Can economists save the planet ?

I’ve given this presentation a couple of times in the last week so, to potential economics students and to UQ alumni. I meant to get a modified Superman T-shirt to use as a prop (‘E’ instead of ‘S’) but saving the planet is time-consuming work. Anyway, the Powerpoint (2 Mb download) is over the fold.


9 thoughts on “Can economists save the planet ?

  1. you’re not going to save the planet, you and mao tsetung have stumbled at the first step: we live in a finite world, but people are procreating faster than they are dieing. this is a recurring problem, and the four horsemen get frequent call-ups to deal with it. unfortunately, they’ve been falling behind.

    all of the activities you invite to ‘solve’ our problems can at best pass them on to a later generation. we are already entering a stage where energy needs are making demands on food production, where drinking water is making demands on energy uses, and of course food production has depended on fossil energy for a long time. this is nature’s way of telling you we are too many, way too many.

    when are economists going to model a steady state, low energy, low human footprint society? never- no money in it. worse, it’s probably socialist and democratic.

  2. Not all economists are motivated by profit, nor is economics ‘the science of how to make a buck’. I think the interrelating ‘demands’ that al loomis mentioned above are a perfect example of why economics CAN ‘save the world’ – or at least help… it understands the problem.

  3. I do not think Al Loomis is talking about economics at all. Maybe what he/she is talking about is the world economy but how can you talk about the world economy in any meaningful way without relying on economics. So in fact economics is not the problem unless talking and thinking is the problem.

    However ignoring such concerns I would ask this of Al Loomis. Why is it better that a low number of souls enjoy this planet in a sequencial fashion over a millenium than a large number of souls enjoy it all at once over a single century?

    Also the following phrase appears to include a form of contradiction:-

    but people are procreating faster than they are dieing. this is a recurring problem, and the four horsemen get frequent call-ups to deal with it.

  4. terje, i have noted your objections, but will leave others to make their own evaluations, as i believe your own words serve my cause well enough.

  5. If, as the powerpoint claims, JQ-style economists are the hopeful ones, why do they believe the worst-case scenarios when it comes to AGW? The real optimists in the room would rather wait-and-see.

    al: be the first to voluntarily suicide and I’ll take your views on overpopulation more seriously. Promise.

  6. “The real optimists in the room would rather wait-and-see”

    And what would be left to do for a ‘fatalist’?

  7. Hi John,

    Your powerpoint presentation definitely stimulates discussion.

    If economists persist in applying the ‘linear logic’ of resource exploitation then I fear the cannot save the planet. They are misunderstanding the fundamental problem. The problem is: how do we deal with the present rate entropy in energy production, not the rate of efficiency. In his book ‘Heat,’ George Monbiot refers to the Kahzzoom-Brookes postulate. The postulate asserts that increased efficiency in energy production (and therefore resource use) results in increasing energy consumption at the macro-economic level. Put simply, in terms of the big picture, the more you have of it the more you use it. The postulate implies that the pursuit of increased efficiency, in order to assuage global warming is a misguided venture.

    What we need is a better way in which to generate energy, and this means a renewed engagement with the laws of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy. Specifically we must pursue investments in ZERO carbon technologies. The nature of non-fossil fuel sources of energy is such that their storage and the manipulation of their scarcity in accordance with market logic is nigh impossible. I wonder, how well placed the neo-classical paradigm is, to deal with the inherent issues of technological and social justice that renewable energies carry with them?

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