the incremental advances in solar PV technology and wind turbines, including underwater ones, have more clout, as the size of the market is so much bigger than a decade or two ago.

  13. Ikonoclast
    January 20th, 2016 at 14:24 | #13

    @John Quiggin

    I am happy to have a dollar each way on the EVs issue. If you are right then switching to and keeping EVs indefinitely makes sense but only in the context of this being combined with much improved mass transit, bike-ways and walkways.

    If Val is right (EVs and the infrastructure they require will prove unsustainable) then EVs (more efficient than ICEVs and scaled down in size and numbers) will provide a transition pathway to a future without personal automobiles. This transition path is logical and necessary as full fleet turnover is still going to be quicker than full and radical infrastructure “turnover” for the entirety of all transit issues. It takes longer to turn over a full built infrastructure than a car fleet (errm at least in peace time).

    Either way the transition to (and then maybe through) EVs is the correct path.

  14. J-D
    January 20th, 2016 at 15:11 | #14

    The decline in the smokers’ demographic share is most likely partly the result of various factors inducing smokers to become non-smokers, but also partly the result of the demographic replacement of smokers by people who never take it up (probably as the result of a similar combination of factors). In other words, policy measures may have encouraged some people to give up smoking; but at the same time smokers have been dying off and their numbers have probably not been replaced because, probably, the same policy measures have discouraged some people from ever taking up smoking.

    The distinction does have some significance because the highly addictive properties of nicotine need to be overcome to persuade smokers to stop smoking, but not to persuade non-smokers never to take it up.

    I wonder how similar the pattern might be with car use.

  15. GrueBleen
    January 20th, 2016 at 15:48 | #15

    @John Quiggin

    Hmm, well I’m not sure what The Club of Rome proves one way or another, but of course I’m willing to consider any evidence.

    But it wasn’t a purported “demonstration” ProfQ, it was just a comment entry by Geoff Edwards (January 18th, 2016 at 20:37 | #4 Reply |) to your recent post Decarbonizing transport
    January 18th, 2016. Nonetheless, I was happy to pick up on it as a theme for discussion.

    Too save you a bit of time, the relevant bits from Geoff’s comment follow:

    3. Although consumption of carbon fuel is the most prominent limiting factor, it is not the only one. There is probably not enough copper to electrify the world’s vehicle fleet, without mentioning other vital minerals. CSIRO and UTS Sydney have produced some solid analyses of “peak minerals” which for many of the materials necessary for generation of renewables is likely to occur within a current planning horizon.

    4. The current low prices for these ingredients are taken by cornucopians as indicating that there is an abundant supply. Rather, they indicate that the financial commodity markets are disconnected from the geological balance sheets and are a very poor proxy for geological shortages.

    5. The richest and most accessible ore bodies have already been mined and the remaining ones will require progressively more fossil fuels to exploit them. This will increase the dilemma and narrow the range of options. Go to item 2 above.

  16. TerjeP
    January 20th, 2016 at 17:48 | #16

    Donald – the costs to others due to passive smoking are mostly mitigated by the ban on work place smoking.

  17. TerjeP
    January 20th, 2016 at 18:29 | #17

    If they eventuate driverless cars will be more transformative than electric cars. I suspect we will get both. And in so far as driverless cars are used like taxis the issue of recharge time will disappear as a significant end user concern.

  18. TerjeP
    January 20th, 2016 at 18:35 | #18

    As at today Tesla has a market cap of US$27 billion. Ford is US$48 billion. Is Tesla (founded 2003) really worth more than half of Ford (founded 1903)?

  19. Tim Worstall
    January 20th, 2016 at 18:41 | #19

    “CSIRO and UTS Sydney have produced some solid analyses of “peak minerals” which for many of the materials necessary for generation of renewables is likely to occur within a current planning horizon.”

    I’m afraid this is nonsense. All three points there are in fact. The point is made at length here:


    It all stems from a complete misunderstanding of what mineral reserves and mineral resources actually mean. Same problem the original Club of Rome had.

  20. BilB
    January 20th, 2016 at 19:44 | #20

    I suggest watching this presentation by Dr James White. He makes some fundamental factors blatantly clear and totally understandable, and introduces some very succinct factual relationships. Take particular note of the projected life of coal reserves under real world considerations (using actual maths).


    On the hard cash, I am quite fascinated at how today’s low oil price is proving to be more economically destabalising than a high one is. It highlights the total fallacy of the Libertarian arguments that everything should be at the lowest possible cost, especially labour. The fact is that any commodity’s cost should fairly represent the real and complete cost of providing it, and variations in cost have only a marginal proportional impact on its users. Yet small marginal impacts can have a very significant overall impact on a total system as James White clearly demonstrates.

  21. TerjeP
    January 20th, 2016 at 19:51 | #21

    the Libertarian arguments that everything should be at the lowest possible cost

    Straw man fallacy.

  22. Ikonoclast
    January 20th, 2016 at 19:57 | #22



  23. January 20th, 2016 at 20:58 | #23

    Thanks Ikon. JQ has explained his ways of working out what we need to do, and I guess they are economically ‘respectable’. Mine may not be in mainstream economic terms, but I think it’s legit anyway.

    What I do is use the online calculators that are available to tell you how much CO2 emissions your lifestyle generates. Mine comes close to sustainable levels, but I struggle to stay within them, due to things like the occasional long trip by plane or car.

    My electricity usage is about half of comparable households in Melbourne, I don’t own a car, my transport mode is normally walking/cycling/PT, I’m vegetarian, I eat a lot of locally grown fresh produce, and I live simply, rarely buying many consumer goods. I’m not saying that to boast or be holier than thou. My point is, that’s how I live now, and I’m struggling to stay within sustainable per capita CO2 emission levels, even with the world’s current population. Very few people live the way I do at present – we are still widely seen as a bit extreme and fanatical, not ‘normal’. So if you imagine a world of 9 or 10 billion people by 2050, and most of them wanting to live the way ‘normal’ Australians do, it just doesn’t seem feasible.

    So when I read people like JQ basically suggesting that we can achieve sustainability without major change, essentially by tinkering around the edges of the way we live now, I think ‘you’re kidding yourself’. I’m not a pessimist or doom sayer, and I think we can achieve sustainability, but I think major social change is necessary to do so, and I think those of us who study or think about these issues need to start saying so, loudly and clearly.

  24. January 20th, 2016 at 21:30 | #24

    John, are you sure this is so applicable now, compared to 2005? Just the first few paragraphs describe a policy environment that is pretty much the opposite of what we are seeing. Since 2005 most of the reductions in emissions that the US and China achieved have been through regulation not price rises, and indeed we have seen emissions decouple from growth even as there has been a massive drop in the price of coal and oil due to an oversupply, not any form of taxation or regulatory mechanism.

    Also your claim that we can stabilise the climate with a 60% reduction in emissions is surely just flat-out wrong? We have a carbon budget, and the only way we can stay inside it is to get to 0 emissions. A 60% reduction will not stabilize the climate, it will simply delay the damage a little.

    Finally, your smoking example is not a good one. As I have argued at my blog, the campaign against smoking is a very good example of how destructive behavior cannot be reduced by price rises alone, but requires massive regulatory intervention in markets. The equivalent intervention for oil and coal would be a ban on all advertising, restrictions on who can use oil and coal and when, zones where all use of it is banned (which continually expand), ongoing public campaigns about how bad it is, extremely heavy fines for anyone breaking the consumption rules, and court cases to extract massive punitive fines from the oil companies, as well as to open up all their private documentation for public access. These interventions would have to occur at the same time as taxation increases.

    The idea that taxation alone has pushed down tobacco use is a free-market myth. Tobacco use has declined to 15% in Australia through the most intensive regulatory intervention ever seen on a non-pharmaceutical product. Good luck achieving the same large changes in petrol use through taxation alone!

  25. January 20th, 2016 at 21:32 | #25

    also I will add that a big portion of the decline in smoking has been through the government subsidizing cessation technologies and a huge program of research into effective cessation strategies. The equivalent for carbon is obviously huge subsidies of alternatives to oil and coal.

    We are nowhere near as serious about reducing carbon emissions as we are about stopping smoking, and that fact is a really really pathetic indictment of our response to a civilization-changing threat.

  26. TerjeP
    January 20th, 2016 at 21:40 | #26

    Since 2005 most of the reductions in emissions that the US and China achieved have been through regulation not price rises, and indeed we have seen emissions decouple from growth even as there has been a massive drop in the price of coal and oil due to an oversupply, not any form of taxation or regulatory mechanism.

    In the US coal is being displaced by cheap natural gas. The reduction in emissions may gave more to do with advances in fracking technology than regulations.


  27. TerjeP
    January 20th, 2016 at 21:42 | #27

    ie it’s the relative price of coal that matters and coal is now more expensive relative to gas.

  28. January 20th, 2016 at 21:50 | #28

    Maybe TerjeP, but I suspect a lot of plants would continue to operate on higher priced coal without the regulatory impetus, because the switch over requires capital investment. Coal has a whole bunch of regulatory impediments that effectively raise the cost of using it beyond just its sticker price (e.g. clean air emissions standards).

    Also, even if correct, your point only applies to coal, not oil, which has no lower-price equivalent that can be exchanged without capital investment (i.e. buying a new, expensive car).

  29. jrkrideau
    January 21st, 2016 at 05:33 | #29

    No, we just go to iron-powered vehicles. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/quirks-quarks-for-jan-16-2016-1.3405565/alternative-energy-enters-the-iron-age-1.3405891.

    Not sure we can do it in twenty years and I think this may mean reducing the numbers of POC’s, which is fine with me.

    Actually a few changes in zoning laws especially in parking requirements in the USA might help.

  30. clive newton
    January 21st, 2016 at 06:00 | #30

    Can others recall vehicles emissions/fuel consumption ever getting a run in recent elections? i recall 1996 when Howard promised to reduce sales tax (?) on FWD monsters to make it equal to all other vehicles. He announced this standing in front of a mega-expensive luxury Landcruiser as i recall. he won and did it. Seems to me that was the political class’s sole excursion into “positive” policy change. As a diesel driver I’ve spent a lot of $$$ over the years driving more efficient cars and paying vastly more for my fuel than unleaded. It’s only lately that diesel has been cheaper than petrol. Shocked on my one os trip to find diesel way cheaper as it was subsidised (?).

  31. Ikonoclast
    January 21st, 2016 at 06:54 | #31


    It will almost certainly require generational change. Generations, or cohorts to be more accurate, seem unable to give up things they have “fallen in love with” and hold dear. In Freudian parlance, which occasionally is semi-accurate, they are not able to give up things they have cathected with. If “cathect” is taken as meaning “to invest emotional energy in a person, object, or idea” then this helps us to describe people who are over-invested in this sense and cannot give up objects which rationally they need to give up for their own and the biosphere’s health.

    Cathecting with consumer objects as fetishes is somewhat related to what Marx identified as commodity fetishism. Marx did not use the word “cathect” so far as I know, nor take his socioeconomic theory “inwards” into psychology. One test of when an object has passed from rational considerations into cathected commodity fetishism would be I imagine the test implied by the analysis above. The person cannot give up an object which is harming them or their world even when presented with rational and scientifically backed reasons for doing so.

    Generations, or cohorts, have “fallen in love” with the car in their formative years. That’s when it always happens. In addition, familiarisation, enculteration and general commodity fetishism in the Marxian sense mean they cannot conceive of a society without cars. The material basis of society supports (for the time being) this conclusion. The global economy is heavily dependent on car manufacture for economic activity. The infrastructure is heavily conditioned by the need to accomodate cars and their requirements. People who are unhealthily invested in cars will probably have to pass away to allow the full change necessary. It seems to me that maladaptive ideas often die only when the “carrier cohort” dies.

    I do think it will be an “evolutionary” process though. As I described in my reply to J.Q., I thank we can change to electric cars (smaller, less numerous and more efficient) as a necessary transition phase. The car fleet can be changed faster than our infrastructure can be changed but eventually the whole infrastructure needs to change to support a no-personal-autos urban infrastructure and environment. A problem will be if the environmental crisis is too nearly imminent for this staged transition path.

  32. Stockingrate
    January 21st, 2016 at 11:48 | #32

    “It is also the way coherent public policy works. If a goal of reducing energy use or CO2 emissions is properly embedded in public policy, it will be reflected in modest shifts in many different dimensions of policy.”

    Coherent public policy on emissions requires a policy on population growth rate including the quantification of impact of population growth on emissions.

  33. Sean Leaver
    January 21st, 2016 at 14:34 | #33

    I’ve lived in Japan and know at lot of Germans, irrespective of what gov’t wants its a matter of culture. Japanese and Germans are really amazing when it comes to minimising waste – essentially waste linked to remediating climate change. I am in awe that they take this to a personal level – we need to do this in Australia.

  34. John Quiggin
    January 21st, 2016 at 15:51 | #34

    It will almost certainly require generational change.

    Which is the problem with advocating a transformational social change as opposed to a program confined to the energy sector. We have to get started on decarbonization right now (ideally should have started 20 years ago) and have the job pretty much complete by 2050. Most people under 50 will still be alive by then, and even healthy older folk like myself have a chance. So, as Rumsfled might have said, we must do the job with the society we have, not what we might hope for in a generation’s time.

  35. John Quiggin
    January 21st, 2016 at 15:59 | #35


    I think you’ve misinterpreted me on tobacco. I don’t see the role of prices as central.

    And I think, broadly speaking, we are seeing the kinds of things you mention happening with coal in particular – bans on funding for new coal mines and new power stations, divestment of existing shareholdings, steadily increasing regulation restricting local air pollution, a radical shift in public attitudes, and so on.

  36. January 21st, 2016 at 16:50 | #36

    In that case John I think the final part of the post – about smoking – disagrees with the first part of the post, which seems to be arguing that price changes alone will be sufficient. Perhaps I’m misreading you.

    I agree we are seeing some of these broader policy moves in coal, but your post was about driving – where we have not seen anything like the required policy changes to discourage driving and where in any case these policy changes are very difficult, since they require urban planning changes. This is what Val is getting at with the generational change comments and while you are right that we need to go to war with carbon with the society we have, not the one we want, I think we aren’t going to win the war with the society we have. We could have if we had, as you say, started the changes 20 years ago, but we didn’t – and we have folks like Tim Worstall to thank for that potentially cataclysmic delay.

    Do you think the urgency of the task has changed since 2005? Your post seems to suggest that a 60% reduction in emissions is enough but I don’t think that was the case in 2005 and it certainly isn’t now.

  37. TerjeP
    January 21st, 2016 at 17:05 | #37

    I’d like a little credit also for helping to delaying the war on coal. Although of course I’m merely a foot soldier. And from my perspective the war did in fact start more than 20 years ago it’s just the greenies have not won. Although they have clearly inflicted some damage.

  38. John Quiggin
    January 21st, 2016 at 17:24 | #38


    I think you can certainly share the credit for destroying the credibility of propertarianism/libertarianism as a political movement. When I started blogging, libertarians seemed like my most important intellectual opponents. Thanks to climate denialism in particular, they are now an unimportant group of culture warriors. Rand Paul’s 2 per cent support in the Republican primary (implying way below 1 per cent of US voters) is a pretty good indication of how well they have done over the past 15 years. Their apparent support in the Tea Party has shifted almost entirely to authoritarians like Trump.

    The despair evident in this piece
    is a pretty good indication.

    And, to repeat, silly-clever logic chopping combined with a willingness to make up the facts as you go along has rendered libertarians defenceless in the face of someone like Trump.

  39. TerjeP
    January 21st, 2016 at 17:46 | #39

    I don’t think you are saying that Trump has trumped libertarians in the intellectual sphere. But it does seem a bit like you are saying that. Which would be an odd call. I don’t think Trump has much at all in the way of any intellectual underpinning on the policy front.

    In Australia the libertarian jaunt into party politics, ostensibly via the LDP, is still in it’s early days and only time will tell if it is a success. But equating the electoral success of ideas with the intellectual merit of those ideas is rather problematic. Do you really mean to imply that merit and popularity are the same thing? God I hope not.

  40. January 21st, 2016 at 18:32 | #40

    Terje, I don’t want to bring this down too far into the realm of personalities, but if you think your LDP representative in the Senate is an example of “intellectual merit” then I think you too are kidding yourself. More an example of ‘whacky’ I’d say.

  41. Julie Thomas
    January 21st, 2016 at 19:04 | #41


    Which war are you a foot-soldier for? I know conservatives like to make war, not love, and I know they are having a culture war against The Left but it seems odd for a libertarian to be supporting a war on culture when libertarianism is culture free.

    Only thing libertarians have and here they are very similar to the Donald Trump is an overweening sense of their importance in the grand scheme of things.

    Where do you think any support for the LDP will come from? Are business people impressed with him and his awesome ideas about how awful the nanny state is and how we need to restore cracker night? I suppose cracker night is a ‘cultural experience’ for someone like David? Do you know if he was particularly excited by this yearly event and it still motivates his political thinking?

    You’d think the country folk here in Qld would be impressed by his advocacy for more and better guns so everyone can protect their property from the bad guys, but strangely people seem to think he is a “twat”; thing is there just aren’t a lot of enemies in the Aussie bush who need shooting.

    And you know, a lot of them have been touched by gun deaths, suicides and murders and murder suicides so they are wondering if the regulations that make it more difficult to get to a gun when emotions are running high could actually be a good idea and not just the evil left forcing them to be unfree. Do you reckon the 80 old bloke who shot the govt worker in the back was just protecting his property?

    I’m a bit of a foot soldier for the greenfilth left although I’m not making war on my right wing neighbours just winning their hearts and minds with my rational and informed opinion particularly my opinion about how to raise children who do not grow up to be greedy selfish glibertarians and how to build a community that can respond to the uncertain future these children face.

    And seriously, in my little country town, if we want fireworks, as free and creative individuals cross borders to buy them and just set them off anytime we like; it takes at least 20 minutes for the local copper to get here and nobody dobs anyway. Last time we had a firework party one of the rockets lodged in the neighbour man’s tree and he – the neighbour – and number two son who had brought the crackers spent some time getting to know each other while they put the fire out.

    You have no idea of how a community can work to provide sufficient individual freedom for responsible adults and also support for the vulnerable, do you?

    Tell us about merit and popularity Terje, is there no relationship and what God has to do with it? Are libertarians Christians now?

  42. Jack Williams
    January 21st, 2016 at 20:41 | #42


    Re Terje: ‘I’d like a little credit also for helping to delaying the war on coal. Although of course I’m merely a foot soldier.’

    Always thought so Terje. You are a lackey, an obstacle to progress.

  43. Ikonoclast
    January 21st, 2016 at 21:28 | #43

    From the ABC;

    “Global temperatures in 2015 were by far the hottest in modern times, according to new data from American science agencies.

    Not only was 2015 the warmest worldwide since records began in 1880, it shattered the previous record held in 2014 by the widest margin ever observed, a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

    “During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 0.90 Celsius above the 20th century average,” the NOAA report said.”

    Something seems to be changing and changing fast. This is not say more warming is a total certainty but it seems highly likely now. Looking at Yarloop’s before and after aerial bushfire shots is very concerning. A town with green gardens and shrubs and a wide effective fire break around it – as plowed and over-grazed paddocks – is swept end to end and burned to the ground. These are not “just” bush fires. These are firestorms and fire tornadoes. The term megafire is increasingly being used too.


    “Plastic rubbish will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to recycle the material, a report has warned on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.”

    The world throws away about $150 billion worth of plastic waste a year. And the PTB try to tell to us capitalism is efficient!

  44. January 21st, 2016 at 22:31 | #44

    You know TerjeP, standing in the way of AGW mitigation is not something you should be proud of. Is it that you don’t understand how dangerous the warming is, or are you actually proud that you have contributed to the destruction of industrial civilization?

    And did you do it all for free? I have a suspicion you did, which makes the admission all the more pathetic.

  45. ZM
    January 21st, 2016 at 23:36 | #45

    I also would strongly query the conclusion that a 60% reduction of carbon emissions by 2050 is adequate.

    All the figures you get for the carbon or ghg emission budget are given in terms of probability eg. 50% , 66% , 80% etc and I think the higher probability is the one that should be aimed for, particularly now that the international agreement is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

    From a 2014 interview with Professor Malte Meinshausen who was one of the authors of an important paper on the carbon budget:

    “The latest science – from the just-released IPCC report – confirms that the total global budget that gives us a good chance of staying below 2°C is around 2,900 GtCO2. Until 2011, we had emitted around 1,900 GtCO2 of that budget. And every year thereafter we’ve emitted around 38 GtCO2. That leaves us with around 900 GtCO2 left from 2014 onwards, an amount that we are going to consume in just under 25 years, if emissions stay at today’s levels. Thus, it is time to slow down with our emissions, if we do not want to be faced with lots of costly stranded assets, such as fossil fuel power plants retired at young age.

    For 1.5°C, the budget is going to be much smaller. Even under very high emission reduction rates, there is a relatively high risk that we could overshoot 1.5°C. However, in this scenario, we could bring average temperatures back down again to 1.5°C by the end of the century. Roughly speaking, the carbon budget for such a 1.5°C pathway is going to be half of the 2°C one.”

    I think that the figure given of 2,900 GtCO2 is only for a 66% chance of staying within 2 degrees of warming, and I am unsure if the 900 GtCO2 budget remaining takes into consideration ghg emissions of gasses other than carbon, and if not, then that would lower the 900 GtCO2 figure.

    Combined with the 1.5 degrees target announced at Paris, a figure which Meinshausen states above would halve the carbon budget, I think the 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 is significantly under estimating the needed decrease in ghg emissions over the next 20-30 years.

    I think Val is right that there are very significant changes needed, and also limited time remaining to achieve these. I think it’s also important to draw attention to positive co-benefits of a lot of changes to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as a lot of possible solutions would have social benefits not only environmental benefits, as well as having health benefits, and also make urban areas more beautiful and pleasant to be in.

    (Interview Source: http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/meinshausen-why-we-have-to-suck-co2-out-of-atmosphere-51492)

  46. TerjeP
    January 22nd, 2016 at 00:09 | #46

    You know TerjeP, standing in the way of AGW mitigation is not something you should be proud of.

    If coal disappears because we develop something better then I won’t mind one bit. But the cultural war on coal, where idiots from the Greens dress up at the local parade as a block of coal and make boogie man poses at the kids, is an obscenity I’m proud to oppose. Coal has been a gateway out of perpetual poverty for humanity. And to date it is unmatched as a source of reliable, cheap electricity for the masses. Natural gas is stepping up and may replace it but it hasn’t done yet.

    AGW mitigation at any price is absolutely something I’m proud to oppose. And currently we are being forced by fanatics to spend too much on what is a modest problem.

  47. BilB
    January 22nd, 2016 at 07:33 | #47

    The decarbonised transport mix will become I believe
    Personal transport:
    EV’s and PHEV’s
    Local Trucking:
    EV’s PHEV’s and Bio fueled Bio Diesel and E85 (engines designed for straight ethanol are very efficient.
    Long Range Trucking:
    Diesel and Bio Diesel
    Aviation personal:
    PHEV’s (see Pipistrel and AirBus eFan) PV’s
    Aviation Commercial:
    Algal Oil Bio Fuelled, Kerosene and combinations of both, Electric hybrides (see Boeing and AirBus)
    Heavy Commercial Shipping:

    SAAB’s demise at the time of releasing their flexfuel engine http://www.gizmag.com/go/3531/
    but I believe that it is inevitable that this will be redeveloped.

  48. ZM
    January 22nd, 2016 at 10:16 | #48

    John Quiggin,

    In relation to the topic of the OP on whether the climate change discussion has evolved on not since 2005, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on Lord Stern’s recent book and talks Why Are We Waiting?

    I came across this in a Robert Manne article in The Monthly, and while Stern’s earlier work centred around a slow decrease in ghg emissions of 1% per year I think , but now he is saying the need for change is urgent and advocating higher cuts in ghg emissions.

    “Stern argues that the risks and costs of climate change are worse than estimated in the landmark Stern Review in 2006—and far worse than implied by standard economic models. He reminds us that we have a choice. We can rely on past technologies, methods, and institutions—or we can embrace change, innovation, and international collaboration. The first might bring us some short-term growth but would lead eventually to chaos, conflict, and destruction. The second could bring about better lives for all and growth that is sustainable over the long term, and help win the battle against worldwide poverty. The science warns of the dangers of neglect; the economics and technology show what we can do and the great benefits that will follow; an examination of the ethics points strongly to a moral imperative for action. Why are we waiting?”


  49. January 22nd, 2016 at 10:52 | #49

    I find it interesting, TerjeP, that when you argue in defense of nuclear power you make lots of noise about how dangerous coal is, but when you argue against solar you go to great lengths to avoid mentioning it. Especially interesting given the recent airpocalypses in China.

    In any case this meme of coal as the only development path is wrong in so many ways:

    1. In many countries without a grid, electrification with coal is not cost-competitive with solar and generators because of the cost of establishing a grid (where this is even possible)
    2. In countries without coal or the ability to mine coal, coal is a much more expensive and inequitable development path than solar and renewables, due to fuel costs
    3. Coal has significant negative health effects – electrification has removed indoor air pollution as a killer in China, only to replace it with outdoor air pollution, for example
    4. Development politics means that industrialization is impossible while China dominates the world industrial landscape, meaning that the heavy industrial development pathway supported by coal is no longer viable in many countries
    5. Most of the easy gains in development – from clean water, vaccines, early childhood interventions and nutrition security – have very little requirement for access to industrial electrical systems
    6. There are now other development pathways than coal
    7. Some countries only realized health gains from industrialization after htey started switching away from or restricting the use of coal, see e.g. the UK and Japan
    8. Some countries developed through the use of child labour and starving the Irish. Just because a development pathway works doesn’t mean we should use it.

    Of course you won’t engage with any of those points because you aren’t actually interested in the welfare of people in poor countries. If you were and you cared about global warming you would be advocating for some kind of rationing system for coal, in which only the poorest countries are allowed to use it and the rich coutnries invest to ensure that those poor countries can protect tehir air quality and shift away from coal quickly. I’ve never heard you say that.

    And none of this takes into account the fact that the long-term global warming effect of coal will make the short term disadvantages of slow development look like a walk in the park – something you consistently refuse to accept.

  50. Jim Birch
    January 22nd, 2016 at 12:08 | #50

    Copper is used for electrical wires because it is relatively cheap, low resistance, inert and malleable. It is not irreplaceable. Copper was once considered essential for plumbing but it is now replaced in a lot of plumbing applications by plastics and flexible hoses.

    There are other metals and that could be used in electrical applications. Aluminium – which can be scraped off the ground in a lot of places, though is expensive to smelt – has around three times the resistance of copper. Adding 3% of copper to aluminium brings it’s resistance to near the same value as pure copper. Copper still has better malleability and resistance to oxidization but this may not be an issue inside the motors of an electric car. Aluminium has its own positives, especially weight when things move around. It is already used in electrical applications.

    Materials are chosen on cost and performance. Engineers tend to use conservative solutions when they work reasonably well. Change the cost or requirements sufficiently and substitutions to other existing or new materials will occur. We won’t “run out” of copper in any absolute sense but it may be the chosen material for less applications in future.

  51. BilB
    January 22nd, 2016 at 12:28 | #51

    That is an interesting comment, Jim Birch. Have you got any technical references to the Aluminium/Copper copper properties. I had a quick look but could not find any. If practical it would reduce the weight of our transformers by perhaps 30%, but from what I can see they would be larger, and the coefficient of expansion might be the killer. But I would be interested to see what your information said.

  52. Ikonoclast
    January 22nd, 2016 at 12:37 | #52

    The composition of modern high voltage transmission lines, visible in section, perfectly bears out Jim Birch’s contentions at comment 50.


    However, don’t take this as me saying that I believe there are no limits to growth. It turns out that energy and material limits might not be the limits we need to be concerned about. John Quiggin discerned this a long time ago, to give him his due. Waste limits now appear to be the near and potentially very dangerous limits we face. Waste materials and waste heat have the clear potential to seriously damage the biosphere and degrade or overwhelm the “natural services” and “bio-services” which the rest of the biosphere and “external geosphere including atmosphere” (too lazy to look up correct term) provide us.

  53. ZM
    January 22nd, 2016 at 12:52 | #53

    For an example of how the changes can be positive, in a recent article I read about there is a really beautiful design for a building in Singapore with a forest inside:


    And another example I read about in Singapore is turning a long railroad into a linear park like the High Line linear park along some no longer used rail tracks in New York :

    “It will run along the route of the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu railway line, which was built in the British colonial period to transport tin, rubber, and other resources from the Malay Peninsula to the Singapore port.”


  54. January 22nd, 2016 at 13:24 | #54

    On copper:

    Yearly world production is around 18.7 million tonnes. One estimate is there’s about 25 kilograms of copper in an internal combustion engine car and 75 kilograms in an electric car. That means one year’s copper production is sufficient to produce quarter of a billion electric cars. With autonomous driving, which may be superior to human driving under natural conditions within only a couple of years (or now by my standards), perhaps one vehicle per 10 people will be required to provide road transport services equal to or better than what currently exists in the world’s richest countries. With the population expected to peak at under 10 billion the maximum number of vehicles we might require would be around one billion. So it would take four years copper production over 40 or so years to build that many vehicles.

    Except that it won’t.

    Currently there are over one billion vehicles in the world today and the copper in them can be recycled, protentially providing enough for a third of the billion or so electric cars the world might need. So that means a billion electric cars might need around two and two third years of world copper production.

    The world now appears appears to have now passed peak copper. Along with peak steel, peak aluminium, and no doubt many other elements. And China’s current economic difficulties makes this even more certain. Just to be clear, the peak is peak extraction of new metal, not use of metal. We are mining less new metal because the portion of metal we use that is recycled is increasing. When lots of new infrastructure is being built, as took place in China, it pushs up the demand for metals. But China has now had rapid development for over 30 years and is now scrapping some of its older infrastructure and recycling that material and so relying less on new material. It is following the course every fully industrialised country has.

    So, since we appear to have passed the peak, an increase in demand for copper to produce electric cars is just likely to slow the decline in new copper production rather than push it higher.

    And if for some strange reason there actually somehow turns out to be not enough copper we could just use aluminium. The electric motors would be about 5% less efficient, which is annoying, but it’s not the end of the world. But if we don’t stop burning oil that will be the end of the world as we know it. And future developments could improve things even further. It has been suggested that carbon could be more effective than copper in electric motors, although that’s nowhere near to being practical at the moment.

  55. January 22nd, 2016 at 15:07 | #55

    My point about the cost of building a transmission grid was not speculation, it’s a simple observed fact.

  56. GrueBleen
    January 22nd, 2016 at 15:16 | #56

    @John Quiggin

    No further interest in “peak minerals”, ProfQ ? Can’t say I blame you, especially as my partial repost seems to have caught Tim Worstall’s attention – a pity really, because his juvenile writing style makes him effectively unreadable. Though I do accept his sermon on ‘substitutability’ to a large extent.

    Anyway, we’ve had some informative input from Jim Birch and Ronald Brack on the copper situation at least. Though I’m amused that nobody seems to have considered argentum (aka silver) as a copper substitute which was done in the USA to a significant degree during WWII – even including high power transmission lines, IIRC.

    Anyway, my interest was basically nostalgic: I remember reading about 45 years ago of some research being done to see if efficient ways could be found to extract various elements from ocean water. The key point, IIRC, was that a largish ship (25,000+ tons in the old scale) displaces about half a cubic mile (it was an American article) of sea water in voyaging from England to America, and that a cubic mile of sea water contains, in solution/suspension about 100,000 tons of iron – and even 80 tons of gold, too, I think.

    So if an efficient way could be found to extract stuff from sea water, a largish ship could extract enough to sink itself several times over.

    The main problem, as I recall, was actually extracting the good stuff from the sea water efficiently enough for it to be competitive with standard mining. Apparently some progress had been made in designing and synthesizing various more or less complex molecules that could be designed to basically capture just one specific mineral ion, and then that had to be separated from the water and the ion removed as more or less pure metal.

    And that was the last I ever heard of that idea (not entirely surprising) and I can’t even remember what magazine it was I read about this in (it might even have been Astounding/Analog which published stuff like that fairly often – see Isaac Asimov’s “The Sound of Panting” for an example. But more likely to have been a ‘popular science/technology’ magazine).

  57. Jack Williams
    January 22nd, 2016 at 15:24 | #57

    Faustus 10. Terje 0 (as usual).

    Faustus: ‘And none of this takes into account the fact that the long-term global warming effect of coal will make the short term disadvantages of slow development look like a walk in the park – something you consistently refuse to accept.’

  58. January 22nd, 2016 at 15:59 | #58

    Greenblue, silver is a better conductor than copper, but as it is about 100 times more expensive than copper we are unlikely to see its use in electric motors outside of maybe space programs. They don’t even use silver wires in aviation, although silver plating of wires and connections is common.

  59. Ikonoclast
    January 22nd, 2016 at 16:08 | #59


    I don’t think J.Q. bought into the peak minerals thesis any more than he bought into the peak energy thesis. His market / economic understanding of ‘substitutability’ is probably why. I, on the other hand did buy into the peak minerals / peak energy thesis for a long time.

    Now, it is becoming clearer to LTG proponents like me that LTG is still in principle correct on a finite planet but the near limits are waste limits and biosphere / bioservice damage limits rather than material resource limits. Material limits are still there of course but they are further out and not likely to become operative. The waste limits will limit us first.

    So the name of the game is that LTG is still 100% real and irrefutable in terms of quantitative or material production, though much further away, in theory, for qualitative production (knowledge, technical and cultural progress). If we can avoid trashing the biosphere this century, and avoid unleashing certain millennia timescale problems like major sea level rise, humanity could be in a good place for further progress in the order of 10,000 years or more. The trouble is we look at least 50% likely to trash the biosphere this century. Natural biosphere recovery, which would still be possible of course, would then take in the order of 100,000 years or multiples thereof. That’s kinda too long to be of any real long-term hope for humanity.

  60. TerjeP
    January 22nd, 2016 at 17:54 | #60

    I find it interesting, TerjeP, that when you argue in defense of nuclear power you make lots of noise about how dangerous coal is, but when you argue against solar you go to great lengths to avoid mentioning it. Especially interesting given the recent airpocalypses in China.

    I don’t go to “great lengths” to avoid mentioning it. Coal pollution is a genuine health hazard in many places. Not as bad as wood fires in houses but still a reasonable thing to be conerned about. Solar power and wind are much cleaner. But also a lot more expensive and unreliable. Especially at high grid penetration rates. If clean matters more than cheap then go solar. But if dirty isn’t too bad go coal. If you want clean and reasonable cheap go nuclear.

  61. TerjeP
    January 22nd, 2016 at 18:33 | #61

    1. In many countries without a grid, electrification with coal is not cost-competitive with solar and generators because of the cost of establishing a grid (where this is even possible)
    2. In countries without coal or the ability to mine coal, coal is a much more expensive and inequitable development path than solar and renewables, due to fuel costs
    3. Coal has significant negative health effects – electrification has removed indoor air pollution as a killer in China, only to replace it with outdoor air pollution, for example
    4. Development politics means that industrialization is impossible while China dominates the world industrial landscape, meaning that the heavy industrial development pathway supported by coal is no longer viable in many countries
    5. Most of the easy gains in development – from clean water, vaccines, early childhood interventions and nutrition security – have very little requirement for access to industrial electrical systems
    6. There are now other development pathways than coal
    7. Some countries only realized health gains from industrialization after htey started switching away from or restricting the use of coal, see e.g. the UK and Japan
    8. Some countries developed through the use of child labour and starving the Irish. Just because a development pathway works doesn’t mean we should use it.

    1. If solar is cheaper then fine. No policy intervention needed. Let the market rip.
    2. as above.
    3. Yes.
    4. Not sure this is relevant. Electricity is not just for industry.
    5. Lots of vaccines need refrigeration as does the healthy storage of many foods. I would not wish a shortage of electricity on anybody. In fact I want electricty to be more abundant for all. I wish we had much cheaper electricity in Australia.
    6. According to you. Some examples might help your case. Which countries have deceloped without coal? How did they do it?
    7. Do you have any sources for that claim. Not saying you’re wrong just keen to see your evidence.
    8. Starving people is the problem not the solution.

  62. Salient Green
    January 22nd, 2016 at 19:26 | #62

    I don’t think copper availability will be a problem and this site lays it all out quite simply.
    Much more can be done to prevent copper being lost to the cycle but as a horticulturist I am responsible for some of that unrecoverable loss due to it’s importance as a fungicide. Strangely enough copper is rated for organic production despite its toxicity.

  63. January 22nd, 2016 at 19:48 | #63

    TerjeP, coal pollution affects a lot more people than wood fires in houses, and you need to include it in your claims about coal. You conspicuously don’t. In particular you said:

    Coal has been a gateway out of perpetual poverty for humanity. And to date it is unmatched as a source of reliable, cheap electricity for the masses.

    I’m pointing out to you that this is not true, especially the second point. To justify your first sentence you need to at least concede that coal is also a cause of huge mortality and illness. You haven’t. As for your response to my points.

    1&2: You said greenies are stupid and nasty for opposing a technology you claim is cheap and Reliable. This is not an argument about the market, it’s about your criticism of greenies. I’ve pointed out to you that coal is not reliable and cheap. Instead of deflecting the argument onto your mythical market, accept that your criticism of greenies is ill-founded. And then we can get onto talking about how solar power has always, since its invention, been a free market success, and you can try and propose some realistic development pathways that don’t involve coal. ALso if you think the free market is operating in developing nations, I have a bridge to sell you.
    3: try not to dismiss the negative effects of your preferred development path; or agree that it is not always preferable.
    4: This is relevant because if it’s impossible for a country to develop an industrial base, it’s even less likely that it is going to develop the infrastructure that is primarily only useful for an indsutrial base. Remember that coal is not just about the powerplant, it’s also about hte grid, the ports and the connecting roads and the engineering workforce.
    5: Refrigerators don’t need coal power. There are lots of simple alternatives to coal that ensure vaccines can be kept cool. I note you have avoided conceding my point about the other easy gains. You’re fetishizing coal. Why?
    6: Why do you care about examples of industrial development that used coal 100 years ago? They didn’t have access to solar and wind power and hydro. We do. So why focus on one development pathway? Others include nuclear, gas, hydro, and (as I mentioned before) solar plus generators. You are aware that some countries in Africa have ubiquitous cell phones but poor landlines? Why do you think that is? the world hsa changed since your granddaddy drove a steam train.
    7. It’s trivially easy for you to find infant mortality statistics from the UK, Japan, Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh. You’ll note that they all observed rapid gains after the 1940s. This is because we know what works to reduce infant mortality, and it’s got very little to do with coal-fired power stations.
    8: People don’t starve from a lack of coal.

    Here is your problem TerjeP: You’re fetishizing one power source as the only development pathway, because you seem to have fixated on a model of industrial development that is 100 years out of date, I presume because your good friends in the Chinese Communist party happened to be lucky enough to be sitting on a huge bunch of coal. But this development pathway you’re fetishizing would be exactly the wrong pathway to use in much of Africa and has largely not been followed slavishly in parts of South America. So your demonizing greenies for the “war on coal” is both factually wrong and ethically shallow, since it discredits the role of coal in causing health problems while exaggerating its role in improving the human condition. I’ve presented you with lots of information about why your demonization of greenies and fetishization of coal is wrong. I predict you won’t drop this line of attack though because your real reason for opposing action to prevent global warming is your hatred of greenies.

    It’s particularly sad because back in thw 1970s libertarians were big proponents of energy decentralization and the development of local mixed economies of renewables. But since you’ve become patsies for big tobacco you’ve developed a big love affair with centralized power systems that are heavily govt subsidized, bad for health, bad for human equality and fatal for industrial civilization.

    I doubt I need to point out to anyone on this thread that the hypocrisy of libertarians who adopt this line is unsurprising.

  64. January 22nd, 2016 at 19:53 | #64

    I would also point out that coal’s health effects are a negative externality problem the free market can’t solve, while indoor air pollution is not. Your political philosophy has no solution to the problem of negative externalities, which is why you refuse to accept the science of global warming – you’d rather look ignorant about climate science than admit your ideology is a failure.

  65. James Wimberley
    January 22nd, 2016 at 20:10 | #65

    (way back in the thread, but worth a shout-out:
    “8. Some countries developed through the use of child labour and starving the Irish. Just because a development pathway works doesn’t mean we should use it.”
    It’s even worse than that. The Lancashire textile boom depended on cotton grown by plantation slaves in the USA. Earlier, profits from slave-grown sugar, and the slave trade itself, allowed the initial accumulation of English capital that made the first investments in iron, coal, and textiles possible.

    BTW, do you have evidence that the extraction of rents from Ireland (which continued during the famine) made a significant contribution to British capital investment in the 1840s, and not just consumption by absentee Irish landowners? By then, the industrial workers were generating their own surplus, contributing to the financing of the railway boom. Later, this surplus was invested abroad, allowing a less brutal development pathway in other countries.

  66. January 22nd, 2016 at 20:46 | #66

    My understanding is that the expropriation of Irish agricultural products was essential to keep British workers fed, ensuring that build up of urban labour at low wages could proceed. I’ll grant you I could be wrong, but the role of colonialism in building markets for British goods is a pretty established thing too, I think. Destroying development in India to support development in the uk is a strategy that doesn’t have much link to coal…

  67. GrueBleen
    January 22nd, 2016 at 22:04 | #67

    @Ronald Brak

    Yes I am aware of the large difference in market price of copper and silver, Ron.

    But of course when needs must, then suddenly large amounts of silver could be released from the USA’s ” massive reserve located in the West Point vaults “. I don’t know if it still has a large amount of silver but silver is in fact very plentiful, as the Hunt Brothers found to their cost some years ago.

  68. GrueBleen
    January 22nd, 2016 at 22:26 | #68


    Of course there are real limits to growth, Ikono – when the entire mass of planet Earth has been transformed into human flesh, then we’ll either have to learn how to massively migrate elsewhere or give up on growth at last. And asinine propositions aside, there are practical limits which we will run up against one of these days.

    However, so far tactics such as substitution and continuing technological progress has staved off the evil day – and is capable of continuing to do so for a very long time to come.

    But why limit the timeframe to 10,000 years: Homo Sapiens Sapiens has only been around for about 200,000 years (albeit that predecessor hominids have been around for several million). So, if we ultra successful synapsids are around for about as long as the sauropsids our clade replaced back about 65 million years ago, then we should be able to keep going for 100 – 200 million years at least. Time for LTG to really cut in, do you reckon ?

    Unless, of course, we really are as stupid as we look and do commit massive planetary destruction one way or another.

  69. TerjeP
    January 22nd, 2016 at 22:53 | #69

    You said greenies are stupid and nasty for opposing a technology you claim is cheap and Reliable.

    Paraphrasing rather poorly.

    This is not an argument about the market, it’s about your criticism of greenies.

    You mean the criticism that you paraphrased rather poorly.

    I’ve pointed out to you that coal is not reliable and cheap.

    Yeah but you’re wrong.

    Instead of deflecting the argument onto your mythical market, accept that your criticism of greenies is ill-founded.

    You mean the criticism that you paraphrased rather poorly?

  70. January 22nd, 2016 at 22:58 | #70

    You described them as “an obscenity I am proud to oppose”

    As opposed to the destruction of industrial civilization, which is just your grandkids’ fate so nothing to care about.

  71. Donald Oats
    January 22nd, 2016 at 23:42 | #71

    Coal took millions of years, tens of millions of years, to form. We burn it up so quickly, we could, if we continue as if ignorant of the consequences, effectively remove the coal layer from geological history in the blink of a geologic eye.

    If we choose to dismiss the consequences as having no cost, then of course coal is cheap to burn up. But that is a hell of a lot of carbon that nature drew down and locked up.

    It seems that climate scientists can draw graphs until they are blue in the face, it just can’t be knocked into some people what a big mistake is being made, unnecessarily made, by our fossil fuel habit. Just because coal was the “best” way to fuel our economic growth in the past, it doesn’t follow that it remains so; not only do we know a lot more about the negative consequences—the costs—and how they are distributed forward in time, we have more options available to us for avoiding coal-based power than our ancestors did. Those who made their fortunes selling coal will manage the transition to a non-coal future, well enough, if they choose to do so; they wouldn’t be the first wealthy people confronted with a major transition in their markets of choice, and I dare say they won’t be the last. Why are some people so keen to shore up a few tycoons, when those tycoons have far more options at their disposal, thanks to their extraordinary wealth, and yet are willing to sell the rest of us down the river?

  72. Ivor
    January 23rd, 2016 at 00:17 | #72


    I also would strongly query the conclusion that a 60% reduction of carbon emissions by 2050 is adequate.

    It is extremely unlikely as it would require 2.5% reduction every year from 2016 and when the population growth rate is over 1% and China and India (and other nations) will be increasing fossil fuel consumption.

    As we emit 38GT/yr for 7 billion people a 40% target amounts to around 15 GT/year when the population will be over 9 billion.

    So we have to move our lifestyles from 5 tonnes per capita to 1.6 tonne.

    For comparison Australia’s per capita electricity is over 8,000 kwhr per year. see:


    This is around 8 tonne CO2 (or bit less depending on the emission factor)

    Or is there an alternative outcome.

  73. January 23rd, 2016 at 04:06 | #73

    India’s energy Minister, Piyush Goyal, has announced that solar power is now cheaper than coal. Their latest solar auction has bid in a new record low price of 4.34 rupees a killowatt-hour, which is 9.1 Australian cents or 6.5 US. Other countries have installed utility scale solar for less than this on account of their having lower costs of capital.

  74. TerjeP
    January 23rd, 2016 at 07:50 | #74

    India’s energy Minister, Piyush Goyal, has announced that solar power is now cheaper than coal.

    That is excellent news. It means we can immediately scrap the MRET system of renewable mandates in Australia and just let the market rip.

  75. Ivor
    January 23rd, 2016 at 08:33 | #75

    @Ronald Brak

    So what year has India indicated they will peak CO2 emissions or start to reduce CO2?

  76. Ikonoclast
    January 23rd, 2016 at 08:37 | #76


    I agree with your first paragraph. Argumentum ad absurdum (Latin: “argument to absurdity”) is a perfectly valid way to proceed when demonstrating the impossibility of any kind of endless growth in the earth’s biosphere. One can demonstrate the impossibility of human biomass or human infrastructure mass growing indefinitely. Thus endless quantitative growth is ruled out as a possibility. The next argument advanced by those in favour of the thesis of endless economic growth is that such growth can be qualitative. Quantitative growth can cease but qualitative growth can continue. This is what they argue. This is true for a time but quantitative growth also cannot continue indefinitely.

    Quantitative growth means an increase in knowledge, cultural progress and technology and its applications. This in turn means increasing complexity. To create and maintain complexity requires energy. Thus, once again there must be a limit to complexity in the biosphere (including technological complexity). This limit will be set by an energy flow not energy stores. Energy stores on earth (like coal, gas etc.) are limited. However, the remaining stores are unusable in any case as they will cause severe climate change. All we are left with energy flows from the sun which impact on earth as insolation. These flows are enormous by our standards but still certainly finite. Wind and wave power are driven by solar energy. Tidal power is driven by the moon slowly losing orbital energy via the frictional drag of tides. (Physicists can pull me up on that last sentence if it is not entirely accurate.) We also need to note that a good proportion of insolation needs to be left for “nature” which in turn provides us with necessary bio-services.

    The general argument of enlightened economists like Prof. J.Q. is that qualitative growth could yet occur for a long time. There is no near energy limit worth worrying about now that solar power is viable economically and in terms of EROEI and also taking into account the extra energy efficiency of an electrical and electronic economy. This is perfectly true. But also, as Prof. J.Q.has convinced me, the real near limits are to do with wastes, damage to the ecology and loss of bio-services.

    Coming to your second paragraph namely: “However, so far tactics such as substitution and continuing technological progress has staved off the evil day – and is capable of continuing to do so for a very long time to come.” This is where we differ. The evil day is near in historical terms. And it is near because we have not solved the problems of waste including waste from fossil fuels which are not being phased out nearly quickly enough. Another example of a massive waste problem is plastic in our oceans. The site plasticoceans is worth a visit.

    We cannot really talk about longer time frames yet. The rest of this century is an emergency period which will make or break global advanced civilization. If we don’t rise to the challenge very soon and take code red, emergency action then there will be no next century except for a few tattered remnants of humanity.

  77. Ikonoclast
    January 23rd, 2016 at 08:43 | #77

    Errors above. There are at least two sentences in my entry above where I typed “quantitative” when I meant “qualitative”. I refer to the last sentence of the first paragraph and the first sentence of the second paragraph. Without an edit facility one cannot make corrections. Even my favourite computer game forum has an edit facility.

  78. John Quiggin
    January 23rd, 2016 at 11:19 | #78

    Regarding how the debate has evolved since 2005

    At the time it seemed likely that stabilization at 550 ppm was about the best that could be hoped for. A 60 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050 would be roughly on target for that. According to Wikipedia, the more ambitious 2 degree target first became current as a result of meetings in 2005


    Also, it seemed at the time that developed country emissions would remain the major problem for a long time to come. So, taking the required global reduction and working out what was needed in a country like Australia wasn’t as obviously incorrect as it is now.

  79. January 23rd, 2016 at 11:21 | #79

    Ikonoklast the near limits are water. It’s not fungible. Then comes arable land, which is also not fungible and declines in quality as water declines. Note too that LTG incorporated waste in their model, and although greenhouse theory is in its infancy then I think they have said that is included in the waste category. Do you read ugo bardi ‘s blog? He was one of the authors of LTG and has a lot to say about its modern interpretation.

    A lot of these resources follow what bardi calls the Seneca cliff. Water for example is being mined not harvested in California, so farmers can increase profitability even in drought years. Once the groundwater is exhausted the collapse will be rapid. No one is seriously trying to tackle this problem in the worlds 8th(?) largest economy…

    I am interested to note that in 2016 there are big fears of a global economic slowdown. Recall the prediction of LTG was an end to global growth starting at around 2015…

  80. Ivor
    January 23rd, 2016 at 12:23 | #80


    We have been “around 2015” for a couple of years so far, and will be “around 2015” for a couple more years yet.

    In historic terms 2007 can stand as the start of near 2015.

    For those who want to replace “near 2015” with “in 2015”, there is a general tend for global stockmarkets to commence a long-run falling trend since April 2015. It looks like this will continue into 2016. Stockmarkets are a nominal index so any rise has to be seen in the light of injection of over $200 trillion of helicopter money.

    The fall in oil price seems a good pointer to the fact that capitalism can no longer generate industrial output based on oil.

    So we may well be right in it, now?

  81. January 23rd, 2016 at 13:04 | #81

    John reducing emissions by 60% won’t “stabilize” anything, surely? Also the OP suggests a final goal of 60% reduction, not an interim target at 2050. Anyway … That change in goals has had a significant impact on what price alone can achieve, surely?

  82. GrueBleen
    January 23rd, 2016 at 13:44 | #82


    Fear not, I kinda gathered what you’d done – being prone to similar malfunctionings myself. Otherwise, I’m thinking about your thesis and just about how I should proceed to disagree with it 🙂

  83. Ikonoclast
    January 23rd, 2016 at 14:45 | #83


    I am trying to be a little bit careful about asserting what the near limits are after making several mistakes in that arena. But I guess I am still picking horses, only they are categories now not items in a category. The category of wastes, geo-services and bio-services now seems to me to the general problem area rather than resources as such. But these categories will interact anyway so ultimate assignment of cause might be difficult.

    We have to be careful of the fallacy of single cause. “The fallacy of the single cause, also known as complex cause, causal oversimplification, causal reductionism, and reduction fallacy,[1] is a fallacy of questionable cause that occurs when it is assumed that there is a single, simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes.” – Wikipedia.

    If we suffer a collapse, the causes even in the arenas of resources and wastes (the general LTG factors) are likely to be complex and often interacting and reinforcing. But certainly, for example, the effective exhaustion of the Ogallala Aquifer (quite a bit east of California) looms sometime this century.

    Certainly in some areas of the world things look very grim.

    “In Tamil Nadu, a state with more than 62 million people in southern India, wells are going dry almost everywhere. According to Kuppannan Palanisami of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, falling water tables have dried up 95 percent of the wells owned by small farmers, reducing the irrigated area in the state by half over the last decade.” – The Encyclopedia of Earth – Aquifer depletion.

  84. John Quiggin
    January 23rd, 2016 at 16:19 | #84

    Recall the prediction of LTG was an end to global growth starting at around 2015…

    I discussed this back in 2014. The paper I cited (written in 2014) there focuses mainly on oil as the source of collapse

    Oil and gas optimists note that extracting unconventional fuels is only economic above an oil price somewhere in the vicinity of US$70 per barrel. They readily acknowledge that the age of cheap oil is over, without apparently realising that expensive fuels are a sign of constraints on extraction rates and inputs needed. It is these constraints which lead to the collapse in the LTG modelling of the BAU scenario.

    So, I don’t think that a slowdown in demand that results in prices of oil falling below $30/barrel really fits the LTG prediction, even the result is a global recession.

  85. Ivor
    January 23rd, 2016 at 17:58 | #85

    This is interesting – the position of India at Paris

    India communicated that it will endeavour to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 20-25 per cent by 2020 compared with the 2005 level. It added that emissions from the agriculture sector would not form part of the assessment of its emissions intensity.

    Agriculture is excluded.

    Reducing emissions intensity could mean that emissions stay the same or increase.

  86. Ivor
    January 23rd, 2016 at 18:06 | #86

    China told the Paris COP21

    China communicated that it will endeavour to lower its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 per cent by 2020 compared with the 2005 level. It also expressed the intention to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 per cent by 2020 and to increase forest coverage by 40 million ha and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion m3 by 2020 compared with the 2005 levels.
    China stated that the above-mentioned autonomous domestic mitigation actions are voluntary in nature and that they will be implemented in accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention, in particular Article 4, paragraph 7. The Party also stated that its communication is made in accordance with the provisions of Article 12, paragraphs 1(b) and 4, and Article 10, paragraph 2(a), of the Convention.

    So like India they are offering reduction in intensity based on 2005 levels.

    This means that emissions will remain well above 2005 levels for both India and China for the near future.

    It is far too late for national economies to be merely planning to reduce either emissions or just CO2 intensity to a % of 2005.

  87. January 23rd, 2016 at 19:01 | #87

    TerjeP, I will list some of the reasons why I found your last comment quite bizzare. In no particular order they are:

    1. This is Australia, not India.

    2. New solar has been cheaper than new coal in Australia for some time now. And new wind too. But this does not mean they beat existing coal generators on marginal cost which is what would be necessary for Australia’s electricity sector to show rapid declines in CO2 emissions in the absence of such things as a carbon price or Renewable Energy Target.

    3. You don’t appear to understand from the context that Piyush Goyal was referring to the cost of new solar capacity vs. new coal capacity and not the marginal cost of coal generation. Or you don’t understand the distinction at all.

    4. A danger facing the world was that emissions from India’s electricity sector per captia would approach those of Australia, and a danger facing the world is that Australia’s electricity sector emissions per capita will remain those of Australia. New solar and new wind being cheaper than new coal prevents the first danger while not necessarily preventing the second.

    5. You don’t appear to understand how the electricity market works and what determines what generating capacity gets used or built. But despite this, you still appear to have firm opinons on some matters relating to it.

    6. You appear to favour the scrapping of commitments the Australian government has made with regards to the Renewable Energy Target which would affect the value of private investments and erode people’s confidence in government commitments and so reduce people’s freedom.

    Terje, if a thickie like me can be mostly right might of the time on the matter of what kind of electricity generation gets built or used, a bright person like you can do it to. You just have to make sure you think things through and take things one step at a time. Don’t skip steps because when people do that they tend to slot in things they think are right but turn out not to be when they take the time to examine them. That is how a lot of smart people come a cropper.

    Do this and I’m sure you’ll find you’ll be writing strange comments like your last one significantly less often and you can start making a whole brand new category of mistakes.

    I do realise that technically it is possible that you are not ignorant, but I would never be so uncharitable as to assume that.

  88. January 23rd, 2016 at 19:06 | #88

    Ivor, India has not indicatied a year in which they will reach peak emissions or start to reduce emissions. But I’m sure I feel just as much joy as you do at the news that a new record has been set for the cost of Indian solar.

  89. jungney
    January 23rd, 2016 at 20:04 | #89

    I’ve got two heavy horses in training for drays and cartwork around my little town; already have done some delivery work, to the pleasure of the townsfolk and my purse. The future is wide open, hey?

  90. Ivor
    January 23rd, 2016 at 21:06 | #90

    Australia’s effort is weird. It is a taget that is a reduction (not a reduction in intensity) but is clouded by hedging double speak – in short…

    Australia’s emissions reduction is “unconditional’ but based on conditions.

    It will will be implemented “should circumstances allow”, (ie costs).

    Text is (August 2015):

    Under a Paris Agreement applicable to all, Australia will implement an
    economy – wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

    The details of Australia’s contribution are set out in the attachment to aid transparency, clarity and understanding.

    Australia’s target is unconditional based on assumptions set out in the attachment. We will
    implement the 28 per cent target should circumstances allow, taking into account
    opportunities to reduce emissions and factors such as the costs of technology.

    Australia reserves the right to adjust our target and its parameters before it is finalised under a new global agreement should the rules and other underpinning arrangements of the agreement differ in a way that materially impacts the definition of our target.

    To protect the planet we have to get below 1990 levels if all nations have the right to the same quantity of GHG emissions.

    So what is the current situation since there is no “Agreement applicable to all”???

  91. January 24th, 2016 at 05:07 | #91

    Ivor it depends how you are interpreting “all”. There is an agreement applicable to all the parties, I assume that is what the Australian statement refers to.

    If you are thinking ‘all the nations of the world’ or something like that, I don’t think that’s relevant.

    Of course the proof is in what countries actually do, and countries need to increase their targets if they are to achieve a maximum of 2C (or increase them more to teach 1.5C which is the aspirational target). However all the parties did agree in theory.

  92. Ikonoclast
    January 24th, 2016 at 07:27 | #92

    I am afraid I am with Ivor on this one. The official agreement (Paris Agreement) means nothing. The nations have agreed to precisely nothing of any substance. If anything gets done about climate change it will not be done by agreements. As Tolstoy remarked, diplomacy and international agreements are the foam at the bow of the ship. To believe that diplomacy and international agreements lead to changes of direction is like believing the bow wave steers the ship.

    The material base will determine what happens. Endless recessions as secular stagnation could reduce emissions. Material technological advances (solar power) could determine what happens. We have to hope that nations begin to see economic and strategic advantage in clean energy. They won’t change to save the world but they will change to gain an advantage over their neighbour. Under this system of production (capitalism) that is the only way it works.

  93. Jack Williams
    January 24th, 2016 at 08:50 | #93

    @Ronald Brak

    Brak 10. Terje 0 (as usual).

  94. Ivor
    January 24th, 2016 at 09:28 | #94


    Yes – the turn-up of countries was almost 100% and can be understood as “all”. And they may an sort of agreement which really just says that every nation will implement their own program as submitted and provide reports.

    So as for an agreement as to targets – for all – which is the basis for Australia’s implementation of its commitments, this I do not see.

    Some nations just they would reduce in the future compared not to 1990 or 2005 but to business as usual. Some merely said they would reduce intensity not emissions.

    In general I see COP21 as a form of publicity placebo. There will be a slow down in global GHG emissions BUT the amount of atmospheric CO2 will still increase.

    CO2 was increasing from the start of the Keeling curve 1950 and global warming was well established.

    This is unequivocal proof that if CO2 emissions are even at 1950 levels – global warming continues.

    1950 is some 75% less than 1990, and global warming only ceases at lower levels of emissions.

    This level is the amount of human emissions that can be 100% absorbed by global sinks (after natural emissions)and this is around 1-2GT pa.

    If anyone has any other understanding of emissions levels such that warming ceases, or atmospheric CO2 levels off, then this should be presented.

    This will create a real sensible target, for a real agreement useful for humanity.

    As it is, the existing COP21 paper is nothing but a delayed suicide note.

    .this as

  95. January 24th, 2016 at 11:33 | #95

    John I think the slow-down in demand and crash of oil prices can probably be seen in the predictions of LTG (bear with me here). In the language of the LTG models: excessive wastes due to an industrial process all economies depend on leads to rapid development and implementation of alternatives which leads to demand reduction which leads to a price war amongst the sellers of that industrial process, but the society as a whole is not yet ready to shift away from this crucial industrial process and as a result a decline in global growth.

    The problem with LTG is that its predictions are so far in teh future that the specific mechanism by which the turning point in the models is achieved obviously could not be described back when it was written. And pinning economic problems on environmental damage is really hard except in localized cases (c.f. the debate over whether AGW is linked to ISIS).

    I think LTG had to be right at least as regards water, but as others have observed their predictions on metals probably didn’t pan out. However I don’t think AGW science was advanced enough when LTG was written for them to have understood the overriding role of greenhouse gas emissions in the future of industrialized civilization, so their valiant effort to predict the future of the global economy will become irrelevant in the face of the maelstrom of destruction that the planet is going to unleash on human civilization over the next 50 years.

  96. GrueBleen
    January 24th, 2016 at 14:59 | #96


    It is better far to cry wolf than to be eaten by one.

  97. James Wimberley
    January 24th, 2016 at 20:47 | #97

    Unless every single reporter at COP21 is misled, China confirmed the absolute emissions cap it agreed earlier with Obama, a peak by 2030 and if possible earlier. The target is ridiculously soft and bears no relation to the likely outturn. With coal burning already falling, the expert sense is of an emissions peak by 2020. Outliers say it’s already happened.

    India indeed avoided committing to a cap, and the official line is still a large expansion in coal, which the big corporations who would build the plants are curiously reluctant to start. Goyal’s historic tweet is an admission that the cost assumptions behind the policy are now falsified. So the policy will change.
    There is no longer any compelling reason for India to keep its embarrassing refusal of an absolute cap.

    As far as the numbers go, both countries could at no cost up their NDCs when they sign the Paris Agreement in April or soon after. The timing is just a PR decision.

  98. Ivor
    January 25th, 2016 at 07:14 | #98

    @James Wimberley

    Yes the 2030 peak is part of the Chinese official position.

    The submission and translation is HERE

    The current CO2 annual Chinese figure is around 9 GT. 2015 CO2 emissions growth in China has been very small, just 0.24% due to economic factors.

    So what will the peak emissions figure be in 2030 or before?

    Over 12 GT?

  99. January 25th, 2016 at 07:33 | #99

    I think we are saying similar things but you are more pessimistic about what happens next. I am very concerned about what happens next, but I think it is possible that countries will increase their targets.

    However in order to achieve targets that will keep warming within 2C or 1.5C, I believe we need major social change. This should include renewable technologies but also needs to include major demand reduction, which in turn means an end to the growth paradigm as we know it.

    Ikon and JQ above seem to have translated me above as saying we need “generational change” and JQ has therefore dismissed this saying we can’t afford to wait for generational change. But that’s not actually what I said – I said we need “major social change” and commented that some degree of generational change already seems to be happening in regard to declining car use in Melbourne.

    However I certainly don’t think we have to wait for generational change. We need to change the way we live, right now (preferably yesterday) as a society, in ways that reduce demand on the environment and resources. We cannot rely on technology alone to save us, even though renewable energy is very important.

    Many of these changes, such as shifting to more active forms of transport and growing more fresh food locally, can be actually beneficial to us in social and health terms. Contrary to what Terje and his ilk suggest, the major health problems of the world now are not related to under consumption. There are still people who go hungry and live in harsh conditions, but their needs can be met by better sharing of resources rather than requiring more consumption overall. The major causes of death and illness for the world now are chronic diseases related to over consumption and sedentary lifestyles, such as diabetes and heart disease (http://www.who.int/chp/about/integrated_cd/en/)

  100. January 25th, 2016 at 07:37 | #100

    Ivor I replied to your comment #94 but my comment has gone into moderation – I don’t know why, it only had one link. Commenters here say there are some apparently innocuous words that can trigger moderation so maybe I used one of them. Anyway if it doesn’t come out soon I’ll try again

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