Once again I will point out that it would be better BY FAR, to build Cheap Access To Space, put up mirrors and not mess with complicated solutions that are not easily reversed with as many unknown unintended consequences as this.
Moreover, it would give us the resources of the solar system AND through SSP a viable means of shutting down current fossil power stations. Which DOES address the CO2 in the oceans.
With the added benefit that it IS easily reversed.
Lomborg should be locked up in a cage and kept as far away from people as possible. The guy is certifiably insane. I recently commented on an article that was post on TheOilDrum http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5656/527428
Lomborg told The Sunday Times: “A lot of people really, really hate me.” His dismissive tone did not help. A pending fuel crisis? Hysteria, he said. World hunger? Baloney: food was increasing. Species extinction? Rubbish. Disappearing forests? Tosh: forest cover had increased. Indeed, he proclaimed, nearly every indicator demonstrated that man’s lot had vastly improved. “The world in decline is a litany we have heard so often that another repetition is almost reassuring,” he said. “There is just one problem: it does not seem to be backed up by the available evidence.”
This was my remark there:
Tell me again which galaxy this guy lives in? The author of the article also disses all real scientists by calling him one.
I know that this is facetious but whenever I hear of these SRM type projects I always hear in my head Morpheus saying “We don’t know who started the war, but we know we were the ones who burnt the sky”.
Tierney has picked this up at the NYT with his usual emphasis…
From an economist’s point of view such an SRM project makes good sense – let’s make a whole new industry cleaning up the mess of that other massive industry that can’t be stopped. Better yet, once we’re on that path, the world is pretty much locked into supporting the SRM industry for centuries.
Perhaps a global ‘SRM tax’ would be needed to pay for that SRM?
Meanwhile, we can’t possibly turn off the tap of CO2 pouring INTO the atmosphere. Too much interference in the rights of the CO2 polluters… too much tax… must be communist plot… must be stopped at all costs…
Robock has written a very nice critique. However, there is a mistake in it. The Bickel and Lane piece was in fact peer reviewed by me and also Anne E. Smith. Smith and I each wrote response papers critiquing the Bickel and Lane piece rather strongly. Lomborg’s exercise, as I understand it, has Bickel and Lane’s piece as but one of a series of contributions (and associated critiques) of various aspects of climate policy.
On the topic of geoengineering I am happy to report that the perspective expressed here are quite simpatico.
Comment by Roger Pielke, Jr. — 11 Aug 2009 @ 11:14 PM
There are two separate issues:
1) Is there any room for *any* SRM strategy at any point in time?
A: Maybe, I can imagine a time in which one of these might be the only thing doable fast enough to keep away from some tipping point, and offhand, the low-level cloud thing seems the least obtrusive.
I have also seen some interesting ideas on Polar albedo increase, i.e., Ice 911. Look carefully at the list of advisors (including Terry Root and Stephen Schneider). Leslie Field (who runs it) lives in the same town as I do, and she does really mean it.
2) But all this misses the high-order bit. When analyzing Lomborg, everybody gets down into the details of the specific arguments current then, which change every year or two.
What doesn’t ever seem to change (TSE to Cool It! to this) is:
“No GHG restrictions or other changes that would impact developed countries.”
Again, I claim that these arguments are *misdirection* arguments, i.e., claiming to support X, not because X is really desired, but because it avoids some Y.
I especially loved the suggestion:
“Therefore, we suggest that the Copenhagen Consensus allocate an average of approximately 0.3%
of its $250 billion climate-change budget ($750 million per year) to SRM and AC research over the
next decade.” :-)
The commentary by Alan is excellent. But it seems to me that geoengineering is getting a bad name partly for wrong reasons. As with any technological solutions it can be done the right way or the wrong way (and in real life they fall in somewhere between). We must have some techniques tested, should climate change become too dangerous.
I do have fire extinguisher in my house. That doesn’t mean I would handle fire carelessly. I also know that if I have to use it there will be a mess that takes a long time to clean up. But yet it is a better option than letting the house burn down. The priority however is to make sure that I’ll never have to use it. This may be naive approach (but we are naive).
I’m guessing that we won’t find any easy geoengineering solutions anytime soon. But they must be tested nevertheless. It may well be that we have passed the point where mitigation alone would have been enough. It must be the priority but if it is not enough something else is needed. Manipulating clouds should be relatively risk free. Once you stop doing it the effects should fade away fast. The first thing would be to test the technology in small scale in order to see if it could someday be scaled up. Of course all this must be done according to highest scientific standards. It is also essential that we keep reminding about ocean acidification whenever solar radiation management is proposed. It is essential that scientific community participates actively in the discussion about geoengineering.
> …that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist.
Add to that
…they are know willing to rely on general circulation models in the management of geo-engineering, after having claimed for years these cannot be trusted.
Consistency is not their strong point… perhaps they speculate that nobody will notice. And sadly, they are probably right.
[Response: This is actually a really good point. No use of geo-engineering is remotely conceivable without thorough and reliable climate model studies (including all the new earth system stuff) showing what is likely to happen. Yet if people consider that models are that capable, they would have done something about emissions years ago…. It will be interesting to analyse some individuals’ statements on this topic. – gavin]
Off topic: Australia is in the throes of denialism. I took the liberty of posting the following on a popular Australian website today. Hope this doesn’t waste your time.
“My best advice to global warming deniers is: Go to http://www.realclimate.com and read the stuff from Gavin Schmidt et al. This is where the actual science gets discussed. Be warned: It takes some intelligence and perseverance to understand it all. I challenge every denier to visit the site and to read the background stuff on the site. If, after reading this, you then have some points of scientific clarification you need answered, then, post a question on the website. If after doing all this, you still think you are cleverer than the world’s best climate scientists or have insights way beyond their ken, then by all means strut your stuff for the world to see. Chances are quite remote that you’ll be proved correct but this is THE place to make your points.”
On the list of negative consequences I am surprised that you do not mention anything about what we might expect from increasing the long-term rate of deposition of sulfate on terrestrial ecosystems. I am assuming that injecting massive amounts of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere will ultimately result in increasing sulfate deposition to soils (gravity being what it is). I don’t think that this will result in an increase in plant productivity, in fact, in many northern temperate forests this will accelerate the rate of base cation depletion from soils that will likely result in a loss of forest productivity and a shift in species composition.
On another note, when you factor in the likely changes in precipitation (overall reductions) that may accompany stratospheric sulfate areosol injections do you think that, on balance, plant productivity will increase?
[Response: We have just published a paper showing that acid deposition should not be a concern:
Kravitz, Ben, Alan Robock, Luke Oman, Georgiy Stenchikov, and Allison B. Marquardt, 2009: Sulfuric acid deposition from stratospheric geoengineering with sulfate aerosols. J. Geophys. Res., 114, D14109, doi:10.1029/2009JD011918.
As to the overall effects on vegetation, further research is needed. The combined effects of less precipitation, but probably less evapotranspiration, combined with more diffuse radiation, will have different effects on different plants, or even with different farming practices, and is one of the areas that needs expert study with different geoengineering scenarios. – Alan Robock]
Further to the point “…that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist,” experience suggests that for some, the problem may just as abruptly cease to exist once again.
My best advice to global warming deniers is: Go to http://www.realclimate.com and
read the stuff from Gavin Schmidt et al. This is where the actual science
gets discussed. Be warned: It takes some intelligence and perseverance to
understand it all. I challenge every denier to visit the site and to read
the background stuff on the site. If, after reading this, you then have
some points of scientific clarification you need answered, then, post a
question on the website. If after doing all this, you still think you are
cleverer than the world’s best climate scientists or have insights way
beyond their ken, then by all means strut your stuff for the world to see.
Chances are quite remote that you’ll be proved correct but this is THE place
to make your points.”
Thanks to Alan Robock for the excellent anaylsis. I have to say, quite frankly, if the ecological consequences of AGW weren’t bad enough, discussions of geoengineering and the arrogance that assumes we could actually have a global thermostat that is both controlable and benign is extremely frightening.
I had a conversation last night with three high school seniors that wanted to get involved with a climate change awareness group. I cry for them.
Biochar is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass. The resulting charcoal-like material is a form of carbon capture and storage. Charcoal is a stable solid and rich in carbon content, and thus, can be used to lock carbon in the soil. Biochar is of increasing interest because of concerns about climate change caused by emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG).
Biochar is a way for carbon to be drawn from the atmosphere and is a solution to reducing the global impact of farming (and in reducing the impact from all agricultural waste). Since biochar can sequester carbon in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years, it has received considerable interest as a potential tool to slow global warming. The burning and natural decomposition of trees and agricultural matter contributes a large amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere. Biochar can store this carbon in the ground, potentially making a significant reduction in atmospheric GHG levels; at the same time its presence in the earth can improve water quality, increase soil fertility, raise agricultural productivity and reduce pressure on old growth forests.
Current biochar projects are small scale and make no significant impact on the overall global carbon budget, although expansion of this technique has been advocated as a geoengineering approach. Further research is in progress, notably by the University of Edinburgh, which has a dedicated research unit.
In Response to Paul Hodgson (reply #15 in this thread line:
I don’t know if many will take you up on that information, but at least you are trying to get the word out. Most people, regardless of what their current opinions are tend to resist seeking information that will counter their own beliefs.
This includes scientists to be sure, not just denialists, but the people most likely to be wrong are also those least likely to be able to see that they are wrong…
I applaud your attempt however and urge you and others to keep trying. When the stakes are the future of our species, only fools would sit back and do nothing.
Economists are servants of financial and social power. I’ve believed for a while that the beneficiaries of power will develop responses to climate change but these responses won’t necessarily be in the best interests of people down the power gradient. This geoengineering report is an additional piece of evidence that the servants of power will support and develop ideas that do not threaten existing power relations.
Comment by Mark Samborski — 12 Aug 2009 @ 10:13 AM
The vast majority of the world’s economists before the crash – the financial system is too sophisticated to fail because of damage from subprime foreclosures, which are already contained.
I mean, I love economists, wouldn’t live without them, but they have a habit of making colossal mistakes.
How about we try geo-engineering Mars before we go “all in” on terra-forming. I cannot conceive of nothing more terrifying than massive direct interventions to global climate. When did our models become “that good”? Have we learned nothing from killer bees and other scientific interventions? Do you think Canada, Britain, Russia, Northern China, Scandanavian, Northern U.S. states, will agree to cooling interventions?
I think Bjorn Lomborg and his ilk should send all their money to help irradicate malaria in Africa, rather than spend it on big boondoggles that may cause more harm than they prevent. Better yet, use all that money the world will be saving once it decides to mitigate global warming through cost-effective resource/energy conservation/efficiency and work to irradicate all diseases.
Here’s what I’m writing in a paper re economics and the environment:
I find the position economics plays in Western thought to be inflated, even usurpatory, obscuring people’s awareness of their dependence on the environment or the ecosystem, and this is due to people conflating the environmental/subsistence dimension [of the human condition] with the economic (social), subsuming the environmental/subsistence into the economic as “resources,” valueless unless processed and (in capitalistic society) exchanged for money. The notion that food getting and consumption are primarily or solely economic activities is inaccurate; furthermore, economics cannot ultimately solve or rectify environmental harms to food production, and there is a danger in evaluating environmental harms in economic or monetary terms…[E]king out a living from the environment, which includes food getting and consumption, is considered in anthropology more within the realm of “subsistence activities” or ecological anthropology; this is distinct from economics, in that it has to do with the human-nature relationship, involving biological and other material exchanges between the nonhuman material world and humans, while economics, part of the social dimension, more narrowly involves human interrelationships and interactions — tenure and ownership rules, the division of labor and production of goods involving materials extracted from the environment (an environment which is held constant or deleted from the equations), and the exchange of goods and services….One way to understand the distinction between the environmental/subsistence and economic dimenions is that both humans and non-human animals engage in subsistence activities in the environment, but only humans engage in economic activities. As environmental anthropologist Roy Rappaport (1993) states the biological-ecological systems are fundamental, the economy is contingent and instrumental.
Here is a quote from Roy Rappaport’s “Anthropology of Trouble” (1993, American Anthropologist 95(2):295-303):
The world upon which the monetary metric is imposed is not as simple as the metric itself. Plants, animals, and societies are complex beyond full human comprehension. To remain healthy, each requires a great variety of distinct materials, generally derived from a variety of sources….Monetization, however, forces the great range of unique and distinct materials and processes that together sustain or even constitute life into an arbitrary and specious equivalence. Phenomena that relate to each other essentially in terms of their qualitative distinctiveness are represented and understood in terms of a logic that reduces all qualitative distinctions to mere quantitative differences, a logic that, as it were, attempts to “bottom line” the world. This logic is especially destructive of ecological systems.
So, take that, Adam Smith!
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 12 Aug 2009 @ 12:31 PM
G. Karst writes:
“I cannot conceive of nothing more terrifying than massive direct interventions to global climate.”
Welcome to the Industrial Age! I’d describe our intervention in global climate as quite concerning, perhaps alarming. “Terrifying” might be a word used more frequently a few decades from now if we are dumb enough to continue the global experiment of adding massive amounts of greenhouse gases to the Earth’s atmosphere, even in the face of strong evidence as to its great consequences.
Dr. Robock, I looked at Kravits (thanks for the link).
But it says: “This deposition [acidification of the ocean from CO2]] is 2 orders of magnitude larger than our highest potential value of sulfuric acid deposition, again assuming all sulfate due to geoengineering is reacted to form sulfuric acid, leading us to conclude that the increase in acid deposition resulting from geoengineering with stratospheric sulfate aerosols is not enough to negatively impact the oceans.”
Could you explain this a bit better?
It seems to me you’re assuming there’s no problem with ocean pH, therefore adding a tiny smidgen of sulfate to reduce the rate of warming won’t cause a problem.
The marine biology people seem clear that there is a problem and a predictable time course over which it gets worse, and a cutoff for shell-forming organisms this century. Doesn’t blocking warming enhance that problem?
[Response: No, we are not saying that ocean acidification from CO2 is not a problem. We are just saying that compared to that problem, the additional sulfuric acid from geoengineering would be trivial. For the cases we studied, the additional sulfuric acid from geoengineering would be much less than current acid precipitation from other anthropogenic sulfur emissions, and this is already much less of a concern than ocean acidification from CO2. This is why mitigation is the answer to our global warming problem. I know of no work that says that preventing ocean warming makes ocean acidification worse. – Alan Robock]
I think there is a bunch of stuff in the paper that has merit and deserves further research, as Alan says. I also think there is some criticism of the paper over things that are similar to what AGWers do. But the overall high-level conclusion I agree with.
Accountants have to (and properly so) work only with things that can be specifically enumerated. Economists ought to be able to extend themselves beyond the numbers, but too often do not. The process is a little like a company preparing a business case. Often the best input (pro and con) of a business case is something that can not be put into numbers. Yet those inputs are usually not allowed as business leaders usually are very uncomfortable with decisions that are based on stuff other than that which can be counted. “Marketing says we can capture 13.7% of the market in 20 months and sell 1,233,901 widgets” gets a lot more acceptance (and often proves to be wildly incorrect) than, “the market is new, can’t really be quantified, but we feel we can sell a ton.” Economists suffer the same inhibitions all to often.
As a skeptic, I’m very concerned with society-bending and massively costly mitigation efforts being implemented with the current confidence (my view) in AGW science. But, one thing much worse would be jumping into a world-wide geoengineering effort to fix the same problem (on the assumption it exists) which would likely be just as costly but bring with it considerably greater uncertainty and potentially be a cure far worse than the problem. Not even “uncertain”, which implies we know at least a little about it, in some cases — it seems we don’t have even a clue and know virtually zero, other than off-the-wall conjectures, about some geoengineering solutions.
Taking the papers recommendation could, IMO, easily be much more disastrous than mitigation, and possibly even more disastrous than any global change/warming. Alan’s assessment and conclusion is right on target — little pissant differences of mine not withstanding.
BL and group also ignore Mother Nature’s second proposal, namely:
1) Whack the humans for messing up Earth
2) Grow algae in the warm polar seas during light seasons
3) Let the carbon in the algae settle during the depths of the oceans during dark seasons
4) Ultimately convert the carbon to fossil fuel
5) Use the new fossil fuel as “An Apple of Eden” for the next intelligent species to arise
The real problem is that the climate models give us insight into dynamic process and do not give use useful timelines that economists can use for their discounting models. Discounting is a very non-linear effect. If the ice sheets should decay (resulting in sea level rise) sooner than input into the economic models, then the costs from such events would be enormously greater than projected by the economic model.
While I agree with Commentor #1 that ‘cheap access’ to Space would benefit the Human Species in many ways; making it cheaper to set up Space Mirrors, is NOT one of them – if only because going to all the trouble to do such a thing, would not be much more difficult than setting up Space-based Solar Power Facilities, etc., etc..
What we need to do is switch to a Hydrogen Economy!
It would create, if done RIGHT, Millions of Jobs and set America – or any other Country(ies)wise enough to ‘get it’ – up as a Global Energy Superpower, and give us a Technology that everyone would be wanting to Import!!!
The statistician and systems thinker W. Edwards Deming would call ‘geo-engineering’ what it is – tweaking the system, the consequences of which are greater system variation leading to sub-optimization, decay and the ultimate destruction of the system.
Nice explication of the relative tunnel vision of Lomborg and other geoengineers.
Rarely is ocean acidification part of the discussion, and it is truly horrifying. To imagine that we can address the symptom (warming) with a fix (sparklies in space, cloud ships) is to imagine that one can fix infection with a bandage. CO2 — and the other awfulness spewed by coal and petroenergy — is a systemic infection, not a flesh wound.
Engineers — problem solvers, which many scientists are — want to solve problems. It’s natural, then, to have really smart people thinking they understand enough to “fix” a huge problem. They understand part of the world very well — well enough to think that simple physics and enough money can “solve” a problem.
Unfortunately, jerry-rigging dynamic systems like the atmosphere, the currents, the ecosystems, the interrelationships… well, “unintended consequences” is the usual result.
In the Golden-Age there were deep blue skies and the starry nights inspired Vincent van Gogh. In a mere few thousand years after geo-engineering, human beings will forget that such things ever existed on Earth. And blue skies and stars at night will become mythological, one with Atlantis, Troy, and the Garden of Eden.
Geo-engineering does nothing about the energy problem, since the Earth is a closed eco-system, and may cause the remaining usable resources to be exploited to irreversible exhaustion.
I’m not a geo-engineer so I don’t know what this stratospheric devil cloud is composed of, but whatever it is, it too will remain there, forever.
There are just too many unknowns and possible downsides involved with SRM for it to be considered,at least given the current state of knowledge about it. The possible disruption of water supply for agriculture, municipal and industrial use,hydropower and sanitation, in itself,should give everyone pause
bedore attempting something that could make things worse than they’d otherwise be.
Rod B. says, “I’m very concerned with society-bending and massively costly mitigation efforts being implemented with the current confidence (my view) in AGW science. But, one thing much worse would be jumping into a world-wide geoengineering effort to fix the same problem ”
By ruling out prevention and mitigation, you leave geo-engineering as the only option once the effects of climate change hit in earnest. You and other denialists fail to comprehend that the era of cheap fossil fuel is effectively over. It will take “society bending and massively costly” efforts merely to develop the next energy economy. Making that a sustainable, green economy will not be significantly more costly and will pay dividends to our progeny.
It seems to me you’re assuming there’s no problem with ocean pH, therefore adding a tiny smidgen of sulfate to reduce the rate of warming won’t cause a problem.
I didn’t read it this way. My read was that the paper’s finding is that given that acidification due to CO2 is a couple of orders magnitude greater than any acidification that might result from sulfuric acid deposition, it won’t make things *worse* in practice than CO2-driven acidification alone.
Not that there’s no problem. Only that sulfuric acid deposition from sulfates injected into the atmosphere won’t make it meaningfully worse.
“This deposition [acidification of the ocean from CO2]] is 2 orders of magnitude larger than our highest potential value of sulfuric acid deposition, again assuming all sulfate due to geoengineering is reacted to form sulfuric acid, leading us to conclude that the increase in acid deposition resulting from geoengineering with stratospheric sulfate aerosols is not enough to negatively impact the oceans.”
Maybe my emphasis makes it more clear? I think it could’ve been worded more clearly though …
I think the analysis has to be whether conditions would occur “due to CO2 with a sulfate sunscreen” that would not occur in the absence of a sulfate sunscreen. What would people do with the sunscreen; what would people do in the absence of a sunscreen?
The other problem is the sunscreen builds in another tipping point — one we don’t have already:
I think the analysis has to be whether conditions would occur “due to CO2 with a sulfate sunscreen” that would not occur in the absence of a sulfate sunscreen. What would people do with the sunscreen; what would people do in the absence of a sunscreen?
In what sense would this impact acidification due to CO2 being increased in the atmosphere?
If you’re saying that such mitigation would lead to business-as-usual increasing CO2 emissions and therefore increasing CO2-induced acidification, sure.
The paper doesn’t address that issue and why must it? It’s written for a scientific audience.
Or maybe you think that every paper, now, has to be written to preemptively refute every scenario, lie, misrepresentation, cherry-pick, and quote-mine that might be used to show it supports pseudo-science rather than science?
God help us if that’s necessary. Science will become choked in denialist kudzu-like tactics.
Problems with geoengineering schemes to combat climate change
Author(s): Bala G (Bala, G.)
CURRENT SCIENCE Vol: 96 Issue: 1 Pages: 41-48 Published: JAN 10 2009
“… More recent modelling studies have shown that these schemes could lead to a slow-down in the global hydrological cycle. Other problems such as changes in the terrestrial carbon cycle and ocean acidification remain unsolved by sunshade geoengineering schemes. In this article, I review the proposed geoengineering schemes, results from climate models and discuss why geoengineering is not the best option to deal with climate change.”
And this blunt statement:
“A modelling study50 has shown that only tropical afforestation has the
potential to mitigate climate warming, when both the climate and carbon cycle effects of forests are into account.”
That reference is to this paper:
G. Bala, K. Caldeira, M. Wickett, T.J. Phillips, D.B. Lobell, C. Delire, and A. Mirin
are the economist going to mess this up for us? Now the economy has it’s back broken, are we going to be able to make the changes necessary to save this planet or are we going to die to bail out the broken infrastruture? I’m geniunely asking, what sort of time frame are we looking at before the warming becomes irreverssible and are the changes going to be ” economically viable ” before this recession ends? What are we likely to be looking at here too, a new ice age or mass flooding and drought? Any answers are greatfully recieved. Thanks.
Lynn Vincentnathan (26) – Yes, some pro-free market idealogues love to pretend that externalities, negative sum games, etc, do not exist or that any government action will have greater cost than benifit without necessarily any examination on a case-by-case basis – or so it has appeared to me.
However, I think Adam Smith may himself been quite a bit more insightful and smarter than all that – although I haven’t read his own work directly, Ike Solem’s comments on another thread a while back gave me this impression.
It isn’t necessarily a problem that in some context, things be considered acording to monetary value – what is a problem is if there are externalities whose existence is ignored, so that the monetary value does not reflect the actual economic value.
(PS production possilibilities curve of multiple categories, with value function plotted
I used to have some trouble with economics because, unlike energy and matter, entropy, etc, the flow of money doesn’t follow such neat and obvious physical laws (that I know of off the top of my own head, perhaps because I haven’t studied economics as much as…).
However, there are two ways to view the economy and then make sense of it that I like –
1. one is to consider activity directly involved with money or bartering. Here, behavior itself implies the value that people place on things, and the free market (an algorithm), like a computer model of itself (which everything is), computes a solution for rearrangment of resources that (ideally) tends to optimize total value realized (with a learning curve), depending on people’s behavior (implying valuation) combined with physical reality (and therein comes The Environment (resource scarcity) among other things). Note this is not limited to consumption – people might place value on simply having things continue to exist and buy land or contribute to ecotourism (and cultural tourism), etc. Also note that, approaching this in a general sense, anything involved is potentially a resource, including people, their skills, etc. People invest in themselves, in their social capital, etc, thus increasing their buying power, so that to some degree buying and earning power is a function of effort, thus reflecting the value placed in buying and earning power, which may be value as a means to a means to a means to an end, etc. Free time’s economic value is implied by the money that could be earned if it were not spent as free time. And so on for all endeavors, even those we would not think of as having anything to do with economics, which brings us to –
2. The economy is the entirety of causally-linked activity that runs through the more narrowly defined economy, thus including natural ecosystems, romantic relationships, and the thoughts and feelings in your head.
Likewise, the natural ecosystem in a broad sense includes the human economy as surely as it includes the ant economy (Evolution and ecology are often studied using terms from economics – costs and benifits of a trait as measured in reproductive success, for example).
And the complexity of ecological relationships and evolution (coevolution – with symbiosis and arms races, the multiple local optimums of the fitness landscape, … I guess the economic analogue of a recessive allele would be something like a present day cost/benifit with some probability of future reward/cost (actually a lot of ecological things are that).
Summary of caveats: Learning curve (there will be mistakes), costs and benifits of public mechanisms (as in reshaping the profit landscape or investing in a bridge from one peak to another (the same thing, as seen from two points of view) – PS related to supply/demand curves that are kinked, perhaps also hysteresis?), costs and benifits of accuracy and the free market justification and public policies of freebies (buy-one-get-one-free, fair use in copyright law), the value and costs of planning by individuals, private firms, and also potentially on a public level, negative sum games, externalities, what is value, what is self interest, what is self (I am not the same person from one moment to the next – justify illegal drug regulation as protection of future peoples’ rights????), the profit landscape as analogue to fitness landscape wherein there are mulitple local maxima (kinks in supply-demand curves – note also hysteresis in supply-demand curves), nonlinear relationship between economic power and cummulative effort, **the fact that, though more fair than communism as thus far practiced, and fair from some standpoint, capitalism is obviously not fair.
One point in particular is that having some public property – space in particular – has a psychological and aesthetic value, in that humans may feel stifled if surrounded by only privately owned things, and that anything which is of value because it is natural would/might be devalued in part simply by being privately owned (as Objectivists might suggest privatizing natural ecosystems and the climate system as a solution?) – there is also the technical value wherein the costs of charging a fee to watch a flock of geese go by to support funding for wetlands is just plain hard to do, aside from the aesthetic devaluation of the experience of watching a flock of geese when your view is being charged.
(PS all economic value is or comes from aesthetic value.)
Ha! Now there’s a post at WUWT proposing that the apparent trend in global temperatures is nothing more then a statistical ‘random walk’.
God only knows how that can be reconciled with the denialist’s assertions that due to negative feedbacks in the climate system, increasing greenhouse gasses could not possibly have a significant affect on global temperature. Seems to me that it’s their sequence of climate theories that most resembles a random walk.
No denialist should event consider proposing geoengineering solutions given that they hold to such a random collection contradictory explanations of how the system works.
Rod B., No, indeed, it would seem that you are all for prevention and mitigation as long as they don’t demand that we actually DO anything. Unfortunately, BAU is anathema to both, and the magnitude of the effort increases the longer we put it off–20 years and counting so far.
Andrew’s reference to Deming is quite apt here. Deming’s contribution was on the understanding of variation, mainly in manufacturing processes though his approach, based on earlier work by Walter Shewhart, is much more widely applicable. A particular “sin” he identified was “tampering” where an operator tries to respond to random variation by moving the set point of the process. The result is always, yes I do mean always, to make things worse. Geo-engineering does seem to run this particular risk.
I’d think the real question is whether there are proper routines in place equivalent to those of a typical journal — in particular, whether there is an editor to make the authors take the reviews into account and revise. Absent that discipline, even if the referees do a proper job, in the authors’ frame of reference it would just amount to getting unusually thorough comments from colleagues. No idea what routines they have at Lomborg’s center, but if Robock’s review is accurate (I confess I haven’t read the report) their standards would seem pretty damn lax.
The reason to prefer studies published in acknowledged scientific journals, I’d suggest, is not that you can’t do proper peer review in any other publication format. Rather, it is that these journals are where the scientific debate continues to take place over time — and this post-publication peer review is the real test of an idea. Moreover, one can be reasonably confident that the journals’ raison d’etre is to advance science, not pushing a specific political agenda.
So far funding for geo engineering demonstration projects is fare off the radar in congress. It has been neglected as the long term strategy for climate control and ensuring our survival when temperature rise begins to exceed 3.6 degrees above historic averages and head on its inexorable climb to 10 plus degrees as the 540 Million year proxy record indicates it will. No matter what the forcing functions are whether they be pollutants or sunspots or a 100 other variables interacting in a complex relationship, its going to get too hot for humans to cope. Forget divvying up CO2 emissions, focus on climate control.
Don’t believe me, then why isn’t there a nobel prize for economics? There is the Swedish bank prize for economical sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel and the person who gets it is allowed to sit at the same table as Nobel winners on the big night. But that is not a Nobel prize. We should give the same attention to economists that we give to our accountants and not much more.
I think it will turn out that we have to fight those who confuse scintific work.
Firms, lobbyst and payer of climate sceptics are a threat to national security.
Global climate change presents a serious national security threat which could impact Americans at home, impact United States military operations and heighten global tensions, according to a new study released by a blue-ribbon panel of retired admirals and generals from all branches of the armed services. http://securityandclimate.cna.org/
We need rules and laws todo something against the missinformation industrie in regards to the scintific work on these areas.
The integrity of society is at stake.
Put them all on trial or “whatever” – to get rid of this scumbags.
An Analysis of Climate Change as a Response to Global Warming, by Dr. J Eric Bickel and Lee Lane. Released by the Copenhagen Consensus Center, August 7 2009
A Perspective Paper on Climate Engineering as a Response to Climate Change, by Dr. Anne E Smith. Released by the Copenhagen Consensus Center, August 7 2009
A Perspective Paper on Climate Engineering, Including an Analysis of Carbon Capture as Responses to Climate Change, by Dr. Roger A Pielke Jr. Released by the Copenhagen Consensus Center, August 7, 2009
This is probably not the place to suggest that lack of a Nobel Prize in a subject area means that subject is of no account. A number here had to settle for a measly Peace Prize since there is no climate science prize. Neither do math or astronomy, two ancient and fundamental subjects, have prizes. The Economics Prize is not original but it is officially linked to the Nobel Foundation.
I’ve tried downloading the link to the PDF but got this message:
Acrobat could not open ‘AP_Climate_Engineering_Bickel_Lane_v.3.0(2).pdf’ because it is either not a supported file type or because the file has been damaged (for example, it was sent as an email attachment and wasn’t correctly decoded).
I noticed there has been no update yet on the CC priority list,
It is ironic that these educated folk – who don’t accept anthropogenic global warming, or that climate computer modelling can “prove” anything – resort to economic results produced by computer modelling!!
If it is sauce for the goose, then it is sauce for the gander.
BiG ThanX to RC; without your dedication to communicate via this website, we Aussies would have virtually no media access to climate science for the (tertiary) educated layperson. The Murdoch stranglehold on Australian media is virtually unbreakable.
Give credit where it’s due: Lomborg published one paper in an unrelated area, then became an expert in climate science and its impacts. Never in all the fields of human knowledge has so much been spouted by one person based on so little. (Sorry, Winston.) His defence when hauled before the Danish Committee for Scientific Dishonesty was that it was unfair to judge his book as science, because he isn’t a scientist.
Take a look at this video as shown on Australian national TV (SBS) last night. Go to 1:18:88 or thereabouts, and you will see a slide captioned “THE IPCC MODELS PREDICT MONOTONIC WARMING, AND THEY ARE WRONG”.
Can anyone tell me if it is unfair that I called this a lie on my blog? I hate to diss my fellow scientists, but I abhor dishonesty. In the video Carter also claims that the whole case for changing the energy economy is based on 5 data points. That should be pretty easy to refute, especially if you can safely use outdated datasets that have been shown to be in error.
Back to the subject here: is the idea that geoengineering is a good response to climate change, or something we have to explore because the likes of Carter and Lomborg have been so effective at delaying real action?
— I think it will turn out that we have to fight those who confuse scintific work…Firms, lobbyst and payer of climate sceptics are a threat to national security…We need rules and laws todo something against the missinformation industrie in regards to the scintific work on these areas…Put them all on trial or “whatever” – to get rid of this scumbags. —
There is a another, far more serious conflict of interest and potential source of misinformation you need to note. The ‘consensus’ view that calls for a massive expansion of the state to combat alleged AGW, is actively funded by the state itself, and this funding is many *thousands* of times larger than that on alternative views.
We thank Alan Robock and the various respondents for their comments on our paper. Since many of these comments seem to have been made without the benefit of reading of our work, we thought it prudent to emphasize a few points here.
First, Robock speculates on our motives stating that we “refuse to present ranges or error bars,” that we “refuse to quantify [possible negative consequences]” and that we “ignore” various issues such a negative side effects. These accusations imply a willful intent to deceive. We find comments such as these from members of the scientific community concerning, as they are not based on science, but rather on an attempt to divine author’s intentions. We also find the willingness to take arguments out of context and to selectively cite analyses to support one’s point disturbing. It is just this type activity that has caused the public to distrust the science of climate change, with potentially tragic consequences.
Second, Robock asserts, “That the second author works for the American Enterprise Institute, a lobbying group that has been a leading global warming denier, is not surprising, except that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist.” The facts are quite otherwise. AEI is not a lobbying organization. Indeed, it does not even take organizational positions on public policy issues, and it is quite common for AEI scholars to hold differing positions on major policy controversies. Robock could have checked these facts simply by perusing AEI’s website. (http://www.aei.org/about) As to the co-author of our paper, Lane has spent most of the last decade on research aimed at fining more efficient and affordable responses to climate change. He has advocated, as is clear from both his congressional testimony and his other writings, the use of a coordinated strategy including GHG controls, R&D on new energy sources, adaptation, as well as R&D to explore the option of solar radiation management. (http://www.aei.org/speech/100040) In imputing views and objectives to organizations and individuals, minimal standards of scholarly and personal integrity on the part of RealClimate would seem to require some prior effort to check the accuracy of his claims. Better yet would be a policy of not allowing ad hominem attacks.
Third, as we note throughout the paper, we argue for RESERACH funding for climate engineering, not deployment. For example, the first sentence of the abstract notes that “This paper offers a preliminary and exploratory assessment of the potential benefits of and costs of climate engineering.” The second paragraph of the abstract states, “We estimate that the DIRECT [emphasis added] benefit-cost ratios are…Yet large uncertainties remain about the science and engineering of SRM. Only a substantial research program can resolve these uncertainties, but the very large potential net benefits of SRM offer strong prima facie evidence for including R&D on SRM as part of any portfolio of climate policies during the next decade.” Finally, as we conclude “These inputs to our analysis are admittedly speculative; many questions surround their validity, and many gaps exist in them…This analysis, then, can claim to be only an early and partial look at the potential benefits and costs of [climate engineering]…the question is whether or not the indirect costs [negative side effects] will change the calculus. Only research can answer this question.”
Fourth, our primary argument is that the DIRECT benefits of solar radiation management appear large, while the DIRECT costs appear to be small. This logic is straight forward. If warming will cause large damages the preventing warming may provide large benefits. The argument that the direct costs appear relatively small is based on existing cost studies; including Alan Robock’s (Robock et al. 2009) which carefully analyzes the cost of using military aircraft (the F15-C Eagle) to carry H2S to the stratosphere to “counteract” global warming. Robock states that the capital cost of this scheme would be $6,363,000,000 and would cost $4,175,000,000 per year to operate. We note that this paper does not quantify possible negative side effects, but do not accuse Robock of “refusing” to do so or “ignoring” it. The paper also does not include error bars around the cost estimates and instead purports to provide “quantitative starting points.” This is quite similar to the approach we take in our “preliminary and exploratory assessment.” Again, we do not take this omission to be willful and instead give the authors the benefit of the doubt. We understand that these estimates are highly uncertain, as are any analyses of climate change.
Fifth, Robock avers that the real consensus on climate “… is that mitigation needs to be our first and overwhelming response to global warming…” No consensus in favor of mitigation is in evidence, though, in the global political arena, and without a consensus there, the feasibility of mitigation remains in grave doubt. Moreover, if we do not yet know the indirect costs of geoengineering, how could we know that mitigation needs to be the “first and overwhelming response?” How have Robock, and the authors of the many similar comments posted on this blog, managed to reduce their error bars to reach such a certain conclusion?
Sixth, Robock states, “…Bickel and Lane ignore the effects of ocean acidification from continued CO2 emissions, dismissing this as a lost cause. Even without global warming, reducing CO2 emissions is needed to do the best we can to save the ocean. The costs of this continuing damage to the planet, which geoengineering will do nothing to address, are ignored in the analysis in this report.” Actually our paper does discuss ocean acidification as a harmful effect of CO2 emissions are cite two other studies about the uncertainties concerning both its consequences and the prospects for remediation. Our paper, does not, as Robock notes, discuss it further for the same reason that it also omits discussion of possible defects in the regulation of the global banking system. SRM neither reduces the costs of these problems nor raises them. Other measures are called for, and the analysis that we were invited to do centered on SRM. Our paper no more claims to evaluate all options for dealing with CO2 that it pretends to address responses to all the rest of the world’s ills. The reader should also note that, contrary to the impression conveyed by Robock’s comments, and with only a single exception, every scenario reported in our paper envisions the use of SRM in conjunction with a GHG control regime.
Seventh, Robock claims “They [Bickel and Lane] dismiss air capture (“air capture technologies do not appear as promising as solar radiation management from a technical or a cost perspective”) but ignore the important point that it would have few of the potential side effects of SRM. In fact, our paper points to several institutional advantages of AC and goes on to state: “Thus, the high costs of AC and the long time scales required for it to become effective are serious drawbacks relative to several kinds of SRM. On the other hand, AC, by seeking to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, reduces some of the risks that remain with SRM.” We go on to note that another Copenhagen Consensus paper will be addressing AC at greater length.
Eighth, Robock claims: “They also ignore a huge class of ethical and world governance issues. Whose hand would be on the global thermostat? Who would trust military aircraft or a multi-national geoengineering company to have the interests of the people of the planet foremost?” We are unsure whence comes the idea of a multinational geoengineering company. If, however, Robock’s “huge class of world governance issues” coincides with the questions about how conflicting political interests might be resolved, pages 24-26 of the paper are devoted solely to these matters. Later, on page 34, the paper returns to an analysis of the issue of possible discontinuity in an SRM regime. The next sub-section on page 34 begins our analysis of the option of deferring SRM deployment in part to minimize global governance problems. At least four of the seven bullet points in the paper’s conclusion stress the importance of policy market failures and political transaction costs. Robock may, of course, dislike the way in which our paper handles these issues. To say, though, that our paper ignores these questions is simply false.
Ninth, Robock writes “they [Bickel andLane] insist on using the wrong units for energy flux (W) instead of the correct units of W/m^2, and then mix them in the paper. I cannot understand why they choose to make it so confusing.” We assume Robock means the power flux, since watts are a measure of power, not energy. This issue is quite simple. As we write in the paper “As a short hand, we will sometimes refer to SRM in terms of watts. The reader should not forget however, that by this we always mean watts per square meter.” We are sorry that some find this confusing.
Finally, when it comes to the health and safety of human beings we do not think any alternatives should be removed from the table. This includes research into the potential benefits of geoengineering. We hope that members of scientific community will not adopt a dogmatic stance, but will instead freely welcome an exploration of geoengineering’s potential benefits and costs.
Robock, A., A. Marquardt, B. Kravitz, and G. Stenchikov, 2009. The Benefits, Risk, and Costs of Stratospheric Geoengineering. Forthcoming in Geophysical Review Letters.
Comment by Eric Bickel and Lee Lane — 14 Aug 2009 @ 8:17 AM
Regarding Post #21 from Alan Robock:
Thank you for the publication reference. I am happy to see that people are looking at the potential effects of sulfate deposition on terrestrial ecosystems. I had not done a back of the envelope calculation to compare the current rate of deposition (owing largely to the burning of fossil fuels) with the added deposition that would result from this particular goeengineering scheme.
I am not sure that I would necessarily agree with your sanguine conclusion that increased acidic should not be a concern for most terrestrial ecosystems. In Kravitz et al. (2009) you use the concept of critical load which is based on an assessment of a level of pollutant deposition that will negatively influence some specified ecosystem element (e.g. forest growth, lake or stream pH). This is a complicated subject based on many years of research and modeling of soil acidification and recovery. The concept of critical load has been a unifying framework that helped put results from many studies into a common language, but,it has its limitations. I trust and hope that your analysis is correct.
I am a little concerned however when I look at figure 2 in Kravitz and I see that the eastern US is in the 5 to 9 kg per sq m per year range of geoengineering SO4 deposition — If I have done the math right, that is roughly half the current rate of fossil fuel sulfate depostion reported by the National Atmospheric Deposition Program for the eastern US (see map referenced below). I think that it is fair to say that a majority of forest scientists believe that the forests of the northeastern US are at risk for adverse effects from chronic acidic deposition at current rates, much less increased rates. The adverse effects are partly through the continuing elevated base cation depletion that current deposition is thought to be influencing. Increasing rates of sulfate deposition by 20 to 50% could be viewed as an adverse effect.
Patrick (52), you have lots of good insight. I think the way of looking at everything (love, ant society, etc) as economics is referred to (at least in economic anthropology) as “formal” and the more common way of looking at it as production, owner/tenure, & exchange of goods/services as “substantive.” So I was speaking from a substantive view.
You raised very good points about externalities, which I often do as well, incl the “tragedy of the commons.” But I suppose there’s a point at which we cannot really adequately add in externalities (which is what cap&trade tries to do), bec (1) it would be logistically impossible to add in all the known harms & then pay out benefits to those that are harmed (and do animals also have rights, do trees have standing — some say yes, see “wild law” in wiki), (2) we can’t really know all the negative repercussions in the present, and (3) we can’t know all the future repercussions, esp when acc to Archer AGW could last over 100,000 years (can some future generation person haul us into court after we’re long dead and gone?). I do remember during the ozone hole discussions that one person said that if externalities were added in, a can of hair spray might be as high as $1000 (I can’t remember the figure she said).
There is also one other point I like make re economic theory, about economics being based on the idea that people are rational — rational economic man — that they will maximize gain and minimize loss (not only money, but whatever it is they want or desire). There are, of course, many psychologists that would disagree with that in many different ways. However, what I’ve found is that people do not even implement GW mitigation things that will save them money and there is not other logical reason why they should not do so even if they are purely selfish — that was a real shocker to me 20 years ago when I first tried to inspire people to do such. I guess I sort of believed heart of hearts that economic rational man was real, not a myth. But, alas, he does appear to be a myth, a figment of economists’ overactive imaginations.
There are some studies now that deal with why people do not implement GW mitigation measures, even when it saves them money:
But in the final analysis, maybe we’re all just nuts.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 14 Aug 2009 @ 11:27 AM
As usual with people who argue ad hominem on technical subjects, those who ‘hate’ or ‘want to lock up’ Lomberg are making fools of themselves.
The basic calculation that Lomberg and co. have done is that if the median projections for global warming are correct; then our strategy now should concentrate now on the most cost effective ways of ameliorating the problem, on research to understand the issue better and on development of better options for dealing with it more fully later. We should not cut into the resources that we could spend on reducing starvation, poverty and disease in the near future.
That calculation might well be right if the basic assumption held.
However, the median projections for global warming are subject to wide uncertainty, especially at the upper end. If we act as though the median projections are not subject to uncertainty, we risk steadily advancing into a scale of disaster which we are prety sure could be immense; but which we cnnot begin to cost. The real case for doing something now, large scale, to cut our greenhouse gas output rests on the likelihood that this will reduce the chance of a major disaster. Leaving out the chance of that disaster, or under-rating it as Lomberg appears to do, is like the Titanic not cutting its speed when it had imprecise reports which suggested a possibiity of icebergs.
On geo-engineering, no doubt our descendants will design reasonably robust and safe means of manging the flux of incoming solar radiation. We are obviously a long,long way from that point; roughly as far as Jules Verne was from being able to deign a workable lunar excursion module. The prospect of useful progress on increasing carbon absorbtion seems a good deal better. It will probably take decades to to develop manageable systems, but the path to something more effective and controllable than tipping iron into the oceans appears to be opening.
The problem with allowing economists to decide the proper response of society to global warming is that they base their analysis only on their own quantifications of the costs and benefits of different strategies
The Problem?!? This is the only rational way to determine the *solutions*. You appear to dispute their quantifications and that is fair game, but the notion we should define the costs and benefits qualitatively is absurd and it’s the reason we struggle so much with mitigation costs and benefits which are often defined with an opportunistically artistic imprecision.
Regarding less than 100 % rational self-interested actions on the part of people:
It could be viewed as an error in the concept of a market with rational actors. It could be viewed alternatively as rational actors embedded within people, which are not always in control due to scarcity of ability itself – in general, decision-making resources (reasoning skills, accuracy of input data, computation time) are subject to scarcity, so we ration them according to the expected likely magnitude of the consequences based on preliminary assessments, or follow instincts and traditions (learned from evolution over multiple generations – may not always be adapted to current conditions, may not pertain to self-interest (or others’) anyway, but may sometimes), rules of thumb, habit (learned response over life time), etc. The same concepts apply to moral decisions, too.
(It would be hard to use such human imperfection to argue for government takeover of the economy in general as the same imperfections show up in voting; however, the two processes being different, it’s concievable that one or the other form of decision making might do better in any given case or category.)
For externalities, I agree that efforts to quantify them monetarily can have errors. Some might be obvious – for example, if a wetland were valued only according to a survey of how much people liked visiting it and seeing associated birds, etc, this would completely miss the flood control value, among other things. In some cases the cost per unit amount of an externality of some amount of a thing – a pollutant, for example – might vary with the total amount. If emissions happen over time, later generations might have to pay a higher rate – this itself could be viewed as injury that the earlier generation should pay for, or alternatively, the imposed price would be contingent on the expected emissions, which will include the effect of the price.
In some cases, civil suits may be the best approach – but I tend to agree that this is not so for greenhouse emissions – although one could imagine a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of all future people (PS then do we need to know the future population trajectory?). In other cases, privatization of the commons would work. In other cases, an imposed cost representing the best estimate of the externality would work. In other cases, public planning might be the best solution (such as urban planning, including zoning, which might reduce the uncertainty in the future of people’s property values (which is a synthesis of all the reasons to live there or own it, and is thus important whether or not the unit is resold)). (Public management of the economy can also play a role in managing kinks in supply/demand relationships so as to move from a local optimum to a higher optimum; and then there are the other caveats (I suspect a case can be made in support of progressive tax schemes based on negotiating power and a nonlinear proportionality of reward for input even – although one should be careful in case there is some good reason for encouraging power centers ?) )
The point I want to make though, is that even if an actual monetary cost cannot be assigned to all things in some accurate way, any of the above solutions to an externality or some other caveat of free markets would be based in principle on the existence of benifits (including externality correction) and costs of that solution that in principle have some economic value. (PS the best solution is not necessarily that with the most accuracy, because accuracy can come with greater cost.)
(The economic value of being able to see a sunrise, looking into someone’s eyes, etc, in princple exists because there are alternatives choices that people decide among, including opportunities for more money, and even though the best things in life may be ‘free’, there is a cost for the opportunity to get to those things. Being alive (and in good health) probably enhances the experience of some valuable moments (non-economic value itself, but the cause of economic value, as it is the motivation, cause, or reward for exerting any effort with resources), and material resources are required for that.)
PS animal rights – technically, only moral agents have rights. Technically, one could imagine that some other animals besides humans might have some of that capacity. Techically, young children might not so much fit in that category.
I think of rights as being a useful social construct and legal concept – the existence of which has moral value (good to have freedom, margin of error, + moral decision making cannot be completely centralized without losing accuracy, etc.) – but any sentient being should be treated with some care whether or not it has ‘rights’, all other things being equal (minor discomfort jusifies swatting a mosquito – killing a monkey demands greater jusfication, etc.).
I have to say I’m a bit concerned about large-scale artificial geoengineering projects. Do we know enough about the climate system as a whole to effect changes to the system and predict all the responses? Particularly if this is done while largely nothing is done about the man-made causes of the issue in the first place, that would seem facetious. I still think the main thrust should be dealing with the sources of the problem, replacing fossil-fuel generation with alternate sources for one thing. Wouldn’t a better method involve Forestry, especially with an eye to improved biodiversity?
Of course, what we really should seek is not the greatest likely economic profit (in the broadest sense), but the greatest likely moral profit. But economic profit figures into that. In some situations where the two appear at odds, some degree of resolution might be reached by including externalities and extending economic value to cover anything of any value. Economic value has moral value via the aesthetic value that drives economic value, because all other things being equal, it is good for people to have ‘things’ (including themselves) that they value (PS is all moral value also rooted in aesthetic value? – aesthetic value is subjective in being in the ‘eye’ of the beholder, but is objective in the sense that there are beholders and they do find value in ‘things’). Also and very importantly, economic value can provide opportunity for greater moral profit (ie reduce the rock-and-a-hard-place decisions).
(There is a moral economy/ecosystem in which one should attempt to maximize moral profit (moral benifits – moral costs))
Does this mean that a dollar value could be assigned to moral valuables? In decision making we often need to weigh apples against oranges – in moral decisions the common currency used in direct comparison is moral value.
(Kant would identify moral worth of a person making a choice based on difficulty, but it is good for people to have what they want – a person might do good by making investments so as to reduce difficulty in future decisions. A person does good by an action that makes the best choice better and/or easier for future decisions by anyone.)
The real value of economic value is the aesthetic value it enables (?), and the proportionality is not fixed, so that is a factor to consider – I would guess that, after accounting for inflation, the average worth of a dollar is greater when the same amount is more evenly distributed, because each person may experience decreasing returns – on the other hand, there could be exceptions where there are increasing returns – for example, if a person wants some quantized item requiring a minimum of $1000, then $999 will be worth less than 999/1000 * $1000 to that person; also, if a room that saves lives only has enough space for 10 people to live, distributing the room more fairly among 20 people may result in 10 more deaths than otherwise…
A toaster is a capital good within the household economy.
Reading this website has additional benifits besides the decision-making resources investment regarding AGW and the knowledge of climatology in general. Knowledge can serve other purposes, such as in use to impress someone on a date, and also there may be social capital investments being made here…
A single item might be an end and a means to another end (enjoying a piece of cake, then, aside from the nutritional benifits, having a memory that can be used in conversation, and also, psychological benifit that might increase worker productivity, etc, etc, etc.)
Rational self-interested behavior can be of benifit to others (I might feel better knowing you’re doing well, and there might be material symbiosis…) and might be done for others’s benifit for the same reason. People focusing on themselves and those they know tends to be an efficient algorithm because there is greater decision making resource availability (expertise) than there is for making decisions regarding strangers – however, of course, there are exceptions, such as when people are experts on categories of things (doctors, ecologists, auto mechanics, etc.) – but anyway, focusing on one’s self to some degree need not preclude placing value on other’s well-being or achievment of other’s well-being.
Re my 77:
A person might extrapolate from this that a comatose person does not technically have rights (? depends on what it means to be comatose) – however, a person on vacation still has property rights on his/her house; a person who is missing but who may return also has rights – after some time has passed, people might bring out the will, which might have instructions on whether or not to terminate property rights in the event of…
A person may have desires for what happens after they die. Setting aside life after death, what actually happens makes no difference to the person who died, but a pattern of what happens after people die affects what living people can expect after they die, thus affecting the value they experience while alive.
There is also (in addition to direct aesthetic value (the indirect aesthetic value being the value realized from utilization of material goods and services that require other goods and services, etc…) the scientific value of natural systems that could be denuded when the commons are privatized.
The government surely can create wealth, as public policy and actions can 1. provide goods and services that are metabolized by other parts of the economy.
2. help catalyze metabolic processes of the economy (although that would also be a service – there isn’s a clear distinction between catalyst and reactant here).
One cost of government action being risk of corruption and inefficiency, but then there are imperfections in the private sector as well, but …
Preservation of extant things (including biodiversity) – I’d invoke the ‘it’s hard to go home again’ principle – Aside from the rate of climate change being a problem for total biodiversity and ecological succession and economic adaptation, there is a change issue. If the total biodiversity in the future were the same but the extant species different, that is not necessarily a problem (it will eventually be inevitable) – however, if it isn’t any more valuable than current biodiversity for other reasons than the following, then the following reason could tip the balance in favor of preservation: There will always be possibilities that will not be realized, and there is sentimental and scientific value in what we now have (the later also having potential material benifits – a genetic library that may include new food and medical options). It makes sense to get some amount out of the Holocene before we move on to the next geologic time division, since we can’t easily get back once we’ve left (something to keep in mind for any irreversable process). On the other hand, once sufficient time has passed, there will be some massive body of knowledge of Holocene conditions that can be preserved, so that less will be lost than gained when moving on, but moving on would happen at some natural rate (which has aesthetic and scientific value as being part of nature itself). Oh, but humans are natural – AGW is natural – but so is government, and if we mitigate climate change, that will be natural, too.
I am unable to download a readable copy of the paper; the link from Realclimate appears to point to an obsolete empty file, and when I waded through the fixtheclimate.com site) to the current version of the file, Acrobat reader reports that the file is corrupted and cannot be repaired. My comments perforce only apply to the points raised in discussion here. (Does the use of psychedelic fonts and menus that pop up offscreen at fixtheclimate.com reflect the current mental state of economists caused by the failure of their models to predict the meltdown?
“They use calculations with the Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy (DICE) economic model to make the paper seem scientific, but there are many inherent assumptions, and they up-front refuse to present their results in terms of ranges or error bars.”
How well does this model handle observed economic conditions such as the recent collapse of the real estate derivatives market and its influence on financial markets and the world economy overall? Given the reported lack of error estimates, can any underlying statistical assumptions (e.g. Gaussian or long-tailed distributions) be determined or assessed?
My limited understanding of financial analysis is that modeling “discounting” assumes monotonic and unbounded growth in investments; what if the current funds which will be used to support future SRM or other geoengineering schemes are invested in an oil well, which runs dry? does the DICE model predict future investment opportunities, costs, and rate of return for discounting, or does it just assume that there will be constant growth?
“But Bickel and Lane ignore the effects of ocean acidification from continued CO2 emissions, dismissing this as a lost cause.”
It seems to me that if we are already well and truly screwed, as this assumption implies, then the rational greedy individual reaction is to protect whatever wealth one has without regard to what happens to everyone else. Perhaps the wealthiest 5-10% of the population, which owns more than half of everything that can be bought and sold, has concluded that the Titanic is sinking. Now they are simply trying to insure that they have a life preserver or a place in the (financial) lifeboat, whatever they can buy, beg, borrow, or steal, to insure their survival.
“Bickel and Lane do not even mention several potential negative effects of SRM, including getting rid of blue skies, huge reductions in solar power from systems using direct solar radiation, or ruining terrestrial optical astronomy”
The reduction in solar power with SRM is a positive effect – it reduces the competition for fossil fuels, keeping their price and ROI high, plus maintaining market share(absent effects from cap-and-trade policies). Although blue skies and optical astronomy may have value, they can’t be assigned a price, so economic models must assume they have zero worth.
IMHO, economic modeling is hampered, if not hamstrung, by the necessity of predicting human behaviors which are not constrained by physical laws(once our basic needs are met). “The market” sometimes decides to do something whimsical, like creating pet rocks, or hula hoops, or other fads which drive economic activities, and there is no underlying physics enabling economic models to predict their occurrence. What if the Saudis decide oil should sell for $40 per barrel, or $400 dollars per barrel for religious reasons? Sometimes quasi-predictable human behavioral drivers like greed result in the creation of financial edifices such as 40-60 trillion dollars worth of credit default swaps(we don’t even know what this number really is, because the Bush Administration decided the benefits of no regulation/no reporting requirements outweighed the risks). Confirmation bias lead to the assumption of a normal rather than long-tailed risk distribution for these & similar financial instruments. As it turned out, the actual risk and economic leverage of CDS’s destroyed Lehman Brothers, forced Goldman Sachs out of the investment banking business, caused the sale of Merril Lynch to Bank of America, and required the Federal government to buy a majority stake in AIG, along with a few other minor economic consequences. Ironically, the instruments played the musicians. I doubt any economic model can predict future presidential election results and therefore the probability of the government handing out another $700 billion in TARP funds, let alone what inflation or ROI will be 5 years from now. Nor do I believe that economic models can accurately predict whether greed(we’ve irreversibly screwed the climate, so it’s every man for himself) or altruism(we must make sacrifices now to stabilize the climate and protect the earth for future generations) will drive future actions. It is painfully obvious that Lomborg, Bickel, Lane, the folks at CEI, AEI, Heartland, Marshall, and other right wing crank tanks, as well as the talking heads at Fox news project their nature to society in general, predicting that they and their ilk will do well, surviving climate change upheavals quite nicely, while ignoring the impact on the rest of the population or future generations.
greater accuracy of moral decisions in many cases (as opposed to centralized process – some centralized decision making/action taking has value (including protection of rights), but increasing the accuracy of all moral judgement through centralized action becomes inefficient at some point; the justice systmem has expenses, etc.)
feeling free is a desired thing; having a margin of error within which to make mistakes that are not officially punished has a psychological benifit
j lovelock talks of risks resulting from implementing reduction of co2 releasing processes eg coal fired power stations due to the low level aerosol haze which reflects heat back into space. presumably geoengineering is possibly more important to tackle short term positive feedbacks in this respect, and not just a technique for enabling long term business as usual?
I keep leaving loose ends and if I keep trying to tie them up I’ll end up writing my entire philosophical outlook here. So I’ll try to limit myself.
So there are caveats in free markets that may justify some greater government involvement in some way, and the costs anb benifits of any such involvement have to be weighed. Some public planning is good (urban planning, zoning, working through nonlinearities in supply/demand and externalities, laws for driving on one side of the road, etc., perhaps also taking the place of would-be natural private monopolies without some of the disadvantages of monopolies (but maybe with some other disadvantages – give and take, find the best combo, checks and balances, etc.)), and checks on externalities (which is actually a form of protection of rights), and regulation might be helpful to economies in some ways (confidence in the marketplace? More efficient consumers, who don’t need to exert as much effort making sure products are safe and not made in sweatshops, etc, if the government is doing it’s job to those ends (assuming the governmand can do this more efficiently and that corruption doesn’t completely destroy the net benifit) (also regulation of monopolies (monopolies by themselves could become dictatorships if not checked,
… and also, while having some centers of power might be of some benifit in efficient decision-making (?), if there is a nonlinear relationship between cummulative effort (I specify cummulative, because a position of power can be earned over time, and it is good that people with good decision making skills should be in charge, although that is not always how it works, and this is problematic when someone gains power in one category of work and then uses it in areas in which s/he is not skilled) and reward per unit cummulative effort – such as from negotiating power – arguably I think this actually can make the market less efficient overall. Rich and powerful might like to maintain a group in poverty to maintain a low-cost labor force; while there are jobs that require unskilled labor, so that investment in skills would be somewhat wasteful (although some labor skills have other benifits, to the person who has them if not directly to employers), it would only require investment in some of that labor to increase the necessary demand (wages) to keep the same supply (labor).)
(Although another solution is unionized labor – the analogue of boycotts and consumer groups for consumers. It seems silly that free market people would be against unions in general, since they are private enterprises themselves).
Aside from that, there may be additional moral reason to have some additional redistribution of wealth (beyond that which is justified by the negotiating power issue). The moral benifit is perhaps increased fairness (regarding inherited and chance inequity (though the later can be in theory partially mitigated by insurance, or investment in more than a single company, etc.**) plus increased worth of wealth due to more even distribution – the cost is an infringement(?) on (or reduction of ?)property rights that impairs the free market algorithm, so that in the long-run, efficiency declines (The problem of helping without increasing the need for help), as well as decreased fairness regarding chosen inequity (depending on the structure of the policy) (a person might choose to work less hard because his/her values are different – quality of life might still be the same as a rich person in some cases). But there might be a compromise position that works well, assuming the production possibilities curve of policy, mapped onto a moral value-proportional grid, is convex.
Then of course there is the tax deduction for charity, although what happens when you contribute to a charity that hires you to run it and …
(PS ideally there should be a national property tax as well as income and sales tax, because government services support all of these things (or does the defense budget not help protext one’s house?, etc.; It has occured to me that while taxes are justified, it is not at all obvious to me how to balance different tax systems in a fair way – I’m thinking that the tax should be on property value + income + sales in the same units; if it is not a flat tax, income should be averaged over years or else it is not fair; there should not be sales tax on business-to-business transactions because this makes taxes higher on products that involve more companies without any good reason; if there are no coorporate taxes, than capital gains should be treated as any other income; otherwise it is the taxes on businesses that justify a reduced tax on capital gains – but I don’t know enough about business taxes to say any more on that (It didn’t use to make sense to me that progressive income taxes would hurt small businesses, because the total business profit and income, are not necessarily those of the owner – it is the take home pay of the owner that is his/her income – but small business owners like to file taxes as individual people, or something … well maybe this could be solved by simplifying the paperwork (??) )
(Also, FEMA should be paid for at least in part by a tax proportional to risks not covered by private insurance, or otherwise in proportion to the difference between the risk and the average risk for the same property value, etc. – insurance works by increasing certainty for individuals/small groups without removing the incentive to not take unwise risk – to take risks when the likely benifit is greater than the likely cost), or otherwise
Anyway, the original point was that moral value has potential economic value, economic value has potential aesthetic value, aesthetic value has moral value, moral value has potential aesthetic value, aethetic value has potential economic value, and economic value has potential moral value, and except for externalities, these things could be assessed by considering questions of how much would or should someone be willing to pay to do the right thing, how much would someone pay to see geese fly x times at y time of year at… and how much would someone pay to be in a relationship (big caveat there – posing the actual question changes the answer (is that an externality?) – well it’s tricky but we know people are willing to pay, not the other person, but for things involved in the relationship or for the opportunity to be in the same place at the same time or to communicate, etc.). Nonlinearities make this very hard (enjoying one slice of chocolate cake might be worth more than 1 % of enjoying 100 slices of chocolate cake (especially if in a small time interval), although it might be worth less than 50 % of enjoying two slices (because the first one might prime the brain so that the second can be appreciated in more detail and more deeply), and a person will typically always place a value on at least a few more slices of cake at some future time no matter how many have been had so far.
But a tax on climate-changing emissions is still in principle jusified by the moral benifit of the tax, which is related to the (equivalent) economic benifit, etc., and that implies a moral cost with an economic equivalent of the tax rate, nonlinearities aside, if the estimate used is correct, which it might not be, but we have limited decision making resources (including computation time), so let’s just do it already.
On cake – savoring is good, but there is a limit to how much this can be done, there are decreasing and negative returns due to the urge to swallow and the declining flavor experience (?) – I also find that the best way to enjoy food in general is in pieces big enough to fill a significant portion of the mouth, so cake (low density) is better than solid chocolate in that way (greater benifit per unit undesired sugar calorie, etc.) (computation changes greater if a person is sugar-deficient), but of course that could just be me and variety is good so evaluations for one-time transactions in isolation could be misleading…(if you always lived like each day was your last, it would be very easy to quickly become obese, and also perhaps bored by always choosing your most favorite food items)(On a related note, I’ve noticed that I (used to) tend to put off enjoying music on a CD because I knew I could listen to it any time, whereas I can’t control the radio station)
and then there’s being metarational (see Traveller’s Dilemma); sometimes the rational choice is to be irrational. For example, why was I just talking about cake on a climate blog :)
Hey, a side question: when people talk about putting sulfates into the stratosphere — what source are they talking about using?
I ask because I was reminded of a couple of previous situations where an industry’s troublesome industrial point source waste product got redefined as a salable material. Then got government to mandate using it. Later problems turned up — after the stuff had been widely distributed in the environment and groundwater.
I didn’t compare v3 to v4, but hope someone has or will.
My best guess is there is no significant difference between those versions, though since the authors have commented here, perhaps they can enlighten us.
(I got v3 on Aug 13, the link worked fine then. Your comment piqued my curiosity, so I got v4 from your link and did a diff on the text contents. The only change I found — one blank line apart — was in the number of papers said to have been commissioned by the CCC on the topic — corrected from 24 to 21. Of course, there may be differences unnoticed by diff in graphs — though I fail to see any — or display math.)
Food you know you have, you know you like, its ready for consumption v unknown food specifics, but knowing the likely hood threshold of enjoyment and serendipity out ways the fear or minor risk that the unknown food will be significantly worse than the food you know you have. there is no right answer, and it is good to be versatile and willing to switch hypothesis mid meal. that will enable the clear sky thinking hunger craves.
Ninth, Robock writes “they [Bickel and Lane] insist on using the wrong units for energy flux (W) instead of the correct units of W/m^2…” …We assume Robock means the power flux, since watts are a measure of power, not energy.”
Um, I’m sure he does mean the “energy flux”: the rate at which energy “flows” through a surface, hence energy per unit time per unit area, which is the same as power per unit area, measured in W/m^2. Since you yourselves do not use “power flux” in your report, why should Robock?
When the total surface area involved is known, it may be sometimes be helpful to multiply it with the flux and express the rate simply in terms of power (W). But it makes no sense, except perhaps to Humpty Dumpty, to use W and saying it means W/m^2, and to do so inconsistently. Even if you do tell the reader.
Second, Robock asserts, “That the second author works for the American Enterprise Institute, a lobbying group that has been a leading global warming denier, is not surprising, except that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist.” [B&L retort:] … AEI is not a lobbying organization. … Lane has spent most of the last decade on research aimed at fining more efficient and affordable responses to climate change…
I think the authors’ response has half a point here (YMMV).
I doubt it is accurate to reduce the AEI strategy against meaningful action on climate change to “denial”; it seems more multi-pronged than that. Nor to call the AEI a “leading” denier (very competitive field, denial). Nor, strictly speaking, to call it a “lobbying” organization, rather than a highly partisan organisation for public policy research and advocacy, and a purveyor of a range of arguments to lobbyists.
I agree with Robock it’s a funny development, though, that those who don’t think global warming is enough of a threat to merit sensible emission curbs, do think that untested high-risk geoengineering fixes sound promising. Considering the denialist slur that climate scientists make alarmist claims to secure fat grants, it’s also funny how those opposed to taking real action against emissions are coming up with all these proposals for research that should be funded first.
As for Mr Lane, he is on record in 2006 arguing for Bush to impose a “modest” carbon tax – as a preemptive move to avoid his successor imposing a “draconian” cap and trade scheme, given that some form of GHG control seems politically unavoidable anyway (Strategic Options for Bush Administration Climate Policy. Seems to me the work favors efficient policies as long as they’re not ambitious enough to risk becoming effective ones (but there I go, imputing motive, tch tch, read it for yourselves).
In that work he does criticize the Bush administration for failing to grasp that, “Logically, today’s continuing uncertainties about climate sensitivity should reinforce a willingness to invest in mitigation” (p. 33). That is indeed a cut above some other AEI noises on the science, and not something a denialist would say.
We don’t disagree regarding units. Our only point is that we did not think our shorthand was confusing within the body of the paper. We do understand that our use of this shorthand in the abstract is potentially confusing and will correct this. We will reconsider its use in the body of the paper. Thank you for your feedback.
[RE: Hank Roberts, #85; CM, #91]
We checked with the Copenhagen Consensus Center to understand what they changed between v3 and v4 of our paper. Here is their response:
“1. We moved our logo from page 4 to page 3 so that this paper is consistent with every other;
2. In our own description of the project (available in every paper underneath the Abstract on p4), we changed the number of papers commissioned to the correct number; earlier versions had an incorrect number;
3. Our designer spotted and fixed a minor typo that made it appear that two letters were on top of each other, in an equation on p29.”
Comment by Eric Bickel and Lee Lane — 18 Aug 2009 @ 8:32 AM
B&L (#99), thanks for passing that on. Useful to know nothing of substance has changed when a paper under discussion is re-versioned.
Sixth, Robock states, “…Bickel and Lane ignore the effects of ocean acidification from continued CO2 emissions, dismissing this as a lost cause. …” Actually our paper does discuss ocean acidification as a harmful effect of CO2 emissions [and] … the uncertainties concerning both its consequences and the prospects for remediation.
Well, the report says “its relevance to [climate engineering] remains unclear”, after citing work suggesting the CO2 already up there might be enough to do for the coral reefs anyway. That’s dismissing it as a lost cause, all right.
(By the way, alarming as Cao and Caldeira  is, I fail to see how you could fairly summarize it as showing “The CO2 already in the atmosphere might cause enough acidification to destroy all or most of the existing reefs”?)
Our paper, does not … discuss it further for the same reason that it also omits discussion of possible defects in the regulation of the global banking system.
This odd comparison underlines your dismissal of acidification as irrelevant. You discuss SRM as an option to counter the threat of global warming, the bulk of which is caused by CO2 emissions, which also cause ocean acidification, another potentially major threat that can be limited by limiting emissions but not by SRM. The relevance of ocean acidification to assessing these policy options should be as obvious as the irrelevance of banking regulations.
SRM neither reduces the costs of these problems nor raises them. Other measures are called for, and the analysis that we were invited to do centered on SRM.
If ocean acidification is a major threat that needs to be addressed in its own right, doesn’t that affect the cost/benefit of GHG controls (emission cuts) relative to SRM? GHG controls could kill two birds (warming, acidification) with one stone. SRM could not, but would have to be supplemented with more dubious engineering fixes, at additional cost and risk, for the ocean.
… with only a single exception, every scenario reported in our paper envisions the use of SRM in conjunction with a GHG control regime.
But the use of SRM to keep temperatures down would tend to reduce the perceived urgency of limiting CO2 concentrations, and a policy mix with a major SRM component would probably have a smaller GHG control component than without SRM, allowing the acidification problem to grow. In general, as the AMS policy statement puts it,
The possibility of quick and seemingly inexpensive geoengineering fixes could distract the public and policy makers from critically needed efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build society’s capacity to deal with unavoidable climate impacts. Developing any new capacity, including geoengineering, requires resources that will possibly be drawn from more productive uses.
I’d think a qualitative discussion acknowledging these concerns would be in place even if the state of knowledge does not permit costs and benefits to be quantified.
I find it fascinating that the only comment about using engineering in space to solve this rather than a fairly large planetary intervention in the atmosphere (with unknown and unknowable secondary consequences), simply disagreed without giving ANY cause for the disagreement.
I am trying to imagine how that works… except that perhaps people here are over-focused on the solutions proposed in the original post and the most recent comments relating to those, and did not notice the suggestion.
If you have CATS you can put mirrors in space. It doesn’t cost that much if you have Cheap Access To Space. If you have that you can put solar power satellites in space EASILY. You don’t have to burn coal for power any more. You also gain access to the resources of the entire solar system, which is a boon to the species beyond measure. You can use the mirrors to cool, or warm, the planet as required by the phase of the solar climate we are in. Shutting down the coal plants reduces the CO2 loading.
Regarding solar power collection from Earth orbit, I guess I’m missing the train when it comes to understanding why we’d raise the bar so high as to install our equipment in space as opposed to letting it continue to sit on the ground.
On the terrestrial side we do have inconveniences of day/night, clouds, and dust. On the other hand, we have the benefit of possessing solar power collection systems having the excellent virtue of existence, beyond imagination and prototyping, solidly grounded (sorry!) in reality and already being deployed.
Up in space our bad habits have accompanied us from the instant we began lofting hardware into orbit, 50 years and tens of thousands of fragments ago, meaning that any really sizable objects constructed in LEO or NEO will likely end up riddled with holes, at the same time liberating yet more fragments to contend with. Accepting for a moment that we can engineer around the Swiss cheese problem, there’s next the matter of conveying energy to the ground with a reasonable degree of efficiency, so far seemingly only addressed with artists concepts showing hypothetical hole-free antennas, etc. Meanwhile, “CATS” is proving far less tractable now that our initial carbon nanotube euphoria is wearing off.
(perhaps if we only had -enough- junk orbiting the planet we could shade ourselves, at the cost of never being able to leave the planet?)
Again, on the ground side we have stuff that works, now, many avoided billions of dollars worth of distractions closer to being useful.
All the same, cheap access to space would be a wonderful thing…
The day-night and clouds thing is pretty important when you start talking about baseload power. Which you can do with solar.
The CATS thing wouldn’t be so expensive if we hadn’t killed it so often, the last X-33 with all the major components constructed and better than 90% completion for example. It doesn’t need carbon nanotubes in a space-elevator, just a reasonable amount of re-use. There are viable methods and development is punked out because there is not any collective corporate will to do it in the USA.
I agree that LEO is a pretty nasty place. It poses no real problem to either the mirrors or the SPS. Satellite power wouldn’t be in LEO so the junk is not a large problem. The mirror need not be that substantial. Swiss-cheese effects don’t prevent it from working.
CATS isn’t even complicated engineering anymore. The hard part is to give it the priority it deserves. Do that ONE thing and the other problems are very easily solved, and we’ve certainly spent more on Banksters than it would cost to actually finish the job.
This would explain the X-33 component failures during test.
Rather than wait for some magic-wand technology to become available to transport yet another magic-wand technology in low earth orbit thereby allowing us to finally, decades from now, maybe do some good if nothing fundamentally unsolvable by then-existent engineering capabilities, why not simply solve the problem with technology available or within site, today?
BJ_Chippindale- cheap access to space would be really nifty! However, if you think that it is easier to convince the government, and the taxpaying public, that this concept is viable before they all accept the reality of global warming, peak oil, the ongoing destruction of ocean biota, and overpopulation, then I suggest that you try to revive the L5 Society as a viable separate entity and get really concerned about Chemtrails (Google it).
I have witnessed sleeping CATS, when threatened by a dog, levitate straight up into a tree, but it was only five feet, or so, vertical.
I guess I’m stuck with my dial on “disagree”, at least as regards orbital solar power collection. Inspired by your post, I did a quick skim of what might contribute to making this easier than when it was first proposed and later when I actually read about it for the first time. I don’t see any “eureka” material.
Engineering-wise, space access is and always will be relatively complicated compared to walking around at the bottom of the gravity well. In absolute terms, it’s extremely complicated, involving enough single points of failure in the launch phase to make any sane engineer sweat every launch. It’s become fairly obvious over the past five decades that there’s a nearly ineradicable and relatively large residual rate of failure in launch systems that will become quite expensive if and when the number of launches is scaled up. Every care and caution along with lavish expenditure are exercised in the design, construction and operation of launch vehicles yet failures remain a routine occurrence.
Meanwhile, the Echo balloon system is not a very useful model for what we’re discussing. Assuming the necessary materials for a multi-kilometer size collector system could be realized from where they are now (largely in our imaginations) deployment of a collector array sounds easy in concept. Yet think about previous attempts at dynamic structures of even the simplest types. Remember the space tether system designed to exploit electric fields in orbit? That was basically an adaptation of a spin-cast fishing reel adapted for space, very simple, seemingly very predictable and fool-proof, and it failed. In the case of power collection systems we’re speaking of dynamic structures many kilometers in size, essentially impossible to test until orbited.
Then we come to the necessary transmitters and antennas. I see cited efficiency numbers from early experiments in the mid 80% range, but I suspect those refer to the efficiency of transmission of power actually emitted from the antenna as opposed to the overall efficiency of the transmission system, particularly including the active electronics in the transmitter. I don’t know of any existing microwave power amplifiers wth an efficiency of 90%, though perhaps I’m wrong. Meanwhile, the transmission antenna is another kilometer-sized structure. The transmitters themselves would not be amenable to structural artistry such as inflation, etc. and would necessarily be massive, particularly expensive to orbit. As well, we don’t actually know how to build 500MW microwave transmitters for deployment down here, let alone in the space environment with its cooling challenges etc.
Earthside, if I understand the geometry correctly, in order for the space-side collection system to be continuously exposed to sunlight as well as being oriented for reasonable performance without continuous attitude adjustments, there will need to be multiple receiver sites, with a means provided for handoff while leaving grid performance constant.
These are just the most obvious difficulties, to me anyway. As some wag said, it’s the unknown unknowns that really are a b___h, and of those I’m sure we’ll find a multitude.
Space based solar power collection involves inventing many huge new problems as well as continuing our waltz with some very old ones we’ve not yet solved.
Meanwhile, down here, we already have everything we need to collect solar energy, today. Doing so will be easier yet if the unfathomable billions needed to attempt space systems in pursuit of the same objective are not expended that way.
Perhaps the easiest and cheapest low tech “geo-engineering” solution is simply to ensure as many roofs as possible that don’t have solar panels on them are white. Doesn’t really substitute for reducing emissions or sequestering carbon via biochar, but it may buy us some time.
Comment by Bill Woolverton — 19 Aug 2009 @ 11:17 PM
Ways to baseload solar:
1 don’t do it right away. An initial large chunk of solar energy can provide peak daytime power.
2. CAES (compressed air energy storage)
3. Thermal storage for concentrating solar power (CSP) or thermophotovoltaic or thermoelectric conversion devices
4. various passive solar and residential solar heating applications – thermal storage.
5. Combine CSP with geothermal and biofuels to boost thermal to electrical conversion efficiency and levelive power output.
6. Electrolytic hydrogen production, use in fuel cells or combine with biofuels to convert to methane to feed into existing natural gas infrastructure, put fuel cells in buildings to convert natural gas into electricity and use waste heat
7. use wind and hydroelectric, adjust hydroelectric output to balance variations in wind and solar, and use excess peak solar for desalination and water pumping, and CO2 sequestration or biofuel processing
8. Allow electricity consumption patterns to evolve.
I want to defend BJ_Chippendale here… perhaps it is true that CATS is impossible within our lifetime, but the glittering prize is to place solar power in a location where there is 24/7 constant sunshine. Meaning baseload solar power, without the need of 5x (conservatively) nameplate overcapacity plus double-up storage.
Plenty of engineering challenges… Ray of course sees the problem of radiation for photovoltaics. For concentrating solar, the biggest challenge I see is the radiator needed to provide the cold end of the cycle — it will have to be big. But hey, if nuclear fusion is worth researching, why wouldn’t this be?
The solar satellite power stations might or might not be a good idea. But they would definitely take many years to deploy, and we just don’t have the time. If we don’t do a lot in the next 5-10 years, human civilization is doomed.
Eli, for a rabbit, you can be pretty depressing sometimes. :)
The review article Simon Donner referenced (and B&L maybe should have) takes into account the double whammy from global warming and acidification, and considers three coral-reef scenarios over the next century, with stabilization at 380ppm, 450-500ppm and >500ppm respectively. It doesn’t sound to me quite as bleak as your conclusion:
If conditions were stabilized at the present [CO2]atm of 380 ppm, … coral reefs will continue to change but will remain coral dominated and carbonate accreting in most areas of their current distribution. (Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007, p. 1740)
The question to Bickel & Lane was about “all or most existing reefs” being “destroyed” by “acidification” from “the CO2 already in the atmosphere”.
If I read correctly, the Cao & Caldeira paper they cite predicts that with stabilization at 380ppm 62% of coral reefs would experience aragonite saturation below the pre-industrial level of 3.5, affecting their calcification ability and long-term stability. At 450ppm, 92%. They predict reef-dissolving undersaturation in parts of the Southern Ocean at 450ppm, but not yet at 400ppm.
My layman’s take would be that there could still be a whopper of a policy-relevant difference between present CO2 concentrations, a low-emissions scenario, and hell in a handbasket.
B. J. Chippindale says, “CATS isn’t even complicated engineering anymore.”
I say “Bullshit!” Jeebus, dude, have you ever looked into what goes into launching a satellite, getting it into position and making it work once it gets there? Do you think this is just about launching frigging Estes rockets?
Patrick 027, don’t forget ocean thermal energy conversion. It bridges the intermittency by using natural heat storage in sea water, which otherwise is a big no-no.
Another thing worth not forgetting is that this isn’t only about electricity. Agriculture needs fertilizer, currently produced with fossil fuel energy, which will run out and/or become “climatologically un-burnable”. One could use the daytime/sunny weather overcapacity of solar to power fertilizer (and other bulk substances of high energy content, like aluminium) factories.
But hey, if nuclear fusion is worth researching, why wouldn’t this be?
I don’t think it’s not worth researching. BJ claims it’s “easy engineering, today”, which is false. It’s something that might, after a lot of research, be doable with difficult engineering quite far in the future.
“One could use the daytime/sunny weather overcapacity of solar to power fertilizer (and other bulk substances of high energy content, like aluminium) factories.”
That’s a marvelous idea, and there are so many others like it available requiring very little adjustment to exploit. Some amateur in Europe recently suggested “over-cooling” frozen food storage facilities with surplus wind energy being poured into the grid during off-hours; his idea was explored, numerated and is now being used to store energy in a strangely counterintuitive way. Frozen foods warehouses gobble electricity; by supercooling them their electrical load can be shed for long periods during daytime.
RE #75, Patrick, another thing I thought about re economics is that according to the social science framework I use, I consider all the dimenions of the human condition (the environmental, biological, social (of which economics is a part), cultural, and psychological) to be analytic distinctions, not concrete distinctions, and each dimension completely interpenetrates all the others and the whole — which is why everything seems economic.
Everything about the human condition is also cultural; everything is also environmental, psychological, etc. No one dimension determines the others, but rather impacts them. It’s sort of more an ecological view than linear determinist view. But it’s not like a concrete system with distinct components, although the analytic dimensions do have distinct properties that cannot be explained by or reduced to the other dimensions. Just as biology cannot be reduced to or explained by chemistry or physics.
Perhaps in the past (but I don’t know when, since now some are saying even early horticulturalists altered the climate thru extensive slash & burn), human behavior did not so extensively impact the environment. But since that is clearly not the case today, then we can say the the cultural, social (incl economics, but also power, and other social sub-dimensions), and psychological interpenetrate and impact the environmental dimension.
I’m just wondering what social (econ, power, kin, friends, social connections, social status, social structural), cultural (ideology, technology, knowledge, beliefs, values, etc), psyhchological (motives/emotions, cognitive content and processes), environmental (as in we’re faced with global warming, etc), and biological (e.g., the stomach) impacts lead some people to come up with fantastic and potentially dangerous or costly geo-engineering schemes, while seeming to ignore our potential to greatly reduce our GHGs through energy/resource conservation/efficiency and alternative energy. I’m not necessarily against such schemes, but only thinking let’s do all we can or make sure we’re doing all we can, while contemplating geo-engineering.
Let’s not use geo-engineering the way hydrogen fuel cell cars from futuristic fantasy land were used to derail a real, working, and immediate solution of electric cars in California.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 20 Aug 2009 @ 2:53 PM
Much, much simplier to make and bury biochar.
Rather lo-tech, that.
Comment by David B. Benson — 20 Aug 2009 @ 4:35 PM
” This means that the path they propose would lead directly to geoengineering, even just to test it,”
I disagree. The basic physics is well-known. The specific result is somewhat chaotic, but fortunately, with SRM there’s no rush. Models and small-scale tests and a decade. After all, it’s mostly side-effects that we’d be testing for. A little chaos can kill a lot of people.
Geoengineering is the new strategy for avoiding/delaying emissions reductions, advocated most strongly (and with fewest caveats) by those in think tanks and organizations most closely associated with climate denialism:
“The new climate denialism is all about trying to make the continued burning of fossils fuels seem acceptable, even after the public has come to understand the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real. That’s why denialists present geoengineering as an alternative to emissions reductions, and couch their arguments in tones of reluctant realism.
One of the earliest political calls for geoengineering was Gregory Benford’s essay Climate Controls, written for the Reason Foundation (you can find out more about their links to the Carbon Lobby and their role in climate denialism here). Benford was explicit that he saw geoengineering as a way to avoid reducing CO2 emissions:
“Instead of draconian cutbacks in greenhouse-gas emissions, there may very well be fairly simple ways–even easy ones–to fix our dilemma. …take seriously the concept of “geoengineering,” of consciously altering atmospheric chemistry and conditions, of mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases rather than simply calling for their reduction or outright prohibition.”
Benford is far from alone. One of the major proponents of geoengineering is the American Enterprise Institute. AEI has a long history of working to deny the scientific consensus on climate change. They have strong ties to the Carbon Lobby (ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond served on the AEI board of trustees, and $1,870,000 from ExxonMobil helped fund their anti-climate work).”
This thread sounds like Romper Room for physicists. Are you guys really concerned about the climate?
And 121, Lynn Vincentnathan, truly, hydrogen fuel cell cars were silly, but electric cars in California are not really a solution when the realities of electric power generation are considered.
Let me guess: You think electricity from a plug is a fuel; lots of people do. Or, you think MPG has any meaning for an electric car without considering the heat engine needed to make the electricity. Or you think electrons have names on them so solar generated electricity can be claimed at night when the car is recharged. Or you think that there is such a thing as a “mix” of energy sources that respond to a new load. Or you think that power companies choose to run the more expensive of their options when a load is added.
Electric motors have a roll as energy conversion devices in cars, but there is a lot more needed to make this a substantial solution.
On top of it all, I would point out that money is a bit short, both in California and the USA. After the cash gusher conquers the recession, there is good reason to think there will be very little money for climate solutions. (Read the recent Warren Buffet letter.)
David #122, if you can make it cheap enough. You have to work with billions of tons of material spread all through the atmosphere, efficiently and cheaply. I honestly doubt that’s less of a challenge than launching into/manufacturing 10^8 tons of coherent hi-tech structures in a zero-g environment :-)
Do you think electrons from renewable sources are ONLY sunlight ones? Do you think that you work 100% of the daylight hours and nobody has thought that you aren’t actually USING your car while you’re at work (few desks accommodate integral carparking indoors…)
And when you BURN something, do you think it gets HOTTER? So isn’t that one (really quite major) difference between an ICE (hot burny block of metal that uses SOME of that hot burny gas to do work) and an electric car (where the motion of electrons produces force and only electrical losses are expressed as heat, )?
On top of it all, money is a bit short only because it is being hoarded by the rich people who are really quite terrified of becoming poor people. Same happened in the great depression of the US: the rich lived, if anything, in a world more kinglike than they had managed before, since the poor may have less to lose but each loss has a greater effect on their life.
Rich guy: I cannot afford five houses!
Poor guy: I cannot afford rent.
Re Lynn (121) and Jim (127),
Electric cars have quite some potential in the long run, also without thinking the things that Jim (most likely wrongly) accuses Lynn of. It’s much more efficient to power a vehicle by electricity than by an ICE. Of course the eventual climate effect depends on what is used to generate the electricity, but I’ve understood that even when coal is used for that purpose, an electric vehicle gets in about the same ballpark as a conventional car (in terms of total CO2 emissions per km). The more gas turbines, or better yet, renewables are used to produce the electricity, the better the electric vehicle is compared to the ICE. For a future where renewables are expected to become more and important in electricity generation, electric cars can serve an important role in balancing supply and demand (with not a little help from smart grids) and in decreasing CO2 emissions resulting from traffic. Please don’t reply by guessing what I think. (sorry for the off topic comment)
A. Steffen (125), Just an aside: Killing an idea just because it (also) comes from people you don’t like because of non sequitur characteristics — ‘no geoengineering because Mr. Ugly over there is suggesting it’ — is just as bad a process. There are plenty of substantive reasons for limiting geoengineering to go around.
Geoengineering ideas are quite a bit less than half-baked. To argue that they represent a realistic solution that obviates the need for CO2 reduction is either irresponsible or disingenuous. You pick.
Why is it much more efficient to power a vehicle by electricity? That efficiency is entirely dependent on the spinning heat engine that actually is linked to the car by electricity. Yes, some are better than others, but the thing that counts is what will be cranked up in response to the car load, not all the stuff that is already running. No, renewables are not close to existing with capacity that puts them in that category. Whatever they are, they will be used without the existence of the electric car and there is no way they can respond.
And yes, CO2 is less with spinning gas turbines, than with coal fired generation of whatever type. Maybe if the price of natural gas stays low we can afford to use more natural gas. Futures traders do not seem to expect that. We can do a lot better with natural gas than just to run turbines with it, combined cycle or single stage turbines.
When money grows on trees, renewables might come up to the job.
When sensible regulators start thinking, (re in California) hydro can do far more about load balancing than the trivial little bit that the utilities would like us to think about.
Yes, the grid can be an important part of a future infrastructure that makes energy sense. If it services a distributed generation network, things begin to make sense.
I dare not guess, so how about telling how electric cars reduce CO2 emissions resulting from traffic? CO2 is still dependent on the energy used by the car, and it will come from a CO2 source somewhere in the global system.
And 129 Mark, those who talk about power from space vehicles, CATS or not, belong in the physics playpen. This has popped up over the years in the space business, but the process of relaying the power to earth has not the slightest grain of sense. Do these folks know that a low earth orbit satellite is in the shadow about half the time. It goes around in about 90 minutes. And there is no conceivable microwave antenna that could collimate the downlinked energy, and microwave power conversion is miserably inefficient. No, radar peak effective radiated power is hardly any energy on the power scale of things. Of course for the playpen crowd, we could use superconducting wires and built slip rings around the earth to couple in the electric power. Sorry for the mean jokes, but sometimes there is a need for harsh criticism.
Ray, to geoengineering as < half-baked and irresponsible solutions, fair point. But I would offer that the various C02 reduction ideas, ingenuously offered or otherwise, are at least as problematic. They require a large number of human beings to agree with each other and change their behavior on a global scale. How baked is that expectation? — Walter
It has been demonstrated to work at good efficiencies (90%-plus). The collimation works too, do the numbers. The receiving rectenna is large, but lets sunlight through and is no worse than the myriad high-voltage lines criss-crossing our countryside today. Many of which it may replace one day.
Martin Vermeer (128) — Biochar goes in the ground, not the atmosphere. :-)
With decent growing conditions, 2 hectares would produce about one tonne of biochar per year. One able worker could probably, in their otherwise spare time, do about ten tonnes of biochar per year. So to be a complete solutioin, need one billion farmers and 20 billion hectares. The first is available, the second might not be.
Comment by David B. Benson — 21 Aug 2009 @ 3:01 PM
136 Martin Vermeer,
Geostationary means that the altitude is 34,000 miles. I am guessing about the wavelength (Lambda) you have in mind.
Collimation gradually stops around 2 x D^2 / Lambda, D being the aperture dimension. Lambda at x-band (10Ghz) is about an inch. So for a 100 ft dish as an example, collimation goes out to about 40 miles. Easily, spherical spreading loss will govern the situation at 34,000 miles. And that is a lot of loss, even for a huge capture area receiving antenna.
I arbitrarily picked 100 ft diameter for the space antenna; keeping the right dimensional shape at larger diameters might be difficult.
I will look at your link to check, but this seems right as a quick response.
I’ll wager some imaginary dollars that while 90% of the juice going into the antenna and crossing free space to another antenna can be recovered, nothing close to 90% of energy entering the complete system gets to the other side. TWT amplifiers are roughly 40-60% efficient at converting electrical energy to microwaves, solid state amplifiers currently 30-40%. The gently sloping part of the curve for obtaining easy gains in efficiency has already been traversed. Both techniques are remarkable achievements but seem unacceptably inefficient for the purpose of sending hard-won juice down to Earth. More, all of the dissipation must be dealt with via radiators.
30 kW over 1 mile at 84% efficiency has supposedly been demonstrated, for an unspecified time duration. Not enough details are provided at the linked Wikipedia page to establish confidence in this report, but ok.
Now scale this to 34,000 miles and a power level of meaningful magnitude.
Then look into the cost of launching a very large satellite into geosync orbit.
Okay, okay. I might be completely wrong, but the guys at the Fox Valley EV Association (that converts ICE cars to EV) told me even if the electricity is from coal burning, the EV emissions are about two-thirds of an ICE car and easier to control at point-source — AND EVs are much cheaper to drive and maintain.
In the mid-90s when I presented the idea of EVs at our church environmental committee meeting to our guest ComEd guy (ComEd was then 75% nuke, 25% coal), he got excited and told us one of their biggest problems was that electricity demand was so high during the day, but low at night, and that IF a significant # of people could get EVs and plug them in at night, ComEd could cut their electricity rate substantially.
And, as I alway say (as I alluded to above in #121), we need to “greatly reduce our GHGs through energy/resource conservation/efficiency and alternative energy.” That means driving less, moving closer to work, running multiple errands, carpooling, offset driving cars by taking public transportation, cycling, walking, etc. So if we could reduce our driving, say, by one-forth, slap a few solar panels on our roofs or car tops or get parking facilities to do so (the FVEVA guys said solar is a clean source (meaning smooth electricity into the batteries, or something), put up a some superquiet mini-wind generators in our yards or wherever feasible and allowable, etc., we might be able to herald in an EV age without too much additional stress or strain on the grid.
EVs are just one solution among many many others. I haven’t written off hydrogen fuel cells or certain biofuels as playing their parts. Not sure, but maybe bring back a few horse and buggies ?? — then the manure could be made into biofuel.
I guess it’s just a guy-thing (or perhaps Western Civilization man thing) to look for a silver bullet solution.
BTW, Jim Bullis’s Miastrada idea looks intreguing.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 21 Aug 2009 @ 4:10 PM
130 Mark said, “I point you to the tests of iron seeding of algal blooms. Worked fine in tests. Models said it was a goer. A bigger test flunked: iron wasn’t the least abundant requirement for life.”
Exactly. A cheap, small-scale test in geoengineering. Perhaps the next test should be using low clouds in the arctic to “replace” ice as it melts? Albedo maintenance seems a reasonable test. It would be cheap and answer a lot of questions too.
“… Here we report observations that clearly contradict the common assumption about symmetric aurora: intense spots are seen at dawn in the Northern summer Hemisphere, and at dusk in the Southern winter Hemisphere. The asymmetry is interpreted in terms of inter-hemispheric currents related to seasons, which have been predicted5, 6 but hitherto had not been seen….”
Trees to Power Their own Wildfire Sensors
By Alex Hutchinson, Published on: December 18, 2008
MIT researchers have discovered that trees carry a (small) charge. Now, green energy takes on new meaning with wildfire sensors powered by the woody plants themselves. Here’s how it works….
… Voltree Power’s big idea started as a rumor on the Internet: If you drive a nail into a tree trunk and another piece of metal into the ground nearby, the claim goes, you can measure a voltage difference between the two. It turned out to be true. Now the startup company is racing to complete prototypes of miniature treepowered forestfire sensors in time for this spring, when it will fieldtest its detection gear during a controlled burn set by the U.S. Forest Service.
You have to consider not just what energy sources are operating at the time of battery/flywheel/whatever recharge, but the net effect – electric vehicles may/can be more efficient in fuel energy to motion, and adding clean energy power any time of day reduces the total day’s worth of fossil fuel consumption, so electric vehicles may make a lot of sense – there is 1. a replacement of petroleum with clean energy + 2. replace clean energy with fossil fuel one time of day in exchange for replacing fossil fuel with clean energy at another time of day (Of course, eventually fossil fuels will be completely phased out, but there are ways to make clean energy into a sufficient baseload power source).
> I arbitrarily picked 100 ft diameter for the space antenna;
The numbers for really proposed powersats are more in the kilometre range, and the rectenna even larger, much larger than beam diameter (a requirement). A very large, modular antenna is no special problem on what will be a very large satellite anyway. Keeping it in shape should not be a problem in the hi-tech era, think adaptive optics.
Doug Bostrom: as a practical data point, your microwave oven does 70% — and there are other losses besides the magnetron. Currently these devices are not being used in a bulk power transmission context and perhaps therefore, high efficiency has not been a design focus.
As an “ad hominem” argument, these things have been documentedly studied for half a century now by reputedly pretty smart people (NASA); don’t you think they had to face the very same, rather obvious objections y’all come up with?
No, it isn’t easy; something worthwhile rarely is.
BTW a historical curiosity: Peter Glaser’s patent:
Comment by Martin Vermeer — 22 Aug 2009 @ 11:19 AM
Lynn Vincentnathan –
I think we generally agree on the tangible things. My point was just that we ultimately do need to compare apples to oranges very often in life, weighed by personally aesthetic value, and economic and moral value, and that, there is some relationship among the different kinds of value – if the economy worked ‘perfectly’ then there might be some constant proportionality of aesthetic to economic value (maybe??), and if all actors were moral, then the free market would tend to maximize moral profit, etc, and if there is some corrective policy, for externalities, etc, that involves a tax or other price signal, in principle the best price signal to use to get the greatest economic benifit would be the external economic cost of that which is being taxed, and the policy we should seek is that where the tax is the moral cost, hence implying a proportionality between economic and moral benifit…
PS another aspect of free markets is that they might ‘solve the equation’ most effectively when the domain is approximately continuous – ie decisions can shift in many small increments – (?).
Ray (133), I think they’re better than half-baked; I would give them an even average of half-baked. Just IMHO. I do NOT think, “…that they represent a realistic solution that obviates the need for CO2 reduction…”
I made a decimal point error in comment #137. A reasonable estimate is 10 tonnes of biochar from 2 hectares. So to make 10 gigatonnes of biochar per year requires but 2 gigahectares of productive land; still a lot.
Comment by David B. Benson — 22 Aug 2009 @ 3:01 PM
145 Martin Vermeer,
I need to explain that the studies you describe do not constitute “really proposed powersats.” To be fair to NASA, it looks like they have had nothing to do with recent chatter on this.
It all comes down to chosing a practical course of action. I based my “obvious” objections on an antenna size that I considered difficult and very expensive.
From having been involved in many satellite programs that cost enormous amounts of money I can confidently assure you that the satellite system here discussed would cost many billions of dollars; vastly more than simply laying solar panels out in the desert. The gain in solar production due to being outside the atmosphere is not close to being enough to justify this large cost multiple.
Why not think about more down to earth possibilities?
April 10, 2009
(Pacific Gas and Electric Company ID U39 E)
Public Utilities Commission of the State of California
Subject: Contract for Procurement of Renewable Energy Resources
Resulting from PG&E’s Power Purchase Agreement with Solaren
I. INTRODUCTION: ;
A. Purpose and Overview
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (“PG&E”) seeks California Public Utilities
Commission (“Commission” or “CPUC”) approval of a power purchase agreement
(“PPA”) that PG&E has executed with Solaren Corporation (“Solaren”)….
… for up to 200 megawatts (“MW”) of Renewables Portfolio Standard (“RPS”)-
eligible energy from a new space solar power project (“Project”) with a ground receiving station in Fresno County, for a term of 15 years. If completed by 2016, the project would deliver an average of 850 gigawatt hours (“GWh”) for the first year of the term, and 1,700 GWh per year over the remaining term of the PPA, which would contribute significantly toward PG&E’s RPS goals after 2016….
RE biochar — pyrolysis of biomass. I’m not sure how that’s done. But I was wondering if it could be done on moringa trees, which grow like weeds in my area up to 30 or 40 feet within a few years. The “wood” in the trunks and branches is very soft & moist. Would that be an okay source for biochar?
Also there is a problem of carrizo cane (bamboolike weeds) growing along the Rio Grande River — it’s an exotic invasive species, but Homeland Security finds it a problem in hiding drug smugglers and undocumented persons. They were planning to poison the whole of the river area with an herbicide, imazapyr, causing who knows how many health problems and harm to the ecosystem. Maybe that carrizo could be turned into biochar ??
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 22 Aug 2009 @ 8:36 PM
Martin Vermeer 22 August 2009 at 11:19 AM
“…as a practical data point, your microwave oven does 70%”
Actually, stimulated by your hypothesis I just measured the efficiency of my microwave oven and it comes out to about 60% when heating a half-gallon of water, about what I’d expect. Lousy, but efficiency does not really matter because solar energy is “free”, right? I’ve said so myself regarding domestic hot water systems. Except, in the space power transmission arena you’re talking about throwing away a sizable fraction of energy you’ve earned in the hardest and most expensive way possible, plus even worse you’ve got to get rid of that energy somehow.
Let’s say you’ve got a space based system with a nice round 100MW input power to the transmission system. How do you get rid of (really optimistically based on non-existent efficiency) 30MW appearing in the form of waste heat? That is a non-trivial problem in a deployment environment where non-productive mass is punishingly expensive.
Presumably if you could divide the transmission duty into a perfectly (so as not waste yet more energy in incoherent arrival at the receive antenna) phased and perfectly enormous array of smaller transmitters integrated w/antennas and passive thermal radiators on the backside of each such module the basic thermal problem could be handled, but you’re then introducing a whole new level of complexity to the system, and of course you’re still orbiting a lot of mass that is useless for the primary intended purpose. And, whoops, maybe the gain of a phased array of small antennas won’t do, meaning we’re stuck with a parabolic antenna with a single feed. So let’s instead build an enormous microwave combiner capable of doing a phase-coherent merge of many transmitter outputs with associated waveguides fabricated so as to present the phase-coherent output of the many transmitters in a phase-coherent way to the input of the combiner. And of course that combiner’s going to mean a reject load leading to even worse efficiency. Can anybody actually build and orbit such an arrangement? No, they can’t, not now and not in the immediately foreseeable future.
So perhaps the plethora of phase coherent little transmitters idea just won’t pan out. That means we’re back to a smaller number of really large transmitters to do any useful amount of transmission, megawatts or many megawatts each, still with a combiner but at least imaginable in terms of mechanical complexity of the RF system. How to cool the transmitters? Passive radiators won’t do; the mass of a passive system for such an array of transmitters is beyond even our capacity for fantasy. So we’d need to pump something through a lighter structure, a lot of something through a large surface area. I’m not even going to bother trying to imagine the resulting arrangement, other than to say it will be neither low in mass nor remotely trouble free. Have you noticed how much time the ISS crew spend on keeping their cooling hardware running? How much power does the ISS dissipate?
“As an “ad hominem” argument, these things have been documentedly studied for half a century now by reputedly pretty smart people (NASA); don’t you think they had to face the very same, rather obvious objections y’all come up with?”
So they have, leading to a complete absence of any completed designs that can be fabricated let alone orbited. Meanwhile, scroll through this list of PV plants currently in operation:
Notice how they all actually exist? Existence is a wonderful thing.
“No, it isn’t easy; something worthwhile rarely is.”
For every thing that is difficult and worthwhile there are many other things difficult and -not- worthwhile. Why spend a dollar on a watt obtained in space and sent to Earth when you can spend the same dollar on a terrestrial system yielding two watts? Because it’s more difficult to get half as much power from space for the same amount of money?
Perhaps there’s some breakthrough on the horizon, and what’s more I suppose just as with many “alternative” systems there may well be contexts where limited deployment of space-based collection systems might overcome their disadvantages. Mostly what I see here is wishful thinking on the part of entrenched interests in the orbital technology arena.
If we’re going to spend money on orbiting climate-related hardware, perhaps we’d better start with actually getting some remote sensing hardware dedicated to climate science lofted, finally. The last major effort in that department failed due to lack of chump-change amounts of money, hardly something that bodes well for fantasies about multi-kilometer dynamic structures of enormous complexity being wished into existence.
Jim, I am a bit disappointed that you, instead of critiquing actual proposals for powersat solutions, are critiquing your own mental image of them, which falls some two orders of magnitude short.
I can see where you’re coming from: when I first heard about Glaser’s proposal, my reaction — well aware of the extreme difficulty and cost of launching anything into space — was the same: they must be kidding. But then I actually looked into the matter.
You are writing it, many are thinking it. I should thank you for providing the opportunity to address these misconceptions.
About launch cost: we’re talking here not about the cost of launching complete powersats — or their parts — from Earth, but about the cost of establishing a space manufacturing facility, presumably using Lunar raw materials. Huge too, but a one-time investment shared by all powerstats together. Are you familiar with O’Neill’s ideas?
Pyrolysis is simply the chemical decomposition that results from heating (in a low oxygen environment). In Africa and much of the rest of the third world, it is the process used to make charcoal. Wood is piled in a large pit and set ablaze. Once you have a good fire going with lots of good coals, woodpile is buried under earth and smoulders for up to a couple of days (I think). The result is a high-carbon/energy, lightweight, low moisture content fuel that can be transported to markets. That’s the low-tech approach.
However, there are lots of “greener” approaches, including, I believe, a solar pyrolysis system Dave Benson has posted about.
Deployment of large systems in space is always a challenge. For a view of what is the current bleeding edge, see the following annimations of deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope sunshield:
It’s about the size of a tennis court and of necessity, very lightweight. Concentrators could be quite lightweight as well, but radiation is a serious concern and possibly a life limiting factor. The main problem with these ideas of space generated power have always been:
1)Lifting the heavy components into space–I don’t see our heavy-lift capability improving much any time soon
2)Making the system either maintenance free or developing the ability to maintain it–Space systems have gotten quite a bit more reliable–to the point where failures tend to be random (Weibull shape~1) rather than age related (Weibull shape>>1). This suggests that further improvements require improved reliability of components and that runs into $$$. There has also been some progress in the idea of robotic maintenance, but this is also a long way off.
In short, I wouldn’t look to the skies for salvation…ever.
GeoEngineering as an alternative to CO2 reduction is one of those no-brainer dumb ideas that a species takes just before it goes extinct. But GeoEngineering as a stop gap for us to simply survive while we try to get the CO2 Genie back in the bottle needs to be on the table. It may be decades before we need these types of extreme measures – as a prvious post said, chemotherapy. But if the choice is between chemotherapy and shuffling off this mortal coil, you try the chemotherapy. But we need to be laying the plans for it now.
Plan A seems to be Copenhagen will be enough, we get an AGREEMENT for a TARGET to reduce CO2 by some by year X. And the Climate Sensitivity wont be too high, and the methane timebomb in the north wont explode, and all the other bad shit wont be too bad and we just scrape through. Personal view. Plan A is already a bust.
And, since Plan Y is the End of Civilisation
And Plan Z is the extinction of Homo Sapiens….
We need a Plan B, C, D… K…R.. etc, just in case. Lots of fallback options.
Since the End of Civilisation & the extinction of Homo Sapiens tend to be kind of permanent, discounting any idea on philosophical grounds seems like rather small world thinking.
Remember. Mother Nature doesn’t do philosophy, morality, ethics, aesthetics. She is the Goddess of Numbers. Get the numbers right, you survive. Get them wrong, your dead. Nothing personal, its just numbers.
O’Neill? Are you being serious? I recall reading The High Frontier when it came out, and being very impressed – I was young and romantic, this looked like a way to escape the terrestrial resource limitations I was already aware of. I thought I still had my copy, but I can’t find it. But from memory, it requires a launch capacity orders of magnitude beyond what is available now, a third of a century on, plus the ability to develop entire new industries, involving untried technologies, in an environment that is inherently hostile to human life (radiation, vacuum, low or no gravity, let alone all the more subtle factors affecting physiology and psychology). Even at the time, the potential pollution from blasting so many rockets through the atmosphere, and the unknown effects of beaming high-power microwaves back did give me pause. Tell me, at the best, what is your estimate for how soon an O’Neill type approach could contribute significantly to our energy needs, and at what cost? Has any serious work been done on this?
“Plan A seems to be Copenhagen will be enough, we get an AGREEMENT for a TARGET to reduce CO2 by some by year X.” – Glenn Tamblyn
I don’t know anyone who thinks Copenhagen will be enough. If the politicians are serious, the diplomats are clever, and we’re lucky, it will: shift the path of greenhouse gas emission growth down significantly, slow the destruction of tropical forests, give a boost to the development and transfer of energy efficiency and low-carbon energy production technologies, foreground the need for demand reduction in rich countries, and show that worthwhile international agreements in this area are possible. All that will give us a few more years to come up with a further, tighter agreement – or more probably, a series of them – and a fundamental change in how the global economy works.
When’–the guys at the Fox Valley EV Association (that converts ICE cars to EV)’ told you that ‘even if the electricity is from coal burning, the EV emissions are about two-thirds of an ICE car and easier to control at point-source’ they were parroting an often stated partial truth that I would characterize as fraud if they knew what they were talking about.
The English language allows some amazingly easy deceit.
The first part of their statement is correct, but they should make clear that they are talking about a typical ICE car. A well built hybrid such as the Prius, and probably the Ford Fusion, is also run on an ICE. And their statement is ABSOLUTELY UNTRUE for such cars. Those who would put large batteries in a Prius trunk are hucksters, in my not at all humble opinion about the matter. The effect of such conversions is to increase the CO2 if coal is the fuel of the incrementally responding generator system and to moderately decrease the CO2 if natural gas is the relevant fuel.
And here Patrick 027 at 144, you are also repeating an often assumed fact that is not correct. There is a big difference between ‘the systems that are operating at the time’ and the EFFECT of charging a battery etc. If we are concerned with CO2 that results from a given action, we are interested in that EFFECT, not some ‘mix’ of operating systems that include systems that will run regardless of the load variations and the systems that will run when a new bunch of electric cars are plugged in. (Some call this a ‘marginal’ response but I think this gets easily misinterpreted. It parallels the idea of a ‘marginal income tax rate’ which refers to the rate charged on an increment of additional income above an existing yearly income.) But yes, as you note, it has a lot to do with the time when charging is done.
A couple years back NRDC and EPRI did a study that briefly mentioned ‘marginal’ response, but went on to ignore that in their study. Fortunately their conclusions also ignored the ‘mix’ so it is possible to glean the facts discussed above about hybrids, coal etc. Our Argonne National Laboratories recently published a study where they mentioned ‘marginal response,’ but completely dropped this in their concluding chart and only offered data for various ‘mixes’. Even so, by including the Illinois mix which is about 70% coal they included a roughly confirming data point.
Anyway, Lynn, thanks for mentioning Miastrada. It is a car, a power production system, and now includes an apparatus to almost eliminate the effect of gravity on vehicle rolling resistance. (I joke that it cancels gravity.) I would suggest that we think about first cutting the CO2 from transportation (about 40% of the present USA emissions from fossil fuels) with this set of solutions. And then get on to a system that doubles or triples the amount of electrical power we get from natural gas, thereby providing a viable option over coal.
And then Martin Vermeer 145 etc and Hank Roberts 150 we can cancel plans to colonize the moon.
I offer ‘down to earth solutions” that might even fit into the USA budget that Warren Buffet would approve of for the future when the recession is fixed.
The low-tech carbonisation using mud mounds is very inefficient (low yield)and polluting in smoke (black carbon) that is problematic.
Other more efficient technology is capital intensive but there is a promising technology developed here (South Africa) but needing further development.
I am trying to sell the concept to the govt’s “working for water” programm where millions are being spent in bio-diversity and water resource protection (invasive and alien species removal). You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want.
I’ve just followed Hank Roberts’ link, and am also very surprised. I will be still more surprised (but pleased) if this system is actually constructed in anything like the time suggested (by 2016), and operates reliably. What, if any, are the health and environmental implications of beaming that much RF energy through the atmosphere?
Lomborg et al.’s proposal to inject sulfates into the atmosphere can be characterised as “chemotherapy for the planet”.
Three points about chemotherapy:
It’s a last resort.
Frequently, it does not work.
Frequently, it makes the patient worse.
In modern times, oncologists are actually very good at predicting whether chemotherapy will improve a patient’s quality of life (or chances of survival, depending on the patient’s wishes). As a result, when recommended by an oncologist, it’s almost always better than the alternative, because it’s so well understood that oncologists know when to recommended it.
Putting sulphate aerosols in the mesosphere (or stratosphere, where they likely won’t remain as long) is not well-understood, except for periods of less than about 5 years (which can be understood by comparison with volcanic events). No, chemotherapy is not a good analogy for aerosol injection.
I know it’s off topic here, but for a more realistic view of chemotherapy, please read this .
Hank 150 Jim Bullis 163
Disbelief is the word. It’s insane.
And in these discussions on “economic viability” just what assumptions are being made? The old model is irrevocably broken so how can we even compare apples with apples? Cradle to grave? Social___n of costs? Assumed continual growth possible when we know we have reached the limits to growth? Mort__ing (to bypass spam filter) our children’s future?
Is not the point of Gavin’s post that whether a project of whatever kind makes sense or not depends on the assumptions made? Surely we’ve got to get back to Schumacher’s “small is beautiful” thinking. The idea of “economies of scale” has had it’s day and only made the rich richer and the poor poorer. We’ve lost our moral compass (if we ever had one).
Surely we don’t have to go through pages of economic analyses and various scenarios to intuitively know in our heart of hearts that this is just more of what’s got us into trouble in the first place.
We should be talking about the necessary energy descent and how we can make the landing as soft as possible.
We can start by making friends with our neighbours, perhaps.
Ocean acidification in Alaska
By Anne-Marin Nisumaa
New findings show increased ocean acidification in Alaska waters
The same things that make Alaska’s marine waters among the most productive in the world may also make them the most vulnerable to ocean acidification. According to new findings by a University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist, Alaska’s oceans are becoming increasingly acidic, which could damage Alaska’s king crab and salmon fisheries.
This spring, chemical oceanographer Jeremy Mathis returned from a cruise armed with seawater samples collected from the depths of the Gulf of Alaska. When he tested the samples’ acidity in his lab, the results were higher than expected. They show that ocean acidification is likely more severe and is happening more rapidly in Alaska than in tropical waters. The results also matched his recent findings in the Chukchi and Bering Seas.
“It seems like everywhere we look in Alaska’s coastal oceans, we see signs of increased ocean acidification,” said Mathis.
About this blog
This blog was started in July 2006 as a “one man” effort. As from 2008, it is a product of EPOCA, the European Project on Ocean Acidification. Its only ambition is to centralize information available on ocean acidification and its consequences on marine organisms and ecosystem. By no means it is meant to be comprehensive but I am trying to provide an unbiased view of the literature and media articles. The owner of this blog does not endorse all the information published.
This blog is presently coordinated by:
Jean-Pierre Gattuso, CNRS Senior Research Scientist
CNRS-University of Paris VI, France
Email: — at the main link —
—- end excerpts—
except, thanks to them (click their link)
I find the US is beginning to make a similar effort to reach the blog-reading public:
The U.S. Ocean Carbon & Biogeochemistry (OCB) Project has launched the OCB Ocean Acidification web site.
31 July 2009
Lynn Vincentnathan (151) — Yes biochar is the result of pyrolysis of any biomass, the drier the better. When wood is the biomass, the result is often called charcoal. As Ray poins out, it can be done very lo-tech, but there are several companies making more modern pyrolysis units, including one mounted on a 13 m (40 ft) trailer to move to the source of the biomass. These modern units capture the pyrolysis oils. These oils can be used for heating as is or else readily refined into transportation fuels.
Your trees and the invasive species along the Rio Grande will both make fine sources of biomass for pyrolysis. Wood usually needs to be cut and sun dried for some time before turning into charcoal.
Comment by David B. Benson — 23 Aug 2009 @ 5:58 PM
#160, well, some of us are on 100% wind power, like myself, so we’d like to have affordable EVs available on the market, so we can drive on the wind (hopefully the bird-kill problem will be solved soon). I was very disappointed in the 90s when I found out the auto companies only leased their EVs to Californians (and I couldn’t buy one), and totally horrified when they crushed them to smitherines.
If I weren’t so busy with work and other commitments, I think I’d like to do as the FVEVA guys did — convert my own ICE to a purely EV. It’s not that difficult, they told me… There’s not fancy regenerative braking or anything, but creating a 30 mile range EV out of an old ICE is not that hard (30 miles is about 20 miles more than I drive in a day). Step One: You either buy an ICE car that has a blown engine, or one with a good engine, then sell the engine.
So in about 4 yrs when I retire, I may do just that, convert an ICE into an EV, since I don’t think EVs will ever come to the Rio Grande Valley, where I live.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 23 Aug 2009 @ 8:29 PM
Jim Bullis #160. I think that your statements to Lynn Vincentnathan and Patrick 027 are either very confusing or untrue. If you wish to inspire confidence in your statements, I think you will have to explain how much CO2 emissions would be reduced, relative to more conventional low drag coefficient autos that are in service and proposed, by your low drag car idea when the mean and median US car trip is less than 26 mph, and 75% of trips are less than 36 mph. It seems that you should be advocating bullet trains for long distance travel and EVs for everything else for the best overall CO2 emissions mix now, and for the best preparation for future renewable energy solutions.
Hank Roberts points to Pacific Gas and Electric agreeing to take power from a satellite beamed downward. The point is that PG&E does not pay a cent until the power is delivered. In other words, except for the lawyer who drew up the papers, this is no cost to them.
This sort of idiocy pervades power companies and would be harmless except for how it distorts other’s thinking about energy and climate change. Electrical coops have agreed to take power from all sorts of strange guys with propeller beanies.
Even at the time, the potential pollution from blasting so many rockets through the atmosphere, and the unknown effects of beaming high-power microwaves back did give me pause.
Yes, valid issues. Some tests have been done on the microwave/ionosphere issue, but of course nothing on the scale needed.
Note that this is an issue with any technology that brings huge energy streams into the Earth system. Not so long ago on this blog someone asked about the effect of large wind turbine deployments on atmospheric wind currents. This should be weighed against what is going on now, the cumulative switching of ever greater natural energy streams by the greenhouse effect. There are orders of magnitude difference here.
My concern at the time was the effect on radio astronomy, and the effect on the night sky of a ring of permanently brightly-lit satellites. But that’s just me ;-)
Tell me, at the best, what is your estimate for how soon an O’Neill type approach could contribute significantly to our energy needs, and at what cost?
Too long, if we start now. But technology has developed in the meantime, and I suspect that the space manufacturing part could be done in a way that doesn’t put a lot of humans in space.
Nick Gotts #165: I am also very suspicious about this. It’s a 200 MW plant, meaning (at photovoltaics efficiency) a SQUARE KILOMETER of solar cells. That’s one big satellite… curse those confidential appendices. My feeling is, this beast isn’t even launchable at current technologies.
NASA could possibly pull this off — at Apollo-level funding. A private company? No way.
David B Benson 170 .
“more modern pyrolysis units, including one mounted on a 13 m (40 ft) trailer to move to the source of the biomass”
Is that the technology being touted by a Canadian company in BC? If so, it’s probably the technology that was invented in South Africa. Big cost is transport – getting the biomass to the carboniser, so mobile units do have potential but other infrastucture also needed – e.g. chippers and storage for drying. Miosture content needs to be less than 30% for the South African continous process to be self-sustaining once running. That is, to not need any additional energy input other than a small amount required to drive a circulating fan and a hydraulic ram (to push drums of bio-mass through the carboniser. Potential for exploiting the excess energy in the off-gases that are presently just burnt. Exceptionally high yields – >45% mass/mass based on pine with about 25% moisture. Very high quality charcoal. Presently made into briquettes for leisure market.
Yes, the PG&E thing has a lot of us in their area scratching our heads — point is you should know about this kind of thing, and it’s easy to find these things out — when discussing the subject.
Our memory only works backward from the moment we last learned something relevant to the topic. Looking things up each time vastly improves what we know about.
As to PG&E, and whatever else turns up on the public record, you always have to keep in mind that _some_ of this stuff is sock puppets.
Example: Look up the Glomar Explorer — built under a cover story that it was going to be used to harvest manganese nodules from the deep ocean. That set off the international effort to deal with technology owned by a single nation that could take resources from outside the national boundaries, operating in places no other nation could reach. The USA has now, decades later, gotten interested in actually signing the resulting Law of the Sea Treaty — because the Russians have access to the Arctic basin now that it’s melting. But the Law of the Sea Treaty was an accidental consequence of the manganese nodule cover story, which was just made up to explain building the ship, and never intended to actually lead to anything of the sort.
Build a huge solar array in space, something vastly larger than the panels on the ISS that the astronauts have struggled for almost a decade to bring up to full operating spec and only finally managed a year so ago??
Well, what could they be thinking?
What could you do with any of the different components that might get funded, ostensibly to create such a system? Like the launchers. Like the real estate. Like the huge ground antenna system. Like the solar panels. Like the transmitter meant to be orbited? Now, what _else_ could you do with any of those, if you didn’t care about the waste involved in throwing the rest away?
Do read up on the Glomar Explorer, it’s easy enough to find nowadays.
Then think again about geoengineering. What could they be thinking.
No, what _else_ could they be thinking ….?
Who knows — you saw the reports about asymmetric aurora confirming the idea of a global electrical flow? Remember Nikola Tesla wrote about that?
All I’m saying here is — don’t get hung up on the facts you know.
Look the subject up, go beyond assuming what Google shows you is all there is. Then think about it.
Reality is what, when you quit believing in it, doesn’t go away (P.K. Dick)
Also, reality doesn’t go away whether you imagine it, believe it, or not.
Just — keep looking things up before proclaiming what you know, eh?
We’ll move faster if we all keep looking _outside_ our own limited memories.
PS part of the logic for repacing some petroleum with solar power is monetary. I think there are actually monetary savings to be made now (even without a cap/tax/tariff/trade/credit/subsidy policy, or further progress in technology) if the fossil fuels replaced by solar power include a sufficient fraction of oil – even though this will result in a smaller decrease in CO2 emissions, it will still be a decrease, and thus better than doing nothing, and really does not get in the way of still bringing CO2 emissions down to zero eventually.
Conventional “low drag coefficient autos” have drag coefficients of .25 or more. The airship shape I advocate has a well established drag coefficient of .05. That is a big difference. Then we get another factor of two since my approach involves tandem seating which cuts the frontal area by about a half. This does not matter much under 26 mph.
However, the number of miles traveled as a function of speed is a very different statistic from the speed of the “average trip.” Your average trip is also not a big energy using event, nor is it a big CO2 producer.
I am more interested in the kind of travel that makes transportation a large part of man-made CO2 emissions in the USA; about 40% according to the EIA Annual Energy report. Automobiles and SUVs (light trucks) make up about 64% of this. The “urban driving cycle” has quite a few miles at higher speeds than 26 mph. The highway cycle is way faster.
For those that drive under 26 mph, don’t worry.
172 Lynn Vincentnathan,
Electric power is fine under 26 mph.
But being 100% on wind power is a bit mystifying. Do you have a wind turbine of your own? If so, you would do better for CO2 to sell the power to the grid than use it to charge an electric car, especially if it does not have regenerative braking.
I hope you are not being tricked by the utility game of getting people to pay for wind machines on the pretense that they will be delivered only wind power. Analyze this by thinking about where the power will go if you do not use it in an electric car. Then consider how things will change if you buy an EV. No, the wind turbine will produce at its best regardless of what you do. Your EV will get power by action of the utility to fill that load in the cheapest possible way.
When you realize that coal will be the most probable fuel used, it will then be clear that the EV has to be well designed to avoid making a real mess of things. Even with natural gas as the fuel, if the EV does not have regenerative braking, the net CO2 due to operation of that EV will be about the same as if an ICE was used to push the car.
Hugh Laue (177) — The one I was thinking of is from a small company in Ontario. I’ve also seen adverts for skid mounted pyrolysis units from a company in Colorado; that should also work as a mobile by lifting the unit onto a large trailer.
Rather related is an op-ed in today’s TNYT proposing vertical farms; 3 to 5 story buildings devoted entirely to farming. Doing that just to grow biomass for biochar might not be economic yet, but seriously decreases the land area required. I estimate over 50 tC/ha/yr and the advantage of a fixed pyrolysis unit on the ground floor.
Comment by David B. Benson — 24 Aug 2009 @ 4:19 PM
Jim Bullis – I appreciate that a coal electric powered EV could emit CO2 than an ICE, but there may yet be an advantage if it is easier to replace fossil fuel usage in power plants than in mobile usage. (PS if a car gets better mpg because the engine itself is more efficient at converting fuel energy to mechanical energy, than great; however, increasing the efficiency by decreasing drag at a given speed (air and rolling resistance), that would reduce emissions whether it is an EV, PHEV, HEV, or ICE vehicle, and thus by itself would not make ICE better in comparison. I appreciate that, if an HEV uses an ICE to generate electric power which is sent to individual motors for each wheel to reduce transmission losses (if the mechanical to electrical to mechanical energy conversion is more efficient than the mechanical to mechanical … etc.), and also utilizes regenerative breaking, then it can’t be said that running the same car on grid electricity would increase efficiency, and might perhaps decrease fuel efficiency, depending on the ICE and the power plant considered, and the losses from conversion of electricity back to stored energy. However, there are also indirect energy uses to consider – there is the issue of electrical storage, but also the advantage of reduced maintenance costs with electric cars…)
“I hope you are not being tricked by the utility game of getting people to pay for wind machines on the pretense that they will be delivered only wind power. ”
This doesn’t make much sense. If you are being charged for wind power, then you are responsible for wind power – your price signal supports wind power; you are making it happen – it doesn’t matter whether your charge*voltage is from the wind turbines or not, the fact will be that you are paying for power from wind turbines and those wind turbines are producing power in the amount you use, or some fraction thereof depending on the rate you pay (or the other way around) if the payment system is set up right – Now, of course a utility could try to cheat a customer, but that could happen with anything – it’s not particular to the issue.
If the utility uses a real time pricing system, then electrical prices will rise when demand goes up in proportion to capacity of controllable power sources plus the power supply of unstored wind and solar power, etc., and I appreciate that this sends a price signal to the market that encourages greater investment in power sources that more closely meet temporal patterns in demand or are available when unstored wind and solar, etc, tend not to be. If you are paying for a mix of energy that is x % wind and solar at all times, you would have to pay an extremely high price when the sum of wind and solar supplies is low to offset the effect of real time pricing so as to prevent investment in or encourage removal of non wind and non solar, etc, to meet energy needs at those times (although there would be a partial effect from paying a lower rate still above the rate for the average energy mix, and also, higher prices at those times are also a market signal for investment in energy storage as well as well as changing usage patterns for those things that can be changed easily – and these processes will reduce the costs necessary to get a given percentage of power from wind and solar at those times). However, you could pay for x % wind and solar in total, which might involve a high percentage of fossil fuels, nuclear, geothermal, hydroelectric, biofuel power during cloudy calm cold days and calm cold nights in winter, but perhaps a very high percentage – of solar on a clear summer midday (even when everyone’s air conditioner is running). For example, If I payed the cost for installing and running a solar power system and it’s associated transmission costs, etc, minus the costs of fossil fuel electricity that is replaced (which depends on the time of day solar power is used), plus the rate for the remaining portion of non-solar electricity that I used, I would be responsible for the supply of solar power, however distributed in time, in addition to my remaining responsibility for other power sources, reduced in proportion to their reduction.
Bottom line: If someone uses a PHEV or EV and plug it in at certain times of the day, the person uses more of the energy available at those times (PS some might be during the day while at a job if the infrastructure is there to support it), but there is also a non-usage of oil. If the monetary savings are used to buy solar electricity during the day, etc, and wind, etc, then some other fossil fuels may be displaced. At first, the displacement may be largely natural gas, as the total fossil fuel usage is reduced mainly in the daytime, but as solar power increases to provide more and more of daytime power, then more natural gas, and biofuels, and less coal, might be used at night (the baseload power plant capacity would be reduced).
I am working to understand your last sentence that makes a connection between natural gas saved in the daytime with the irrational (my characterization) market choices you say “might” happen at night.
I am unaware of a “real time pricing system.” I think that pricing is set by Public Utility Commissions on fairly simple schedules which then leave actual operations to the Utility Companies which try to operate profitably. The Commissions impose political values which might or might not make sense.
The rest of your discussion seems to not relate to the idea of “marginal response” or as I call it, ‘incremental response.’
When you say, “When you are charged for wind power you are responsible for wind power,” I have to object to your logic. You are charged for power and that is that. If they tell you that you are paying specifically for wind power, that is only a marketing fantasy. I prove this logically by noting that the wind power, once the system is constructed, is produced regardless of what you do. (They do not put electrons in a pile with your name on it waiting for you to plug in a car.) I try to suggest that any action you take to help produce electricity is fine, but it is a separate action from how you buy power.
Be aware that Jim Bullis is pushing a particular solution involving the products his company makes. He denigrates and argues against any other energy source or solution at all. His arguments seem to make sense until you analyze them closely. But he’s entirely agenda-driven.
Qualifying that: depends on what you mean by “serious”. Surely you’ve noticed the writing going on about “space elevators” made from nanotubes. That’s yet another path for cheap access to space — if it can be made to work. “Serious”? You tell me.
Your point about the Glomar Challenger is well taken. It did occur to me after writing #166 that this could be a cover for some space-based weapons system. What did you mean about the asymmetric aurora? Interesting in itself, but what’s the relevance here?
I guess by “serious” in this context I mean using existing or near-term technology, with at least some attempt at calculating time and costs, and without the assumption that everything will go right (because it won’t). So space elevators – no.
In that part, I was considering what happens on the system-wide level as more solar and wind capacity are added, with the reasonable expectation that the temporal fluctuations of wind + solar will be dominated by solar supply variations (but wind can/will reduce the fluctuation overall).
Right now, so far as I know, the greatest electrical energy demand occurs on hot summer days, though there may be a secondary peak demand at times during the winter, and this could change with a switch to electrical heat pumps and various efficiency measures that have seasonally-dependent effects, etc. (Anticipating secondary or primary peaks in demand on cold winter nights (electrical heat pumps) and winter mornings and especially evenings (lighting)).
Because of the greater expense of electricity when there is peak demand, consumers are encouraged to make greater usage of baseload power at lower demand times, for example, by producing ice at night for daytime cooling. With increased reliance on solar power, such adaptations would become obsolete, but other adaptations would become useful.
Solar power will initially benifit by generally replacing more expensive electricity from peak power plants run on natural gas. The effect on baseload coal power plants may be small, so the CO2 reduction will be less than what it could otherwise be. However, planning for a future where solar will provide a large fraction of daytime power, it could be better to keep peak plant capacity online, because eventually, on the more sunny days, there would be no peak plant output left to replace, so that baseload power would be replaced. Eventually fossil fuel baseload plant capacity would be reduced while peaking plants could get greater use at night than the daytime. Of course, rather than keeping current natural gas plant capacity, this could be replaced by CAES storage and solar/wind powered hydrogen fuel cell, variable hydroelectric and peaking geothermal, and biofuels (algae, native grasses and wildflowers, used coffee grounds and paper plates and napkins, banana peels, crop residues and spoiled/damaged crops, sewage, sawdust, etc.).
Adding a tax on CO2 into the mix would make removal of coal power come sooner than otherwise, etc.
“For example, If I payed the cost for installing and running a solar power system and it’s associated transmission costs, etc, minus the costs of fossil fuel electricity that is replaced (which depends on the time of day solar power is used), plus the rate for the remaining portion of non-solar electricity that I used, I would be responsible for the supply of solar power, however distributed in time, in addition to my remaining responsibility for other power sources, reduced in proportion to their reduction.”
Or maybe the math is a bit more complex…
But what you (Jim Bullis) wrote: “noting that the wind power, once the system is constructed, is produced regardless of what you do. (They do not put electrons in a pile with your name on it waiting for you to plug in a car.)”
Agreed in an intantaneous sense, but if more people are willing to pay for wind, then the utility has an incentive to supply more wind power, assuming they are not cheating, which is a general issue not specific to to whether one can have responsibility for reducing CO2 emissions via paying for electricity from a different supply. Consider the sentence that came right after that:
“I try to suggest that any action you take to help produce electricity is fine, but it is a separate action from how you buy power.”
So consider instead a situation where instead of paying extra for wind power through the utility, you pay extra directly for wind power. Maybe it is not the power you use, but you did it – you contributed to the effort to displace some other energy source with wind. Thus you have done something to reduce CO2 emissions assuming you did not just replace solar, etc. (Ultimately we do need policies to drive the overall swictch, not just isolated voluntary actions). If that is the same CO2 emitted for supplying the electrons you used, than you’ve basically offset your emissions. Yes, there is the complexity that if enough people do this, you can no longer benifit from the grid as a storage mechanism, so there is some adjustment to be made in how much you can claim to have offset your own emissions, but, if your isolated action reduced CO2 emissions by some amount, maybe it is not all of your emissions but the emissions of some other people as well – it is a gift to others to reduce their emissions that you can still claim as your own action and responsibility; if one wanted to forgo this charity, you would only have chosen to pay for as much wind power capacity such that the wind supply from that capacity would never exceed at any moment in time your own energy usage. Still, there is room for some averaging – your average daily and seasonal usage pattern is appropriate, because when many people do the same thing, their aggregate power usage per person will be such an average, not so sensitive to the spikes and dips of individual actions such as flipping a single light swictch or deciding to use the microwave at a different time of day; furthermore, your indirect energy usage such as through the goods and services you buy likewise should be considered to vary over time with the the usage of the industries involved, because, as with electrons, individual goods (less so for services, but the logic for personal use averaging for an average day, average season for the given weather conditions (not the average weather conditions over time, because those affect everyone at the same time – some averaging over space is allowed depending on transmission distances, etc.) would still apply) are not generally produced with your name on it – and even if they were, the same logic applies as for personal usage. And so on for your use at your job (minus that portion which is the responsibility of the consumers and stock holders/owners, etc, unless you are the owner, of course (it would be distributed according to how wages and profits are distributed, etc.).
“….Cummer … online August 23 in the journal Nature Geoscience.
… caught a one-second view and magnetic field measurements
…. visible electric discharges extending from the top of a storm to the edge of the ionosphere provides an important new window on processes in Earth’s global electrical circuit ….
Just saying, adding a lot of sulfate to the large-scale geoengineering changes in the atmosphere already done (CO2, persistent organic and inorganic new chemicals), while we’re still finding out such astonishing things about massive global energy flows in the upper atmosphere, seems premature.
And, hey, what if Tesla was right and a tiny fraction of those energy flows could indeed be tapped?
Maybe all you’d need is a huge antenna array in space, and the current grid on the ground, and an electrical potential difference between them, and a conductor between them like a space elevator tether or even a laser ionization channel, and …. hmmmm ….
Looking stuff up can be useful, as with uncovering the PGE proof of incompetence.
However, flopping back and forth between low earth orbit and geosync for any dopey “powersat” con game needs some fundamental understanding of orbits which can come from reading a bunch of stuff, or listening to someone who actually has read it, used it for years in designing systems and still(mostly) remembers it, like myself and apparently Doug Bostrom.
Simply put, low earth orbit systems require a constellation of many (20 to 100 up) to provide the same coverage as can be accomplished with 2 or 3 geosynch vehicles. The penalty for geosync is launch cost, along with vehicle size and complexity. Relative to the size of the vehicle a large area of solar cells is required, proportionately, just to keep the vehicle going. It is truly mind blowing nonsense to think of carrying enough solar cells to actually have enough power left to overcome transmission losses and still do anything meaningful. Fire up an LED light for $10 Billion? — that would be some proof of concept.
187 Nick Gotts,
Nope, a cover story has to have some semblence of credibility. When slightly knowledgeable people fall off their chairs laughing, that is not a sign of a good cover story.
185Barton Paul Levenson says:
25 August 2009 at 5:24 AM
“Be aware that Jim Bullis is pushing a particular solution involving the products his company makes. He denigrates and argues against any other energy source or solution at all. His arguments seem to make sense until you analyze them closely. But he’s entirely agenda-driven.”
Holy baloney Barton Paul Levinson, these are rough charges. Do I have a right to remain silent? Well, forget that — silence is not my style. I plead, one at a time:
Miastrada Company has not made anything except some special parts in order to check out some manufacturing questions. It has gathered parts in preparation for building an experimental model car.
There has not been a nickel of profit. Some money has been spent on patent filing fees (losses so far, that can be tax deductions)
I presently have several solutions that could make major sense in reducing CO2 by a very large amount. These are:
(1) a high efficiency vehicle that will enable fast, safe, and comfortable transportation as we have come to expect it. It would replace cars as we know them, so cost would be minimal. Overall a aerodynamic drag coefficient of about .07 looks reasonable to expect, based on extensive wind tunnel data that is well documented and available to all. (start at http://www.miastrada.com and look at the Freeman paper.) I found a way to use the well known airship in a road capable arrangement with wheels that do not cause much additional drag, which is the only new thing I claim.
(2) a power generating concept using specifically these cars or others of similar efficiency in a distributed system that stops the present practice of throwing away heat from heat engines in power plants.
(3) a gravity defeating hybrid wheel concept that makes trucks as efficient as trains by mostly eliminating rolling resistance of tires on roads. No, it does not cancel gravity; it just cuts Cr (rolling resistance coefficient) by about 90%
Together, these things are my agenda GUILTY AS CHARGED. But by the way, if they were adopted on a large scale about half of the man made CO2 in the USA would be stopped.
Since I think there are some real answers I am impatient with fools that get in the way. The problem is that getting people to adopt real solutions is monumentally difficult, even if they are well grounded in basic physics principles. The list of nonsensical proposals gobbling up cash is endless. All of these that are false hopes make it easy for people to do their business as usual without making a slightest attempt to even consider changing simple ways of doing things. (Like riding in tandem in a car instead of side by side.)
So please lay out the “closely analyzed” facts that you assert that you know. I will try to be nice.
Jim, 193, your post does nothing to counter the accusation. That you have made no profit doesn’t mean you are not panhandling now. In fact, it bolsters it.
That you dismiss with no support anything against your ideas (which you are selling) and make up really weird and unsupported stuff like “electric cars are OK until 27mph” (WTF? Where did THAT come from???) also boslters BPL’s case and hammers yours.
OR would you like to, you know, argue your case with supported statements instead of unsupported ones.
That 27 mph was a bit of a leap. Ok. Simple answer for constant speeds: For a given drag coefficient and frontal area the power required due to aerodynamic drag goes up as velocity cubed. Force is Cd x A x rho x vel squared /2. rho is air mass density. Energy needed is force times distance. Power is rate of energy delivered so it ends up Power is Cd x A x rho x vel cubed /2. Cd for the latest Prius is said to be .25 and the frontal area is about 30 sq ft. I use 120 feet per sec (82 mph) for my basic planning so, this works out to 109 lb. at that speed, and it would be about 27 lb. at 41 mph.
For the other big part of the problem, rolling resistance force is Crr x total vehicle weight so energy for a trip is distance times that force. Crr for rubber tires is .01 and weight is about 3000 lb. so that force works out to be about 30 lb. approximately at any speed, 26, 41 or 82 mph.
At 82 mph drag forces are large but at 26 mph we are down to quite a small drag force that is mostly due to rolling resistance, so you achieve about the lowest energy use possible for a given trip by going this 26 mph speed.
My premise is that using the least possible energy is the best course of action. Since that is accomplished by limiting speed, my concept will do nothing for those driving at that speed and nothing for the environment. Most folks want to drive a lot faster, so that is my main interest.
Because the electric motor will be powered from coal it is still not a great thing, but since it is using a relatively small amount of energy, the importance of that fact is much diminished. If regenerative braking was not well implemented in the plug-in car, the environment might be a lot better off if the trip was made in a Prius; otherwise about the same. However, it does not make much sense to spend that much money to buy that more complicated machine when the actual amount of energy up for saving is so low.
Where did I get the part about the Prius? See the coal fired CO2 result in the NRDC-EPI study of about two years ago. You can get it at my website.
So do you suppose this addresses the analysis that BPL was thinking about? I think he was mostly just lecturing me for being critical. I can not understand why an agenda focused on cutting CO2 would be a problem for anyone at this Realclimate site.
I think I described my motivations. You can call it panhandling if you like, but actually, I am not soliciting anything except discussion. Doesn’t panhandling mean begging for something like money?
Maybe I am more looking to open people’s minds to new possibilities, and at the same time trying to counter alternate actions that will fail at cutting CO2 and wear out public interest in the subject.
For me, it’s not that I am against your solutions (though getting people in many countries to accept 30 mph speed limit seems implausable for long distance highway travel, at least as much as getting people to pay more for an EV/PHEV with regenerative breaking, etc., especially if for the EV there is some payback in reduced maintenance costs as well as other paybacks).
It’s that your criticisms of some other idea(s) (such as what I discuss – I lean ‘your way’ with the space-based power solutions but I’m not studying that idea in detail so my opinion there shouldn’t count for a lot) seem a bit off the mark.
Do you understand the point I made about how you can be responsible for reducing CO2 consumption by paying for wind power even if it is not the same electrons that you yourself use (or that were used at the specific hour of the day that a particular industry was producing the particular unit of __ which you purchased, etc.)? And also the economic point, that savings from a switch a way from petroleum could help boost solar power and put us on the right track (or closer to it) even if the direct petroleum usage is replaced in large part by coal electricity in the short term (and of course, relying on individuals to use the savings in that way will not take us as far as we need – I support policies to get us there, of course)?
We really missed the right number on speed. I am promoting only fast cars where basic design speed is 82 MPH. I look for yet faster speeds made possible by a highly efficient aerodynamic configuration.
I was talking about 27 MPH or something like that as a crossover point below which aerodynamics did not matter very much. For people who make mostly short trips this might be a reasonable choice given the whole issue of accomplishing the most for the money.
As to criticizing things that are damaging distractions, that seems necessary if we are trying to do more than talk about global warming solutions.
As to buying wind power; I think I understand what you are saying but continue to disagree. Yes, I tend to get a little annoyed with the wind thing, having lived through the history of wind power from the past. Yes, scaling up might make a valid difference, but the real numbers continue to suggest that this is another government subsidy goldrush. I particularly object to draining public money supply for poorly considered ventures when there seem to be some other things that need to be done.
So “buying wind power” seems to me to be simply financing of wind projects. What you own in return for your invested money is a right to receive something of value which is electricity. If you feel good about financing wind power, great. How will the wind generators be used?; to generate power whenever it can be done. Since fuel cost is zero, there will be no holding back when the wind blows. This will go on no matter what you do about using electricity. If they tell you that you are using wind power, they are deceiving you; they are of course happy that you invested and even happier that you are willing to accept so little for your investment.
Now, when you plug in an EV there will be an added load. Various adjustments will be made to handle this, starting with some field adjustments in the generator followed with increasing fuel flow where it can be done, and then bringing on a peaking generator system. Maybe that is all that will happen the first night. However, the second night they will be expecting your load so there will be a little more coal fired power on line in anticipation, so not so much of the more expensive natural gas will be required. But more certain than anything, they simply will not be able to fill the load with added wind power; that is already fully utilized at whatever level the wind allows. Your EV decision should be a separate decision based on what happens if you plug one in; not some power company financing chicanery. Is this too harsh to call this a con game?
Actually, for paying a utility for wind power, the analogous behavior would be paying for a wind power supply to the grid, selling that to the utility at the grid prices, and buying electricity from the grid at grid prices. If the wind power is more expensive, you’d have a financial loss, which is what you are paying for reducing the CO2 output, and roughly equal to the extra amount you should pay to the utility for providing the same wind power (with some adjustments – a little extra for the convenience that they are managing it, with some savings if their economy of scale and experience, etc, allows them to do it more efficiently).
Regarding Jim Bullis’ remarks about drag, it’s not really even necessary to do the numbers to understand his basic point. Jump on a bicycle and try pedaling at 10mph. Next try 25mph. It requires a highly conditioned rider to travel for any distance on a bicycle moving at 25MPH. What changed?*
The concept appears to exceed the practical elasticity of our human nature but it’s pretty reasonable to surmise that for many vehicular miles traveled a 30mph limit would cause little or no impact on “quality time”. Because we insist on moving to and from work in large herds crammed onto roadways that are too large most of any 24 hour period and too small for the balance of time remaining in a day, much commuter traffic moves at aerodynamically efficient speeds. Unfortunately due to our herd psychology commuter traffic also is rarely moving at a constant velocity, so the aerodynamic savings of low speed are more than gobbled up by whatever means of friction are employed to maintain the coherence of the sluggishly flowing river of automobiles, our correct yet nonsensical arrival times at work, etc.
*(That experiment leads to one of the few good reasons I can think of to go to the Moon other than astronomy: Velodromes! Imagine the fun of pedaling around a track at arbitrarily high speeds! Of course the curves would have to be of very large radius lest riders and frames be crushed by centrifugal force but then there’s no shortage of real estate.)
Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company 26 August 2009 at 5:50 PM
Leaving aside that wind generation plants are vacuuming up a lot of private money in spite of not enjoying some of the same financial artifices as fossil fuel plants and thus do not seem to comport with your suspicions about government financing, you seem to be saying that because the electric grid can soak up a very large amount of wind generation capacity, wind generation is pointless. That confuses me; surely I’m missing your point.
“But more certain than anything, they simply will not be able to fill the load with added wind power; that is already fully utilized at whatever level the wind allows.”
How does it follow that because wind generation capacity is fully utilized it is chicanery? Try telling a utility operator that steady operation at 100% capacity is a bad thing and they’ll laugh at you.
“Since fuel cost is zero, there will be no holding back when the wind blows. ”
I don’t get that conclusion either. The fuel cost is zero, the capacity is completely utilized, yet those are signs of failure? How?
The wind system does might or might not fail, but that was not what I was referring to.
The chicanery is the deceit that makes people think they are running their electric cars on wind energy, when there is no connection between the two operations. But they are told they are “buying wind power.” Buy it, fine, but then make a separate decision about the EV.
My complaint about subsidies is that they mislead us into thinking something will work on a large scale when it seems to work in cases where subsidies have to be used to get it going. If wind turns out to be cost effective, great. However, I observe quite a lot of idle windmills fairly often and I have looked at the Ontario power schedule which shows how pathetic things can turn out to be on many days compared to the peak. But to be clear, wind is not in the same category as space based solar which is fundamentally nonsense.
Okay, I misunderstood your intentions regarding speed.
However, regarding getting people to be willing to buy (PH)EVs, this is a general issue – besides money up front vs money ‘down the road’ (pun intended), getting people to use cars that are different in any way from what they are used to, getting people to build houses that are a little different from what they have been building … there is a force of habit we have to confront. This is where public policies (building codes, CAFE standards and so-on) can be of great service (Over and above the emissions tax, which fundamentally is needed to correct for the externality, habitual or not; seeing as we don’t yet have this, and even when we do, there is the issue of making up for lost time – I don’t have a problem with some government subsidies for wind and solar, efficiency, etc, so long as they aren’t managed too stupidly).
If cars are made more efficient, that is good whether they are ICE or EV or …
“Buy it, fine, but then make a separate decision about the EV.”
Well, of course, but if switching to the EV saves money, this will affect ability to afford wind or solar power, so there can be a connection – the EV can be used as a way to fund a net reduction in CO2 emissions, and the technlogical pathway may, depending on how biofuels and hydrogen storage go, be advantageous even when coal is replaced by geothermal and wind and solar energy storage.
Solar is getting near grid parity (some technology might be there now), but with the initial upfront investment required, it will be easier if the fossil fuels displaced include some fraction of petroleum usage. It wouldn’t be necessary to only replace petroleum, but including some petroleum in the reduction of fossil fuel use will help finance the transition (In later stages, the longevity of solar devices that have largely payed off their investment costs will be helpful).
I agree with Doug; it is a good thing that the wind supply will be used nearly as much as it can. This is actually a very good thing – in the interest of paying off these investments, wind and solar supplies should be utilized when possible – otherwise, a potential for disaster exists wherein solar and wind plants on sunny and windy days are simply left idle so that those in charge can keep the controllable sources running closer to their capacities – if they had sufficient expenses to pay, that could be a problem. If this were to become a significant problem, there could be some regulative measure to fix it, requiring a prioritization of making use of solar and wind to fill as much demand as they can, and then other things including stored wind and solar, and with coal generally coming last. (PS taxing the CO2 emissions would also help – most emissions from fossil fuel use come from the burning in the power plant, although there is some embodied energy and emissions in the building and maintenance, as there is in all power plants (but depending on the available mix of energy)).
But solar and wind plants definitely won’t supply energy if they do not exist, if no one made that effort, and that effort won’t be made if people are not willing to provide for it.
Are those wind turbines idle because the wind is not strong enough (the design might require some minimum nonzero speed to do anything useful), or if it is too strong (for the mechanical and/or electrical design)? Are they down for necessary maintenance/repair? These things happen. Improvements in technology/design and experience can/may help reduce all these losses. They are distinct from simply not using the available clean power supply in favor of using fossil fuels.
Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company 26 August 2009 at 9:01 PM
“The chicanery is the deceit that makes people think they are running their electric cars on wind energy, when there is no connection between the two operations. But they are told they are “buying wind power.” Buy it, fine, but then make a separate decision about the EV.”
I think you can rest easy for the moment because the number of people here in the U.S. who could possibly be laboring under such a delusion today is as small as the number of electric vehicles on the road. I also think even the average U.S. consumer is not going to imagine their as-yet unobtainable electric car will be powered by electrons magically tagged at the source as dedicated to vehicular motive power.
As patrick027 implies, electrons neither know nor care from whence they came or to where they’re headed. For our household we pay a extra amount to our electric utility to be devoted somehow to “alternative” power generation capacity. As it happens in our case the money predominantly goes to wind generators. I really don’t care where the resulting electricity ends up being liberated as heat, I instead derive some small measure of satisfaction from knowing that wherever that electricity ended up it was not obtained by stubbornly imitating a parasite-ridden preliterate troglodyte huddled over a jealously guarded smoldering fire, thousands of years dead.
Regarding availability of wind generation plants, it’s useful to remember that these are indeed sometimes idle but on the other hand so are coal and for that matter nuclear power generator units, at about 20% and 15% respectively for various maintenance. The difference from the casual bystander’s perspective is that wind generators are really obviously idle, whereas a coal or nuclear station undergoing maintenance looks nearly as busy as ever.
Mark, I’m not attacking bicycles, rather riffing on Jim Bullis’ remarks about air resistance. I suspect you’re using your bicycle often enough to be trained (conditioned) to do the necessary work to shove yourself through the air at 25MPH. Put the average person on a bike and they might well able to briefly attain 25MPH but they will not stay there for long. For yourself you might try 100 miles at 25MPH. As a point of reference, Tour de France riders average just under 30MPH on flat stages, time trials not being extraordinarily faster in spite of employing every aerodynamic tweak.
Air resistance exists, for cyclists and automobile drivers. There’s a tremendous energy penalty to pay for increasing speed. This is not controversial.
The “need for speed” is vastly overrated. For every Wyoming cattleman whizzing along I-90 on the way to an auction there are 100 accountants crawling along an on-ramp waiting to reach the “freeway” and sit on the brake pedal until arriving home. So is the need for range, because most people live not so many miles from where they work, just a lot of time away instead.
That being said, Bullis’ basic point about electric vehicles (I think) is that batteries are presently unsuitable for propelling vehicle at high rates of speed for long distances while keeping the mass of the batteries down at some reasonable level. Practical experience with electric vehicles bears this out, of course, because the ineluctable physics of the situation in combination with our wispy batteries means electric vehicles travel significantly shorter distances when pushed to travel fast. So do gasoline vehicles, but they enjoy our acceptance– developed over a period of 100 years’ exposure to various horrific mayhem– of casually distributing and handling highly flammable and potentially explosive gasoline, thus getting around the penalties of speed by being easy to reload with ergs.
From time to time I take note that I am not king of the world. On one such occasion I realized that a 30 mph world was not going to happen, even if it would mean many of the world’s biggest problems were solved.
Then I thought some more about what is important in life and remembered all the waste of my time from sitting in traffic. As I thought about this I realized that this lost time took away from home and work time and thus had a permanent damaging effect on overall quality of life.
Thinking about rearranging the way we live and work, and again noting my lack of authority, I concluded that it would be better to go along with the way people choose to live, but just try to make it work better.
So given that we choose to live in work in the most distributed possible way, what can be done to improve things.
Not being especially successful at making a new kind of engine, I looked at ways to make travel more efficient, with the advantages of the motorcycle or bicycles in mind. Not being sufficiently sturdy of mind to handle the site of motorcyclists and bicyclists lying mangled on the road, I also set myself the requirement that riders be protected, at least as well as if they were in cars.
So I found that it was possible to make a narrow vehicle that would use less room on the road and in parking lots, but still had the stability of cars. That seemed interesting, especially when noting that it would push half as much air as a conventional car. Noting also that most cars on the road were burdened to carry an empty right front seat, this seemed like progress. I assumed that aerodynamic shaping would be about the same as with cars.
Having some glancing familiarity with aerodynamics and still having my college text on the subject, I was reminded of the airship which has a drag coefficient of .05. When fitting this onto the stabilizing system, the advantage of tandem seating became clear. Not only was it necessary to elevate the airship above the road, a cylindrical shape was important. If it was required to fit in an empty front seat, the whole thing gets very ungainly, and also fails at my original narrow vehicle requirement. Of course the whole thing would have a drag coefficient somewhat higher than .05, even though the free flow aerodynamic requirement was approximately achieved.
Surprise, what came out was an electric car, because putting in a mechanical drive train made it hard to keep the wheel part small. I then received punishing criticism for suggesting a car that would aggravate global warming, since it was clear that the marginal response to this new machine would be to increase power production from coal. All I could offer in defense was that only about a tenth as much energy was required compared to cars as we now know them, maybe about a fourth that of the Prius.
Of course there would be the long trip problem, even though the batteries for the narrow car would carry it for most daily use. So a very small engine-generator seemed inevitable, and it looked like about 12 hp would do for the engine, and still get 80 mph on a steady basis.
Still chafing under criticism for using electricity, I found it might be a compensation if this small engine-generator could get a second use as an electric generator to charge the batteries at night. Of course there is the discharged heat in exhaust and coolant so why not run that into the house that is probably nearby where the vehicle is parked at night. The 12 hp means that the amount of heat would be somewhat comparable to the heat produced by burning natural gas in many households. If done right, this can mean a system efficiency of 100%, and the engine-generator is already sitting in the car, so the power equipment is approximately free. Once the car batteries, why not use whatever time remains to run the household electricity needs, and if that need is filled, how about selling it back to the grid — like with solar only at night. We already have the infrastructure to get natural gas as an alternate fuel to the house and it would be simple to get it to the car.
You guys can do the math, but it looks like people could still get around fast with comfort and safety. Maybe 90% of the energy needed for personal transportation would be cut, and a fair amount of electric power could be produced at a system efficiency far better than that of most central power plants.
Thus, quite a lot could be accomplished for very little cost. Try to beat that with plug-ins, solar, wind, or nuclear. It probably won’t fix everyting, but it seems like a good start.
Maybe you can see why “powersat” should not get in the way?
“One idea is to refuel electric cars by replacing emptied/low batteries with already recharged batteries.”
A really intriguing idea, one I’ve thought about for years and I’m sure we’re not alone.
Gasoline delivery was standardized across brands. Though it’s not as easy a challenge, it does not seem so improbable that EV designs could include a receptacle for a quick-change battery.
This is an extremely robot-friendly application. I can picture an arrangement similar to an automated car wash, where a vehicle is driven in, the battery extracted by a robot and similarly replaced.
The price for a “refill” would include energy, a battery degradation fee accounting for ultimate replacement costs, plus profit of course.
Batteries could optionally be equipped w/memory to allow adjustment of swap fees to account for abuse of the battery or depth of discharge with a discount offered to users sensitive to the peculiar requirements of batteries.
Just as a gas station maintains an inventory of gasoline to accommodate daily sales, a swap facility would maintain a shelf stock of batteries moving through the charging process.
Naturally, batteries could be loaded with marketing claims, jazzy stickers, etc. for those of us who find our cars go faster if we support ad campaigns.
Whoops. As usual, on a planet loaded with over 6 billion persons somebody’s already way ahead in this game. Check it out:
The Register makes remarks about challenges of connectors, etc. but circling back to gasoline, how likely is -that- system? Volatile, highly flammable liquids dispensed in open air by random strangers…
Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company 27 August 2009 at 1:26 PM
I’ve looked at your site and I find your concept very interesting, very sensible in many ways. The trouble is, we’re such conformists and so inclined to abandon rationality in our haste to follow the crowd that I think your design faces not so much technical hurdles as psychological barriers. I’m pretty open-minded and I find the idea of being an early adopter of such a design pretty far fetched, if only for the reason that I wouldn’t want to make myself so conspicuous.
Of course, on the other hand GM employed a group of designers to probe the limits of just how foolishly they could make consumers behave and were able to market the Suburban-in-military-drag Hummer with quite a degree of success. Maybe I’m wrong; at least people driving your concept would be doing so for reasons that can be explained and justified with numbers.
For what it’s worth though I don’t find I can agree with you about some things I also don’t think you’re using RC to shill your concept, at least not in a monetization sense.
Of course it will draw from coal fired power capacity, but the advantages here make sense. All their other projects that I have followed seem more devoted to the con game that people will be driving on “green power.”
Of course it will be a reasonable way to do things if the cars are also made highly efficient. That seems not to be their plan.
“The problem with allowing economists to decide the proper response of society to global warming is that they base their analysis only on their own quantifications of the costs and benefits of different strategies.”
As an economist, I have to respond to this. Everyone bases their decisions on their own quantifications of the costs and benefits of a given policy. Economists make these quantifications explicit (or they should, if they don’t they’re doing poor analysis)–you can agree or disagree with, or suggest improvements upon, the methods used to quantify costs and benefits, but at least you know how they are being calculated.
When you ask someone if a given climate policy is “worth it” they’re going to make some internal calculation and give you an answer. It’s a lot harder to argue with their subjective assessment because you don’t know how they calculated it. A good economist will tell you what they’re including–and if they do a bad job and miss a lot of important costs (as is the case here) then you can point that out.
There are economists out there fighting the good fight (and doing their best to understand climate science!), so, please, let’s not give all economists a bad name because of the shoddy analysis of a few. (And, incidentally, many economists recognize that this is not an issue where cost-benefit analysis can give us an “optimal” policy, given the huge uncertainties, but we can still try to inform people about what we *do* know about the costs and benefits of a given policy.)
Stephanie, For what it is worth (e.g. not much), I agree that economists often get a bad rap in this debate. However, that is in part because there are a lot of folkd out there (some economists and some not) who are doing some very bad economics. At its best, economics fulfills the same valuable role that science does–namely, it applies quantitative analysis to help us avoid telling ourselves reassuring lies.
The thing is that while economics tells us that developing a new energy infrastructure will be expensive, the expense is irrelevant, because continued use of fossil fuel is not sustainable. That is true independent of any climate concerns, sinced we’re running out of fossil fuels. It is certainly an interesting economic question to consider HOW we develop said structure, but that we need to develop it comes down to physics. I think that perhaps what is needed is for more real economists to bitchslap some of the charlatans like Lomborg who are prostituting your profession.
Economists should be telling us that the cost of solutions is very important in a real world where financial resources are limited. It is then up to engineers (including scientists acting as engineers) to figure out the appropriate choices. Failing to make the right choices could be a very bad thing for the climate because there will not be unlimited opportunities to get it right. Not only is money limited; so is public forbearance for actions that are hard to understand.
You mentioned a new energy infrastructure. That is a good example of how things that could go right could also go very wrong. Improved transmission lines that perpetuate our system of central power plants that are located to enable easy waste of heat. Simply squeezing down the loss on transmission lines, say from 7% to 5%, is not much progress when you realize that the power plants mostly run at 30% to 40% efficiency. Selling us on the idea that computers will make the grid all that much smarter is a false pretense. Sure they could couple in wind systems from far away that cost a lot themselves and still require standby power plants which also cost a lot just to keep in reserve. Economists should knock us on the head for this nonsense. We should understand the critical importance of capital expense in whatever solution we devise.
A renewed infrastructure built around distributed cogeneration systems, where the power plants reach nearly 100% system efficiency due to effective use of discharged heat, could cost very little and do a lot of good. Economists should tell us that this would be the right choice, if we can’t figure that out on our own.
Thanks Doug (#220) I do use Google Scholar, but economics is so far outside my area of expertise that I need some help. What I am most interested in are analyses of the costs of not dealing with warming that are realistic about all “externalities.” This is not my mission from God (Blues Brothers), I just want to be up to speed for when talking to people in my small community.
Hi Doug (#220), I do use Google Scholar, but economics is so far from my area of expertise that I need help. I am interested in the costs of not dealing with CO2 and warming that are realistic about “externalities.” This is not my mission from God (Blues Brothers), I just want to get up to speed for conversations with others in my small community.
Hank Roberts (222) — Use of the excess heat for house heating is quite common in Germany, for example. It does mean one has to live right next door to the generation facility.
Comment by David B. Benson — 28 Aug 2009 @ 4:18 PM
222 Hank, yes, cogeneration systems are widely available, especially in Europe. They are efficient fossil fuel electric generators who’s waste heat is used productively. Why burn gas in your furnace when you could be burning it in an electric generator and still use the waste heat to warm your house? When using heat requirement as the driver, 90% efficiency becomes a yawner. To get these efficiencies, the heat must be used close to the generator, so cogeneration is a core component in diversified distributed generation designs.
Ray Ladbury (“the expense is irrelevant, because continued use of fossil fuel is not sustainable.”) – it does matter how much alternative energy and efficiency cost; fossil fuels are limited but we have a choice in how fast we switch and what we switch to and how we do it. (“It is certainly an interesting economic question to consider HOW we develop said structure,” – yes).
Jim Bullis – what if the new centralized plants do not waste heat? Solar PV rooftops do have the advantage of potentially providing some heat (imagine a 5 to 30 % efficient PV device that conducts maybe ~ 40 % of waste heat to a water heating panel in the back, which preheats the water (or other fluid) to a moderate temperature while boosting PV efficiency by keeping them cool). However, there is limited roof space and limited usefulness for this heat onsite in many cases, and it may help in monetary terms to have some centralized PV and/or CSP and/or CPV … plants in the subtropical deserts. (And winter space heating could be helped with insulated skylights, which might also be luminescent concentrators and/or water heaters (absorbing solar UV and solar IR), and/or a shade to reflect solar IR and UV in summer that can be retracted in cold weather… and thermal storage, etc.). Solar power plants could produce fuel to send to buildings to run fuel cells to produce electricity and waste heat could be used.
The Sonoma County Community Climate Action Plan, referenced in the website, is a deeply researched study and set of conclusions on the most cost effective measures for CO2 reduction at a local scale across all sectors. The data we have produced in this plan conclusively shows that a publicly financed deployment of demand-side peak reduction, massively distributed generation, Smart Grid technology and electric vehicles can be financed using long term municipal bonds. The transformed energy supply portfolio can achieve a significant (25% below 1990 levels by 2015) reduction, cost effectively, and a head start toward carbon neutrality by mid-century. These findings are in line with the findings of the State of California that CO2 mitigation can be revenue positive for the state. I know this is off topic, but I note the well-worn skeptic objection that the energy supply transformation is “hugely expensive”… it simply isn’t when financed properly.
There are three keys to minimizing the cost of new renewable electricity generation: 1) make it local to eliminate the need for new transmission; 2) make it publicly owned and financed to reduce the levelized cost of energy; 3) focus on peak demand reduction and efficiency to reduce the need for new generation, and tailor the generation to load profile characteristics. To the extent that volumetric transactions can be reduced the resulting need for a wide scale grid approach is reduced.
Smart grid technologies for integrating electric vehicles are also critical.
There is a little trick in the definition of efficiency for cogeneration. To claim 100% efficiency, the heat that is used as effectively as heat from natural gas in a house would have been has to count as full use of heat. I define that as system efficiency.
Eventually, even in a very well designed system, some heat goes up a chimney, so there is minor flaw in my definition. It gets impossibly complicated if you start to figure the heat loss due to poor insulation. Only if a house was a thermos bottle (perfect at that) could we talk about true 100% efficiency.
But from an engineering point of view 90% gets an A grade.
I think Dean Kamen used the term “darn near 100%.”
I would not argue that solar, wind, and such would not be great to have in the system if we can afford to buy such in meaningful quantities. I do not see that in the next 10 to 20 years. Reasonable folks disagree on that, but I try to get the evaluations done realistically.
As I see the future, natural gas, even if we make the best possible use of it as I propose, will run out. An orderly transition to better things is essential in a long term plan. What these are is another discussion.
The spanner in the works, the sand in the salad, the goose in the behind is Peak Oil. Until the housing bubble burst and the collapse of the financial industry dragged us down, the cost of oil was flirting with something like 6-7% of GDP. If and when the economy picks up, you can bet your pasties that the price of oil will pick right up with it, choking future growth. We absolutely need to have alternate sources of energy since very soon we’re going to need to move petroleum away from transportation to fertilizer production. The atmosphere could be at pre-Industrial Revolution levels of CO2 and we’d still need to make the switch.
“Only if a house was a thermos bottle (perfect at that) could we talk about true 100% efficiency.”
It’s actually hard to define an efficiency with insulation + ventilation factored in – those are heating requirements and there isn’t an absolute lower limit for defining an efficiency as a simple percentage without qualification.
(PS some large buildings actually need cooling year round, which is a good thing for solar power.)
Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company 28 August 2009 at 8:12 PM
“I would not argue that solar, wind, and such would not be great to have in the system if we can afford to buy such in meaningful quantities. I do not see that in the next 10 to 20 years.”
Spain just went through a bout of PV installation ending up w/total output installed over the past little more than year of about 2.7GW, neatly equal to the combined output of the two largest nuclear generation plants in the U.S. The Spaniards added the equivalent of two very large thermonuclear plants available there for use during peak hours, this construction being accomplished during approximately one years’ time. That schedule puts nuclear systems to shame and is better even than coal generation plants. The work was accomplished in a global PV market that was undersupplied with available product.
Spain stands as an example of what can happen with “alternative” energy systems when money is liberated from hidebound thinking and diverted to more modern ways of solving problems. The delay you anticipate is mostly psychological.
Steering back to geoengineering, I proposed an experiment where low clouds would be used to maintain polar albedo. Cost and risk are low, and the benefits and contribution to knowledge would be significant. I wonder what the models would predict for various schemes with regard to rainfall patterns, etc, for the planet. I’m thinking that starting small and going slow while building expertise would be wise. Imagine the fights over rainfall and equity with life and death literally in the balance. I wonder if the polar albedo experiment could be done without risking significant changes to weather patterns? The alternative polar albedo experiment, that of heating polar waters with summer sunlight, seems riskier to me.
Hank, Jim: IIRC, Manhattan does a pile of “like co-generation” in providing heat (and maybe steam) to many housing projects from Power generation. I don’t know, but doubt, if they get anything near 100% overall efficiency. (Efficiency in this kind of “reuse” is difficult to grasp.)
On topic: Apparently a Royal Society working group is due to issue a statement on geoengineering on 1 September.
ETC group, a watchdog on scary technologies, claims the report will “legitimize dangerous planet-tinkering schemes”, and counters by calling the bluff on geoengineering as “the emperor’s new clothes”. A choice soundbite from their memo:
“Geoengineering is the Big Mac of climate change response: fast, unhealthy and deceptively cheap in the short-term.”
Doug B (233), why is Spain bailing out of PV generation, one of the large reasons why the bottom fell out of the PV manufacturing business in 2009. I heard Spain was cooling way down (bailing out may be too strong, I don’t know) — but never heard what their concern was.
Good point about capacity. The way the term capacity is used on the Ontario power schedule it means the capacity at maximum wind. Actual wind being often much less, the percent of capacity is thus meaningful.
Logical people might think that capacity is the most you can produce at a given time. That is not the way they use the term.
Clearly that Jim Bullis is a rotten guy. Oops that’s me.
But to correct the record since either I don’t write well or some folks have some reading difficultly:
He loves affordable wind, affordable solar, actually smart, smart grids and he mostly loves affordable natural gas.
But more than anything else he loves really cheap ways to get a lot done. What a jerk! And ‘arrogant’!!! (As Mark has proclaimed) Well maybe a little, but it takes some of that to imagine changing things in a big way.
I realize it is hard to think about stuff coming from obnoxious folk, but try one more time (if you think there is a CO2 problem that it is up to mankind to solve):
The cogeneration I describe enables significant CO2 reduction by displacing the use of coal as fuel. It does it because you get more electricity out of the natural gas that is allocated to power generation in this distributed cogeneration system, so there is real economic motivation (or at least not strong disincentive due to cost advantage of coal.) to choose this rather than coal.
Now comes the big part: Each unit of natural gas invested in making a unit of electricity in the specified combination of a household and a car will cause an associated unit of CO2 from burning natural gas. However that unit of electricity will cause the coal fired plant to not produce that unit amount of electricity. Because of the 100% vs 33% efficiency difference, about a third as much heat will be required in the cogen system versus the coal fired system. Pretty good huh?
And then wait, you have to emit twice as much CO2 to get heat from coal as you do from natural gas. So that unit of CO2 from natural gas in cogen will save six units of CO2 from coal in a coal fired plant. Reducing CO2 by a factor of six seems like a good thing.
But then “consider the source” and reject the whole thing. Who cares about CO2 if it means listening to a rotten source.
Yes, efficiency is a confusing subject. I try to distinguish between thermal efficiency and system efficiency. Due to the Second Law, thermal efficiency will never be anything close to 100%. However, by using the term to describe the use made of heat of whatever sort, things get a lot better. And in the NY steam pipes, a lot is lost, so the heat that is actually used falls off. But the whole thing gets down to definition of the system. I count usage as complete if it does about as well as natural gas heat usage in a household. Good heating systems still lose 10% or so up the chimney and so would my system. So if defined more comprehensively, my approach should get a little more than 90%. that does not change the gain from cogen by much.
I realize that natural gas was put on this earth for us to burn up, but try hard not to do that. My system is hard to make work without it.
By the way, my cogeneration system is a zero (approximately) cost system since most of the machiner would be running around in cars and the household can be expected to have heat using equipment alreadly in place.
Here’s what I found on the question of Spanish PV installation:
“The 2.5GW of PV installations in Spain last year were close to half of the world’s total of 5.5GW, according to the European PV Industry Association (EPIA), but that surge was somewhat of a fluke.
While Spain did want to spur PV last year, the feed-in tariffs offered were miscalculated by officials, so that new installations could be paid off in as little as a year. This led to explosive growth which won’t be repeated in 2009 because Spain capped installations it will support at 0.5GW.”
So it’s not so much that they’re backing off, as that they opened the feed-in tariff taps a bit wider than they meant to last year. (I imagine it was a bit of a budget-buster, especially in the context of the recession.) It does rather demonstrate that the limiting factor in building up PV capacity is not technological but financial.
It is well known that private investors love to jump on projects than offer big tax deductions.
And if there is a great need to rebuild transmission line systems to carry wind power from source to point of use, isn’t that a financial artifice.
But that is a project requiring current and future funding.
Whatever blame that can be attached to railroads, coal mine leases, existing power lines as financial artifices, I think that is in the past and not really subject to change. If we are to straighten out the financial artifices of the past we need to go back and rewrite a lot of laws and cough up a lot of restitution. So maybe all we should worry about is getting the future right.
Jim Bullis – Certainly, it would be great that so long as natural gas or any fuel (biofuels preferably) are burned for heating, it would be great to generate electricity from that process.
I just don’t see that as being very practical for cars as house-heating devices, but maybe I’m just not far enough outside the box (which is not usually my problem). (However, utilizing (PH)EV batteries as energy storage when the vehicle is not in use could be handy (?)).
What I envision is that furnaces might be retrofitted or replaced with equipment so that residential and commercial buildings (as many industrial structures already do, I think) have cogeneration capability available for winter heating and electrical needs (when unstored solar power availability is at a minimum).
This might involve thermoelectric or thermophotovoltaic conversion (which would produce DC power, but that could easily be fed into the inverter that would at other times of the day/year be more fully occupied by the rooftop solar PV power output) so as to avoid all the mechanical complexity of turbines/pistons – AC generators.
On the other hand, relatively cheap and clean heating might be obtained through passive solar design and thermal storage, and electric heat pumps (when the COP is high enough) – this may include skylights, which might let visible light into the interior while perhaps reflecting terrestrial IR and transfering solar UV and solar IR to water (for heat) or to solar PV via luminescent concentration (which would also produce some waste heat).
Which might mean that it would be even better, depending on technology and economics, to forgo simple combustion where possible and instead run the fuel through fuel cells. Such fuel might include solar-produced hydrogen, or some other fuel which is processed (perhaps an exothermic process and liberating some useful heat) into hydrogen and CO (if CO can also be used in fuel cells) and byproducts that cannot be used in fuel cells could still be combusted for energy. If it doesn’t work to just mix solar hydrogen into the natural gas system, solar energy might be used to produce methane from water and carbon dioxide, which could then be fed (along with biofuel-derived methane) into the existing natural gas distribution system, and to whatever extent is justified, end use could include some processing for fuel cells… maybe. But the fewer conversion steps the better when all else is equal, so perhaps only biofuel-derived methane should be mixed into the natural gas supply, while solar and biofuel-derived fuels that can be used in fuel cells directly should be handled seperately (?). At least as much fuel as is produced by solar (or wind) electricity should be used in fuel cells, because otherwise it is a waste of electric power to produce fuel that would be used in a less efficient process to produce electricity, even if the waste heat is utililized, because it is generally easier to produce heat than electricity – with the exception of higher temperature heat such as in industrial processes and maybe ovens and toasters…
(I wonder if solar hydrogen could be stored in the same reservoirs now used for natural gas storage – would this work better than CAES?)
PS maybe this is the problem I saw (and didn’t realize I saw it :) ): If the car engine is a cogeneration device, wouldn’t it be easier to use a ‘stationary engine’, or perhaps a fuel cell, solar roof, etc, and put some of the electricity into the car? Yes, there will be losses for storage and later retrieval of electricity, but then again, there would be losses for all the heat produced by the car when the car is in use outside the home… etc.
Maybe this is the problem I saw (and didn’t realize I saw it :) ).
If you were going to use a car engine (or fuel cell, etc.) as a cogeneration plant to supply some power and heat to a building, wouldn’t it be easier to use a stationary cogeneration plant, or hybrid solar roof, fuel cell, electricity from a grid with sufficient clean energy mixed in, etc, to power the car and heat and power the building? A car can carry the electricity from the building in it’s battery with some loss; I would think there would be greater heat loss for a mobile cogeneration facility that can only deliver heat to the building when parked.
Okay, you could make the argument that it is easier to store electricity in stationary batteries or flywheels or … etc, and that at any one time some number of cars might be parked and able to feed electricity into the grid and heat into some of the buildings, and it isn’t necessary for the heat source to always be at every building because heat can be stored.
On the other hand, with PHEVs, electricity can be used for short trips while fuel usage (perhaps sugar-run bacterial fuel cells) will help in longer road trips.
Meanwhile, the best energy system overall I suspect would still rely more on passive solar design and thermal storage, solar and wind electricity along with geothermal, hydroelectric, etc, with biofuels…
As somebody else pointed out, they’re not bailing. This year, “only” 500MW. Next year, “only” another 800MW. So an additional 1,300MW over two years, once again beating the pants by a long mile off the time it would take to construct an equivalent medium-sized nuclear plant and slightly besting all-out best case delivery for a coal plant.
Yes you could make the engine-generator part stationary, but that would decree that the battery in the car was very large, and no way could it be large enough for long trips unless a whole additional system of charging was established. But that larger battery would mean that all in all you would have more stuff that costs serious money.
I believe you noted earlier that furnaces could be fitted with radiators to act as heat exchangers. This is cheap plumbing.
So why not skip buying the huge batteries. By the way, what do you think would happen to the price of lithium if all cars had huge batteries? Even now, the Prius conversions cost around $10,000 which is mostly the battery cost. Note also the $107,000 price tag for the Tesla.
Sure technology can improve, but when I hear the “Moore’s Law” from the integrated circuit experience applied to cars and batteries I think about the “realtors law” that said housing prices never come down. These are not really “laws” and should be carefully thought through, not blindly quoted.
The public utility in my area loves the idea of batteries in cars being used for storage. They even have a program for cogeneration rebates, but this is very soft peddled. And it has not been extended to cogeneration with engines in the hybrid cars, at least not to my knowledge; and of course it would be a bit tricky to get to work within the limits of ‘complete use of heat’ as I require of the system.
The future of the Earth could rest on potentially dangerous and unproven geoengineering technologies unless emissions of carbon dioxide can be greatly reduced, the latest Royal Society report has found.
Geoengineering the climate: Science, governance and uncertainty (published today,1st September, by the Royal Society) found that unless future efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are much more successful than they have been so far, additional action in the form of geoengineering will be necessary if we are to cool the planet. Geoengineering technologies were found to be very likely to be technically possible and some were considered to be potentially useful to augment the continuing efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions. However, the report identified major uncertainties regarding their effectiveness, costs and environmental impacts.
Ray (#218), you state: “The thing is that while economics tells us that developing a new energy infrastructure will be expensive, the expense is irrelevant, because continued use of fossil fuel is not sustainable.”
What economics tells us is that no expense is irrelevant. Economic theory says that as resources become more scarce, prices should increase, signaling the economy to develop new and better technologies. If there were no climate (or other pollution) externalities here, there wouldn’t really be an issue from an economic perspective. When costs associated with fossil fuels became too high, new energy technologies would be developed.
Because of the externalities associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, though, we need to rethink our energy system much sooner. A careful evaluation of the alternative available (with an understanding that our decisions now will influence what technologies will be developed in the future), a thorough evaluation of the costs and benefits, is necessary to better inform public debate.
Steve, #217, there are economists in the government, research institutions, and even private industry who are trying very hard to better evaluate the economics of climate change. See some of the work by the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum.
While I agree that the best economics comes from approaching it as a true science, we can’t forget that it is a social science, not a physical one, and many of the things we model can’t be measured, so it’s often difficult to determine which model is better. In some cases, the best we can do is be very explicit about our assumptions and be open to discussion about those assumptions.
“What economics tells us is that no expense is irrelevant.”
No, ALL expenses are irrelevant.
Money is the rate of exchange of value.
But as the old saying goes “you can’t take it with you”. Therefore it is better to be lost on a dessert island where food grows than to be abandoned on an island with a huge stack of cash.
So when it comes to the expense of AGW mitigation, the espense is irrelevant: without the current infrastructure which has been tuned to the climate of the pre-industrial period of the holocene era, we have nothing to show expenses on.
Re Stephanie – “When costs associated with fossil fuels became too high, new energy technologies would be developed.”
Yes. However, because of the scarcity of the resource that is wisdom/intelligence, even without the externality, it might be arguable that some public policies would be helpful for such transitions. Perhaps especially when the economic reserves quantity as a function of price is bumpy, as it likely is with petroleum in particular, such that there is an analogy of a steep cliff, which for some reason most people want to pretend doesn’t exist as they hurtle themselves towards it. (I was having a conversation with a high school teacher in the mid-90s and I mentioned running out of oil, and he remarked something to the effect that he and I might be the only ones who actually realize that this will happen if we keep using it. Recent events have changed that picture.) (PS and why do people refuse to invest in infrastructure upkeep – but that’s another story…)
It seems wise to seek out ‘technodiversity’ so that we can more quickly adapt to as yet unrealized externalities or other unforeseen problems.
Mark – “Therefore it is better to be lost on a dessert island where food grows”
Oh boy, here we go again with the dessert! :) (Or mabye that was intentional, since food wouldn’t grow very much on a desert island.)
But I actually disagree with you. I might have partly agreed with you a few years ago before I decided to really try to understand economics (it’s less intuitive than climate or ecosystems or orbiting planets because there is no law of conservation of money). Of course actual physical money only has value in as far as it can be exchanged for something also judged to have value, except for the slight value of possible fuel or metal usage or whatever… But that’s the way it is with a lot of things. Why does a car have value? Because it has usefulness. Because it requires something of value to replace it – with another car (because of scarcity of resources) or with something else (because it might require sacrifice of something else of value (time) in order to walk (although there are other benifits to walking, of course, and mass transit, etc, one could move to reduce travel time – but you get the point), and there are still resource requirements, though they may be different).
On an episode of a TV show, a character distinguished between intrinsic value and … forgot the term, but the value that a movie prop had just because it was in a movie. But all economic value is imposed – why would anything have value – because someone is willing to forgo another opportunity of value (as measured by money spend or sacrifice made in goods/services bartered – note that something of value (time, effort, etc.) went into obtaining those things, plus they have usefulness in obtaining value, hence they have value) in order to get this thing because it has value to the person – the trade occurs if the supply of this thing requires less sacrifice of value than the value the person sacrifices to get this thing, assuming the scarcity of decision making resource has not made the person decide to sacrifice the certainty of value of getting a profit on value in order to save value somewhere else, etc…
If you ended up on an island with no monetary exchanges, you would still have an economy. You would be exchanging time and effort for food; assuming food is not too easy to get, you would try to maximize the caloric profit, except with some caloric spending on non-caloric needs, etc. There would be marginal utilities. Your industries would compete with each other; they would also depend on each other, since your caloric intake would be worth much less if you were to die anyway from something else – the marginal utility of one quantity depends not just on that quantity but other quantities, their arrangments in space and time, etc. You might invest some of your profits via planting seeds… This would have undefined monetary worth simply because you are not exchanging money, but things would have economic value that could be measured by their exchange rates with each other, as judged by your behavior.
What if you had some hope of being rescued? The rescue operation might cost money. The people who decide to rescue you obviously place at least that much value on finding you – or they might place less value on finding you dead, but the expectation value based on some probability of finding you alive adds to the total expectation value so that there is some expectation value of profit, which will be exceeded if you are found alive and well. If they value your being found alive then they value your island economy, hence implying an exchange rate. They would have been willing to spend money to make your own industry more profitable.
Hank Roberts – discounting the future is not altogether illogical. If there were a high probability of an asteroid striking the Earth and wiping us out before 2050 than we would logically devalue the future and our efforts to mitigate and adapt to global warming accordingly.
However, if we can change the future, than our discount rate can be decreased. Long range planning can reduce such discounting – we can in some ways in effect decide that the future will be likely quite valuable, and thereby increase the value of efforts to make it so…
(Both the costs of mitigation and adaptation, and the value of mitigation, will be greater if the time-integrated population is larger.)
Individually, we may act as if we and those we know and those things we know about are more important to us, so there is a behavioral discounting toward the unfamiliar and unknown, including tendencies over space and time, but that is distinct from the actual discount rate, because we can allow ourselves to behave as such to a greater degree than we actually discount the unfamiliar and unknown because we may know that we most effectively accomplish things of value when we work with what we know. Of course, we can outsource work, knowing that others know things we don’t know, for example, going to a doctor for medical treatment, giving to a charity which knows how to help people that we don’t know, etc.
Re 251: “When costs associated with fossil fuels became too high, new energy technologies would be developed.”
But our dependence on fossil fuels is so great that switching to new technologies will take many years. During the period of the change – 10, even 20 years – the fossil fuel companies stand to make some quite extraordinary profits as the price skyrockets. While we are still dependent on their fuel, we have no choice but to pay whatever price they demand.
That scenario requires that we go through peak oil, though, which is still probably 10-20 years away from really beginning to take effect (even longer for coal).
If we start to move away from fossil fuels now, in order to combat climate change, that massive pay day disappears. The fossil fuel companies cannot hold the world to ransom unless demand massively exceeds supply, which it doesn’t quite yet.
This is why they are so desperate to convince the world’s policy makers that AGW is not happening. Not because they will go out of business – they know that will happen at some point because of peak oil – but because they are going to miss out on the biggest profits of all time if they don’t make it to peak oil.
Remember, people who head up massive multinational corporations are rarely stupid. They can work this stuff out. They just hope the rest of us can’t.
Jim Bullis, Miastrada Company 1 September 2009 at 1:59 PM
“As I see it, the USA could easily spend itself into becoming a third world country. When we get back to walking around barefooted, won’t that end the global warming problem?”
Well, we are. I could argue we’re there already, still just staggering around like a chicken with its head cut off and not yet aware it’s dead. We’re spending our way to perdition by trading our industrial, intellectual and civic capacities for cheap plasma televisions, etc. instead of doing anything useful and productive with all that money and credit, the inheritance of bygone days.
I suppose all those imported plastic consumer goods would burn nicely, come to think of it. Better hang on to last year’s obsolescent blender…
Jim Bullis – it might turn out we could spend much less on energy than we do now to get it all from solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biofuels (setting aside whatever happens to nuclear). The main problem is the inflation-adjusted interest rate. It is a lot cheaper to invest without going into debt because much of this switch will be long term investments (several decades +). But we can balance stuff out and use some debt and some up front cash (such as from an emissions tax).
“The project recently received support from Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and IHI Corp, who are now teaming up in the race to develop new technology within four years that can beam electricity back to Earth without the use of cables. Japan hopes to test a small solar satellite decked out with solar panels by the year 2015.” http://alterslash.org/#Japan_Plans_21B_Space_Power_Plant
“That scenario requires that we go through peak oil, though, which is still probably 10-20 years away from really beginning to take effect (even longer for coal).”
Peak oil is when extraction rates cannot be increased at the rate of demand.
That passed 10-20 years ago.
The difference between supply capacity and demand is close enough that a drop in demand can still mean oversupply but supply is still the limiting factor and so any increase in demand or even just static demand raises the prices.
“Mark – “Therefore it is better to be lost on a dessert island where food grows”
Oh boy, here we go again with the dessert! :) (Or mabye that was intentional, since food wouldn’t grow very much on a desert island.)”
Hey, stop making fun of my dyslexia! That’s dissing and therefore against the disability acts against discrimination!
(my sister went through school when you couldn’t tell someone they spelt a word wrong. her spelling today is still terrible, and that’s not mild dyslexia…).
“But I actually disagree with you.
I might have partly agreed with you a few years ago before I decided to really try to understand economics (it’s less intuitive than climate or ecosystems or orbiting planets because there is no law of conservation of money)”
However, the reason why you disagree is because you’ve bought into the paradigm that is the axiom of economics: that money is the sine qua non of existence.
Money has no intrinsic worth, any more than the value “0” (zero) does. Or the square root of -1.
In the world of mathematics would be in a mess without zero. Many physical processes would be difficult or impossible to describe without i. And economics must have its axiom too: that money is the entirety of worth.
It’s a *necessary* axiom for economics and without it economics becomes even less tractable.
This doesn’t mean money has value outside economic theory.
“As I see it, the USA could easily spend itself into becoming a third world country. ”
It’s doing so now, Jim: by refusing to mitigate AGW it is spending its resources and becoming a third world country.
Your adamantine belief in the primacy of the Free Market means you have a LESS THAN third world health. Your disdain for government work (outside the industrial-military complex) means your education is second to none. By which only a complete lack of education system would be worse.
But spending now to live richly today and die tomorrow is far more preferable than admitting that your Free Market implementation is broken.
“If there were a high probability of an asteroid striking the Earth and wiping us out before 2050 than we would logically devalue the future and our efforts to mitigate and adapt to global warming accordingly.”
If there were a high probability, the skeptics should (logically, but then again expecting logic from the “skeptics” is illogical) discard the idea without consideration. Maybe it’s just a mass hallucination caused by GCR fluxes…
Patrick, #258: “It seems wise to seek out ‘technodiversity’ so that we can more quickly adapt to as yet unrealized externalities or other unforeseen problems.”
I agree. It’s a good reason for governments to invest in technological growth.
Mark, #267: “And economics must have its axiom too: that money is the entirety of worth.
It’s a *necessary* axiom for economics and without it economics becomes even less tractable.”
That’s simply not true. Economic theory states no such thing. Money is a means of simplifying trade. It is a way to attampt to value many disparate choices in the same units (how much damage occurs from 1000 extra cases of malaria and how much is saving a 20 acre wetland in North Carolina worth?) Anyone who thinks that money exchanges get it “right” every time has never felt like they got a raw deal or a very good one. But that doesn’t eliminate the usefulness of money.
If there was no money, and you’re say, a college professor, you can barter your “goods” (education in some specialized field) to get what you need, but chances are, you’ll have a hard time doing that. You might find some people who will want what you have, but you may end up with 1,000 apples and 200 sweaters in return. Now you have to exchange the apples and the sweaters for what you really need/want. That process is inefficient. Money increases the efficiency of the trading process. It doesn’t dictate the value of something.
Hank, #257: “economics also tells us that the rope salesman will gladly sell you enough rope to hang him — he makes a short term profit on the deal, and discounts the future costs.”
He’d have to have an extremely high personal discount rate to do that!
Seriously, discounting is a huge issue in climate economics. It’s important because it can’t be zero (because that implies that we should be willing to spend everything we have today to avoid significant damages in the future) but there isn’t a clear answer as to what it should be. There has to be some balancing between the needs of current and future generations.
Mark – I meant no malice in my dessert comment. I myself often switch ‘there’ and ‘their’.
But I never bought into “that money is the sine qua non of existence.” I second Stephanie on this one. Money is a tool useful in exchanges – existence of currency has value in efficiency (it is possible to imagine a cost, in that the abstraction may make unwise transactions more likely than in a bartering system, but the efficiency is big plus much of the time), and the exchange rate gives money value, which allows monetary units to be useful for accounting purposes. Money has value because goods and services that are traded with money have value; these things have value in part because other things have value, and so forth, and things have value economic value ultimately because people like them, want them, or want something in return for giving them or losing them. Following the chains of value from sources and using exchange rates, monetary values can be theoretically assigned to many things that are not normally directly traded for money – in principle, although in practice it may certainly be a difficult task.
He had better mean energy flux if he is referring to W/m^2. The term flux refers to a flow or rate of change which inevitably must have a time element attached. So ‘Energy Flux’ has to be measured as J/m^2.t (where t refers to time – seconds). Since a watt is defined as a joule per second this is equivalent to W/m^2.
On the other hand a ‘Power Flux’ refers to change in power over time. ie W/m^2.t. That is, it measures how power changes over time, which I doubt is what was meant in this instance.
Geno (#272), google “energy flux” or check the thread. “Power flux” is indeed used more or less interchangeably for the same thing. (Though it smacks of redundancy to me, since “flux” — “flow” — already suggests a time rate.)
Stephanie says: “There has to be some balancing between the needs of current and future generations.”
Undoubtedly true, but too often discounting is merely a device for passing debts on to future generations. What is more, the concept of discounting becomes extremely problematic when the cost of future action escalates rapidly with time and where unanticipated feedbacks may make future mitigation impossible. Certainly, we must consider current needs, but we have a helluva long way to go before the balance even approaches fairness to future generations.
The question of discounting in cost/benefit analysis–mentioned above by Stephanie–has been troubling me a bit.
It seems workable in “normal” situations–that is, for many types of costs it will be advantageous to pay later, when the cost will represent a smaller proportion of societal wealth (since the economy tends to grow pretty reliably over time ).
But in the case of AGW cost benefit analysis (CBA, in the jargon, apparently) we have cost estimates that range from 3% to 40% of global GDP. (As far as I can tell so far, all of the estimates are pretty shaky.) If we’re talking about the higher end of the range, though, we’re talking about negative economic growth. And if we get that, we get a situation where the logic for discounting gets turned upside down–“paying later” becomes proportionately more and more expensive.
And we lack understanding of key elements–such as the possiblity of ice sheet collapse–which would allow us to predict just when negative growth might come about. And, of course, there’s good evidence from the technical side that the longer meaningful mitigation is delayed, the greater the eventual cost.
It seems that a different paradigm is required–but my knowledge here is very, um, basic. Am I completely out to lunch here?
Mark (#278), Stephanie has posted nothing on this thread about “money’s primacy” that I can see. She had a perfectly to-the-point comment on an awkward formulation in the post. We can agree if you like that money is “intrinsically” worthless, but that changes precisely nothing. The application of cost-benefit analysis to untested planet-changing technologies really has problems enough without needing to get all philosophical about the meaning of money. How about we steer back to that?
Why be messing around trying to cause plankton blooms, when there’s far more obvious immediate benefit to collecting and permanently taking out of circulation such a huge volume of decomposing plastic with its accumulated burden of toxic organic chemicals — now moving up the food chain?
You said, “Economic theory says that as resources become more scarce, prices should increase, signaling the economy to develop new and better technologies.”
Would not economic theory also say that an increase in demand will cause action to fill that demand by operation of the lowest cost system with available capacity? I bring this up in connection with electric vehicles which I maintain will represent an increment of demand that will be filled by operation of that lowest cost system operation. I reason that coal fired systems will inevitably be the lowest cost system so that will be the marginal response to the new electric vehicle load.
Another economic rule might be that action to stop this, such as banning coal fired power plants, will face a water bed effect, where banning coal will cause more natural gas usage causing higher natural gas prices on the national market. The result will be that the national decision makers will respond by choosing to use more coal fired capacity. The net result is therefore a negating process that makes banning coal on a local basis a useless action. Maybe it could be called a grand gesture at California’s economic peril?
Jim, what you say only makes sense if coal and gas are not taxed to reflect their true environmental cost. If carbon costs are properly reflected, any fossil fuel would quickly become uneconomical, which would then mean that electric vehicles would be the best option going.
All it takes is a bit of political will to introduce that carbon tax.
One analogy to consider would be the use of lead in paint and in plumbing — it was a wonderful material.
Lead in paint (a large part by weight) made it weather-resistant because it would ‘chalk’ and wash off in the rain, leaving behind a new fresh surface over and over.
Lead in plumbing was cheap, easy to form into pipes, soft enough to bend but sturdy enough to last a long time, and as long as the water supply was slightly alkaline rather than slightly acidic it did not corrode very much.
From a purely market cost/immediate profit standpoint, it’s still the best material to use for paint and plumbing.
Has anyone seen a pure economic analysis of the use of lead in paint and plumbing, making the arguments for and against continuing to use it?
You point out the case of relatively minor inconvenience which can be sold to the public on a scare tactic basis. Killing babies usually gets the politicians motivated, where lead sulfide seems to have been the identified culprit. Since Americans do not know the difference between lead sulfide and lead and lead alloys, the extension to solder in copper pipes came fairly easily. I never have seen any indication of the danger of lead itself, which would have to have been a factor in life expectancy of printers who handled lead daily and continuously. The same goes for mercury that is in most people’s teeth and the organic compounds of mercury that seem quite capable of doing great damage. We even are incapable of distinguishing between sodium, sodium chloride, and other simple sodium compounds that have absolutely different effects on the body. But enough of this sophisticated chemistry (a joke).
So what is my point? All these great dangers were dealt with at modest cost. Now we come along saying that “carbon” is the culprit since we can’t even spell CO2. And we say it is dirty which of course it is not. Metaphors are fine but they need to be apparent. To Americans, these are not. Then we ascend into esoteric science which leaves most people in the dust. Then we want people to pay a tax to continue what might seem to be their basic existence when we balk at paying enough to provide ourselves with health care and decent education. All this seems like a formula for non-progress; notice there seems to be some pushback. To me the Waxman Markey legislation is an indication of what kind of success we can expect from taxing to reflect true environmental cost. As I see it, that is a pretend tax that is not even going to hurt for a long time, and if it begins to hurt there will be plenty of time to repeal it.
So what is true environmental cost? I ponder over how that could possibly be determined. Surely, mining has to be restricted to not make a mess of things. I can understand that. But to tax CO2, where does that start and end. Do we allow barefooted folks living in caves to breath without charge? Probably we have way too many people.
So how about taxing the burning of coal and natural gas as well? So only people with hydro power would get cheap electricity, but remember, these federal resources are not without their environmental impact. (Ask any salmon what he thinks about hydro.) Why do the local folk only get the benefit of this national resource?
I prefer solutions that leave things alone as much as possible. Of course something has to change, but it looks easier to me to try to find ways to keep things going where there are ways to do this at minor cost. I speak of course on my “agenda” which is to return the power production to something like the distributed system that Edison originally envisioned. Next is the possibility that cars be modeled after the cycle cars of 100 years ago, with a step up to aerodynamic technology that has also been around for 100 years. I am guessing that people will be open to this kind of change instead of things that will cost a lot of money, which of course the heavy CO2 tax combined with wind farms and their fossil fuel burning back up systems will entail.
I submit that there will be more success with fixing the global warming problem if we get busy on things that will be at least slightly palatable to the public. How about a tax on any car with a aerodynamic drag coefficient greater than .1? And then add a tax for each empty right front seat moved along needlessly. Clinch it with a tax on heat dumped without having been fully used.
Re 285, Hank Roberts – If you’re refering to the logic of it, the cost would be in lost mental and bodily resource quality and medical care, etc. Some of this (depending on the application and case) would be internalized, so that people planning ahead would tend to make ‘the right choice’, but there can easily be an externality component to it, too.
Re Jim – see CTG 284, and California could tax incoming electric power from coal plants and use that revenue to subsidize all electric exports so as to balance the playing field and incentive other states’ policies, etc. And so on internationally…
Re Mark – no, a firefighter has no direct use to you when you are on a flame-retardant boat in the Pacific Ocean. But how valuable would it be to move to a house surrounded by trees? Depending on your preferences, you could make this deal: trade the boat on the sea for a house with forest scenery and some tax money to pay for a firefighter. With the exchange rate, you might conceivably measure the value of your ocean real estate and various other things (your health, 5 minutes of your free time, etc.) in terms of equivalent number of firefighters. This would be the ‘fire-fighter’ standard, as opposed to the gold standard, etc. (it would really have to be ‘fire-fighter days’ since any given fire fighter might be employed for various time periods. (Of course, your values will be different than anothers, but interaction in a free market (various caveats aside) will tend to maximize total profit for everyone, and set exchange rates based on supply-demand and marginal utility for the fluxes/amounts that exist, for the arrangement of resources in time and space and other dimensions that is chosen by the system. The exchange rates will depend on the outcome but they are still meaningful for that outcome… etc.))
Why shouldn’t economists use monetary value for accounting purposes? IF they are really good at what they do, the results will be useful, even to non-economists, because the monetary value can be translated into goods and services, ecosystem services, health, even your own self.
Re Kevin and Ray – Perhaps this is a case where there is too much nonlinearity to assign a cost that is independent of the future trajectory. The future will be affected by a policy such as an emissions tax (or zoning, urban and infrastructure public planning, bans, subsidies, mandates, building codes, education for girls and family planning services in third-world countries, etc.), so the correct value of that tax depends on the tax and on the other things we do – or it could, unless it turns out to be a linear case. This is of course a situation where we have to deal with probabilities, so there would be an insurance-like aspect to it all.
The law to drive on one side of the road makes the choice to drive on that side of the road a much better choice than driving on the other side of the road, and makes driving itself more profitable.
“Re Mark – no, a firefighter has no direct use to you when you are on a flame-retardant boat in the Pacific Ocean. But how valuable would it be to move to a house surrounded by trees?”
A firefighter has value because it is used to gain utility. You don’t NEED a firefighter for your house surrounded by trees: move out if there’s a fire and rebuild when the fire is gone.
Humans lasted a looong time without firemen.
Now the accumulation of “stuff” means that you would prefer to take insurance by having a fire department, but as has been amply demonstrated in both Australia and the US recently, having a fire department doesn’t guarantee your home.
Money is a central concept of economics as the rate of exchange of value. But that’s a MODEL of how humans act in concert and interpersonally. It isn’t the reality.
“Why shouldn’t economists use monetary value for accounting purposes?”
But what they SHOULD NOT do is conflate the idea of accounting with some inherent higher truth of reality. Which is what Steph is doing and you want to do too.
An electron really exists.
But to give the physicists model of an electron some actual reality would be foolish. One really obvious reason is that for the spin energy of the electron to exist in our model of its reality, it would have to spin faster than light at the surface of the electron.
But Physicists don’t ascribe some reality to our model of an electron. We already know how that leads to error.
Many economists fail to evince the same care with their model.
I guess you are pretending to misunderstand. However, to make it clear, I am talking about the present day system of the “developed world” for better or worse. That system has some real problems, but look back at how things were 200 years ago.
“You don’t NEED a firefighter for your house surrounded by trees: move out if there’s a fire and rebuild when the fire is gone.”
“Humans lasted a looong time without firemen.”
“Now the accumulation of “stuff” means that you would prefer to take insurance by having a fire department, but as has been amply demonstrated in both Australia and the US recently, having a fire department doesn’t guarantee your home.”
1. You don’t need to live on a flame retardant boat, either. You really don’t need anything (you need things in order to live, but you don’t need to live. You (I hope) want to live, and others also want you to live. The value you would find in ‘necessities’ are valuable in so far as your life is valuable. Other things are valuable to you in so far as you find value in them, and they may have some additional value through you to other people (your having it and all consequences thereof could be of value to someone else, including a future you or past you (expectation value?) if we start breaking down components).
The point is, there might be some fire fighting institution that comes with a cost (money, or bartering or indirect bartering if you prefer) and a benifit (some reduction of risk of losses in investments/property), and if the benifit is great enough relative to the cost, you might then choose that option. The cost occurs because you getting something of value requires some combination of someone else getting something of value to them that must be supplied, and/or someone else losing something of value …
IF you ever make a decision between two options, and you choose one, and it was the optimum choice for you, it must be because that had more value to you then the other option. This is not always a choice between two different quantities of identical commodities for the same price. Generally, apples and oranges must be compared at some point. There is an exchange rate implied by your behavior. Your personal exchange rate may be different from another’s, but the interaction of trade sets up a market exchange rate that affects how much you would have to give up in order to get something.
PS I am not trying to say that monetary value or equivalent monetary value is precisely proportional to the value one actually can get, but there is a tendency, especially all other things being equal. There is also a tendency for, all other things being equal, greater economic wealth being a morally valuable outcome. That aside, the morally optimal policy may be an externality tax. Doesn’t this imply a monetary to moral value conversion? Again, depending on marginal utility, and can be nonlinear, etc.
“But that’s a MODEL of how humans act in concert and interpersonally. It isn’t the reality.”
So humans don’t exchange money, ever? Or is your point that economic models can be innaccurate? Many models are imperfect but still very useful.
“An electron really exists.”
Are you sure?
PS “A physicist says physics is the basis of all natural knowledge. Because they’re thinking like a physicist.”
“A Chemist says chemistry is the basis for considering life and technology. Because they’re a chemist.”
“A Biologist says Biology IS the study of life and therefore the basis of all we need to know. Because they’re a biologist.”
What is this supposed to mean, really? Physical law, so far as supernatural processes are absent, are the underlying basis for chemistry and biology and much else. And I really wouldn’t think good chemists and biologists believe that the concepts of ‘force’, ‘power’, ‘energy’, and ‘entropy’ have no place in life and technology and all we need to know.
Maybe we should go back to AGW and reconsider what we’re talking about. Other caveats aside, Markets will better optimize economic value when decisions are forced to be made with price signals for externalities, or with some other public policy to deal with externalities (which is the better option depends on specifics). What does that mean? It means if we can figure out the public cost of CO2, some form of taxation would help. What is the best tax rate? Perhaps higher than many would like, but it is possible to have it too high. But assuming a generally convex production possibilities curve, closer is better, and a little is better than none.
How would this be figured out? Assuming likely or nearly optimal adaption (And including net costs of adaptation, which would be minimized for a given climate change trajectory for optimal adaptation) (or if not the same think, including the cost of making adaptation optimal), there is net total property value loss (includes the effect of increased insurance cost), and net public property loss, which includes biodiversity losses and other ecosystem degradation. How to value this in monetary equivalent? Lost or degraded ecosystem services may reduce agricultural output and personal comfort (which is something people are willing to spend money on), and factory output, etc, and increase medical costs, building and infrastructure updates, migration and its costs, greater investments in crop breeding, or spending for partial or complete substitution of the natural service (aquaducts and desalination). Some of the net losses will be sentimental/aesthetic value, and perhaps also scientific value (although there will be a scientific gain – studying the climate change, and likewise some aesthetic value in the form of ‘interesting times’). These things are hard to value, but could be valued by considering what people would be willing to spend for these things, and how much would have to be spent in reparation for the loss.
(Notice that the difference between optimal adaptiona and adaptation that is likely without policies to encourage something better may include warfare and ethnic strife, and political impediment to migration. What are the costs? A principled method of reparation distribution to climate change injuries would help, including payments made to climate change refugees and maybe payments made to recieving countries. More cynically, some economic productivity might be sacrificed in exchange for politicians bribing their constituents (pork) to get them to accept other policies that they hate because they are selfish @$#@$%.)
This is easier if the situation is an otherwise ideal free market, including migration to where the good jobs, and goods and good real estate are. It is also easier if everyone has the same initial resource base and the same conversion rate between (equivalent) economic value and personally-realized value (quality of life) – or if these things varied in some way not indepenent of each other. Obviously these are not true. However, there is still a tendency for increased economic value to make a higher quality of life more likely; they are not completely independent. However, is there a valid concern that the wellbeing of poor countries would be morally underweighted? First, for economic accuracy, the methods for estimating climate change cost should include the future trajectory of the world, and charitable efforts will affect that. Second, of course we *should* be looking for a moral optimum, and that may require some adjustments. However, economic reality still has to be considered.
Jim Bullis, the tendency to want things to remain the same is natural and human. After all, the environment we have grown up in is the one we know how to negotiate. However, there comes a point where this is no longer an option. Once petroleum is gone, there will be no petroleum-based energy economy. Change is inevitable. The question is whether we select the change we want or whether we let change collide with great force against our collective face. Agreeing on how we change may be difficult. Agreeing that we must change is simply survival instinct.
“including a future you or past you (expectation value?)”
If instead of thinking of actors/agents, we think of some number of ‘decision moments’, wherein a (conscious deliberate) choice is made, their is a web of interaction among them – each decision moment tends to have some net profit. That net profit may come from a future reward; however, it is the actual expectation of that reward that is the benifit in that decision moment and not the reward itself, though as a pattern, some nonzero frequency of an actual reward is required to make the expectation of further future rewards possible — … maybe (?).
(A single ‘big’ decision may be made of a number of smaller decisions including decisions about how to allocate decision-making resources.)
… and the existence of a decision, and it’s possible outcomes and potential profit, are shaped by the outcomes of prior decisions and the potential of future decisions.
“It is also easier if everyone has the same initial resource base and the same conversion rate between (equivalent) economic value and personally-realized value (quality of life)”
1. A person could choose to invest in his/her ability to get ‘real value’ from economic value, but that investment may require sacrifice of some type, perhaps including the sacrifice of self (in the sense of changing one’s characteristics) – being one’s self has some value, including to other people – if people’s interactions repay (socially if not otherwise) that value then the person may then be able to get more value from not changing…
(PS following is just a hypothetical example of ideal free markets, and is not an argument for it:
(PS and regarding not starting out with the same resources – that could get into an interesting study of how an idealized free market health insurance plan would work (example: insurance is supposed to increase fairness via reducing effects of luck, while preserving incentives to pursue or avoid risk based on likely reward (also the idea behind stock markets) – this service is not free (as with stock markets – I wonder if there is a distinct problem with management being seperate from ownership and the relationship between them tends to encourage myopic and less than moral behavior (counterexample – green stocks, stocks in companies with reputations for … etc.), whereas owner-managers might take a longer term and seek some profit in forms that are not on the conventional ‘bottom line’.) First, an idealized free market health care system would charge people according to diet and excercise, if they live in polluted (although those charges could be passed on to polluters) or disaster-prone areas (PS consequences would further reduce property values in those areas by driving people away – this is an ideal version, remember), other behavior, etc. And, well, a person can’t choose their genetic risk factors, but parents can make reproductive decisions, so an idealized free market health care insurance would charge per act of unprotected you-know-what + x % * protected act, multiplied on a time-of-month variation, multiplied by genetic risk factors for whatever the insurance would cover (includes a cost reduction for genetic factors that cut risks), with a fudge factor for whether the parents would consider that which I won’t mention here because it’s too controversial, etc. And of course, the actual medical care required for genetic risk factors can be behavior dependent, and vice versa, so … **** THIS is one case where the social/cultural/technical costs of market accuracy are greater than the benifits (most parents do care about their children’s quality of life). But a small junk food tax might be of some good.))
2. Time-integrated standard of living is a good metric to use (requires other metrics, though). But it takes resources to support a standard of living, or any living at all. The best things in life may be ‘free’ in a very direct immediate sense but it takes resources to have the time, place, supporting infrastructure, etc, to allow such things to occur, and the ‘real value’ in all of this is the source of economic value. It is not that all that is of value can be traded directly for money, but that as long as there is use of money, monetary values will in some way echo actual values.
3. In an ideal free market (PS I’m not trying to argue that actual free markets will be ideal), if the agents were acting according to moral value, the economic value would reflect moral value. Assuming no kinks, the prices and quantities would tend to approach the intersections of Moral supply and moral demand curves, so that moral expenses would go toward their most highly morally-valued uses, and the investments would shift among moral supplies to further maximize moral profit.
So if you were trying to argue that measuring everything in some monetary equivalent were not easy, or is not a complete description of reality, I would agree. But it seemed like you were arguing that monetary value could be ignored, and I disagree there.
PS my concept of an idealized free market he-alth insurance was in response to Sarah Pal-in’s calling ‘Obama’s’ plan (whatever version she thinks will be his ?) evi-l – aside from the straw-man, even if it was true, it struck me as perhaps a bit so-ci-al-ist on Pal-in’s part – and though most people may be instinctively soci-alist a bit in the same way on that issue (and I can’t blame them), I can’t help but appreciate the irony. Anyway, enough OT.
(Health care is problematic because we already have some. We might as well have a blank slate to work with regarding energy/climate policy; I hope we make use of that opportunity.)
Steve, I’m sorry but brevity didn’t seem to be working. It’s gold but not iridium. The stream-of-consciousness quality is a result of my trying to be fast and allow some loose ends (…) to avoid too much detail; I have thought about these things before.
A few points of clarification/correction on the ‘ideal’ free market health insurance:
0. Some genetic conditions are not inherited – though they might have inheritable probability, which is what would be charged for (same for inheritable epigenetic risks). Actually, parental decisions regarding child lifestyle, place of residence, etc, could be lumped into the same formulation (?).
“charge per act of unprotected you-know-what” …, “multiplied on a time-of-month variation”
… more generally, any variation in fertility, including ongoing pregnancy – and also, given that all actions to achieve pregnancy only lead up to one pregancy at a time at most, those should be counted differently (?). Twins would be two-for-one, unless behaviorally dependent, or genetic factors for multiples, etc. Adjustments for whether pregnancy is carried to term or not, etc, since the medical costs covered by insurance would be distributed over time… it gets complicated as the real world is complicated, though the principles are easy enough to understand.
(and in fairness to Palin, who might not actually have been demonstrating soci-ali-st tendencies, depending on where the emphasis should be placed in here statements (ie of course insurance companies ration care based on how much a customer is worth to society, as measured by how much the person can pay or have someone pay for him/her self (setting aside when they cheat their customers) – but admitedly that is different than ‘subjective judgements (or is it?) – of course it is still a strawman argument she was waging):
The free market can determine that the cost of such an idealized free market system is too great for the benifit. People could choose not to get such an insurance plan, not wanting to deal with the totalitarian nature of it and various psychological and even potentially moral discomforts (?). The monetary impact is a reduced willingness to pay. The insurance company might not be able to make a profit with that type of plan, so the plan won’t be sold. Two alternatives are to just treat genetic risks as unknown (would actually save on genetic information costs), and cover the related costs with an equal charge per customer – or to not cover pre-existing conditions. Even if it is outlawed (PS public policy) to discrimate based on genetics directly, any determination of expense based on a medical exam would not presumably off a discount if the high blood pressure was hereditary as opposed to due to chosen behavior, and therefore would be more unfair to some people.
In general, accuracy has cost; sometimes the better option is a less accurate approximation that has less cost. This applies to AGW policy – if we can’t determine whether the emissions tax should be $10 per ton CO2 or $500 per ton of CO2 … well let’s just go with something in between, or since we are at zero, start lower and adjust depending on results or lack thereof and other new information.
Other point –
If you tried to buy love, it would be devalued. But suppose you wanted the chance to fall in love with someone who wanted to fall in love with someone who knew a lot about AGW. Well, then you might want to invest in yourself, specifically in your knowledge of AGW. At some point you might buy a book, or buy biofuel or electricity or food to fuel your transport to the library (although one of those has a nice additional benifit), or buy internet service, etc. You might spend some freetime studying, trading some other opportunity/use of time for that purpose. You would also try to stay alive.
You would take care of your eyes, buy glasses, or bionic vision someday, to enjoy scenery. Etc.
End general economics. As long as the subject matter has turned this way, if this is still open in a few days, I might post a more specific idea for AGW policy.
Interesting comment by the chair of the Royal Society geoengineering study on the “moral hazard” argument against geoengineering (which I for one have raised a couple of times in this thread):
While we need to take seriously the possibility that geoengineering will undermine efforts to reduce emissions, it is based on an assumption which has not yet been tested empirically. Indeed, it is possible that geoengineering could have the opposite effects. … Feedback during the focus groups [conducted for the study] suggested that the very notion that something as drastic as geoengineering may be required dramatically underlines the seriousness of the problem.
I do appreciate your point that, if the civilization that support our whole money system is at stake, monetary valuations are a questionable guide to policy. The effects of climate change can be game-changers, and it raises questions of equity on global and centennial scales. The IPCC discusses some of the difficulties (AR4 WG3, ch. 2).
Cost-benefit analysis may be a useful tool in many policy settings, like health care in a single country with a narrow range of welfare levels. It seems an important tool to assess and prioritize mitigation options in, say, the energy sector. But I don’t feel at all confident it can scale up to the big strategic issues in global warming policy — such as what role if any should be allowed for geoengineering.
Mark, I think a number of other people have pointed out that you’re (deliberately) misconstruing my post and you don’t seem to have any interest in what I’m actually saying, so I can’t see the point in responding any further to your comments.
#279 and 280: Ray and Kevin both summed it up well. “But in the case of AGW cost benefit analysis (CBA, in the jargon, apparently) we have cost estimates that range from 3% to 40% of global GDP. (As far as I can tell so far, all of the estimates are pretty shaky.) If we’re talking about the higher end of the range, though, we’re talking about negative economic growth. And if we get that, we get a situation where the logic for discounting gets turned upside down–”paying later” becomes proportionately more and more expensive.”
In this case you’d be talking about a negative component to the discount rate. (Not to get too technical, but I think you all can handle this: one method for determining the discount rate is r = rho + eta*growth, where rho is the “pure rate of time preference” and eta is the “elasticity of the marginal utility of consumption” where rho and eta are both measured empirically. If growth is negative, you could indeed witness a negative discount rate.)
Several other issues arise here, not least of which that rho and eta are both generally measured in an intra-generational context, whereas climate change is clearly an inter-generational public good, and therefore traditional measurements of rho and eta may not apply.
When I mentioned that there has to be some balancing, that does not imply that we ignore the future damages, rather we have to recognize that it is not feasible to spend every dollar today to prevent all damages in the future. We do have to eat and protect ourselves from the elements, or there will be no future humans.
#285: Hank: “Has anyone seen a pure economic analysis of the use of lead in paint and plumbing, making the arguments for and against continuing to use it?”
I’m sure there has been and the benefits of banning it far exceeded the costs associated with replacing it and living with “inferior” substitutes. Lead in paint does cause increased lead-blood levels and there is a statistically significant association between blood-lead levels and IQ and academic performance.
#287, Patrick: “Perhaps this is a case where there is too much nonlinearity to assign a cost that is independent of the future trajectory.”
I think that’s probably an accurate statement. We need to make assumptions about what the future emissions trajectory will be, and that is part of (though not remotely completely) where the uncertainty in the estimates of future damages comes from. As I see it, all we can do is reevaluate periodically. Given the massive uncertainties surrounding the damages associated with climate change, and our presumably increasing knowledge, this would be necessary at any rate.
Actually, the case of catastrophic deflation due to climate change might be analogous to the sort of deflation that took place in the late dark ages/early middle ages. Populations decreased so severely that there was no one to work the land, which therefore lay fallow, leading to more starvation and deflation. Of course we are starting from a much higher population, but still, we might draw some lessons.
“Populations decreased so severely that there was no one to work the land”
However, there would be less demand for the products of worked land, and the remaining land workers, in an ideal situation (obviously not applicable to the historical context), would select the best land (within other constraints) so that there would be more food per unit land-work (Mao forgot that part, in his (Stossel-pronatalism and Republican-populist anti-intellectualism) expectation that more work always gives more food without any upper limit). Aside from variations in output/input ratio, however, one might expect a near balance between population and food production. Except:
1. If the population starts to drop with an initial famine, the dropping population could sustain the famine, sustaining continued decline, whereas if the population drops initially without an initial famine, there could be an initial food surplus (?)
2. If the population is starts to drop via illness that decreases productivity
3. If population reduction by itself (via shrinking labor pool) or in combination with illness (reduction of trade – lower population density itself might reduce the linkages among populations, while fear of disease would be an impediment to trade on various scales
(as in the scenario presented in ABC’s “Earth 2100″, which is the most depressing, most frightenning version of the near-future I have ever seen, in large part because it was so plausable and could so easily occur (unlike “Supervolcano” (realistic but unlikely within any one century) or “The Day After Tomorrow” (hyperbole and technical impossibilities with implausably happy ending for that scenario, relatively speaking), or “Armageddon” (unlikely-big threat, implausable happy ending, although I found the visual effects for the impact on Paris to be quite realistic), or “The Core” (besides motion in the outer core sustaining a magnetic field, everything else salient is just wrong – the core would never just stop, the magnetic field would take ~ 10(0?),000 times as long to decay if it did, and the effects would be nothing like what was depicted, except the part with the Northern lights, which would be fun) – all good movies nonetheless)
reduces the efficiency increases that can be realized with specialization (including those who specialize in preserving accumulated knowledge).
4. The proportions of labor shift,
5. or if other feedbacks with a short time scale overwhelm adaptation capacity, so that overall behavior becomes self destructive (the prospect that someone will steal your food decreases the motive to produce any food – ie Congo within the last ~decade).
Stephanie, re 285, either you missed the irony or you missed the cost accounting — you’re adding accounting for externalized costs, and that’s not yet done very well. It takes public health action to deal with problems like lead plumbing and lead paint, because no accountant anywhere is going to tell her employer that they should take externalized costs into their bookkeeping and cut shareholder short-term profit. Not til the law forces it.
“… new paint in many unregulated Asian countries greatly exceeds U.S. safety levels.
The UC-led team analyzed 80 consumer paint samples of various colors and brands from four countries–India, Malaysia, China and Singapore–to determine the amount of lead and compare them with U.S. standards.
About 50 percent of the paint sold in China, India and Malaysia–none of which appear to have regulations on lead–had lead levels 30 times higher than U.S. regulations. In contrast in Singapore, which has well-enforced regulations, only 10 percent of paint samples were above U.S. regulations, the highest being six times the U.S. limit….”
(It doesn’t require people stealing other peoples food to reduce food productivity – what can happen during war is deliberate destruction of farmland; the potato (growing underground) is harder to destroy, so growing potatos would give an adantage to people – potatos might also have been easier to grow than other crops in some climate conditions; however, some in Europe, such as in France, did not want to eat potatoes, for cultural/religious reasons, though the King tried to get them to do so.)
(“so that overall behavior becomes self destructive ” – this can occur even when individuals or smaller groups act perfectly rationally – as in a negative sum game.)
(PS what I understand (?) (feel free to correct me) of the transition from antiquity to middle ages:
1. productivity of land decreased due to reduced soil fertility
2. upper-class Romans poisoned themselves (via food, drink, and make-up) with lead, reducing their own fertility, intelligence, and sanity.
3. Romans didn’t want to fight their own battles anymore, greater reliance on mercenary armies (?) (or slaves – not sure about that part).
4. Was the empire just too big, geographically, to be sustainable?
5. Huns, Goths, etc.
6. Some type of century-millenial scale climate variation
7. volcanic eruption ~ 535 AD causes short term climate change that is hypothesized to have given cattle (and people with cattle) advantage over horses (and people with horses) in central Asia, driving Avars out, Avars attack remaining portion of Roman Empire (now Byzantine Empire); also, changes in hydrology drive migration on Arabian peninsula that is linked to origin of Islam; also, climate change causes ecological disruption in Africa that might be origin of Bubonic Plague, plague spreads among those linked to Roman empire including Celts in Brittain but not so much Germanic tribes, so Germanic tribes come to dominate Brittain, meanwhile Plague depopulates regions allowing subsequent faster spread of Islam … etc.)
307 Mark, he put parentheses around (deliberately) to show that it was only his opinion. That’s two misconstrues. Baseball, anyone?
308 Ray, global warming or nuclear war would avoid the anti-societal influence of a plague. Also, we have pretty much filled up the planet resource-wise and prime-space-wise, so our production of food depends mostly on capital, water and land availability. Keeping enough farmers trained isn’t a problem. What if we use geoengineering to control temperatures and the oceans as we know them die? Simple sea lettuce rotting on a beach just killed a French horse and possibly a lorry driver. (That was from increased agricultural runoff, not CO2) Some say the increase in jellyfish is a harbinger of an anoxic event. Coastlines could become horrible places to live. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8242649.stm
Mark says of the Black Death: “Therefore the landowners had to compete for workers. It ended serfdom.”
Actually, no. Serfdom was around until the Enlightenment in Western Europe and until the beginning of the late 1800s in Russia and some of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Initially, the landowners did compete for labor, offering very favorable terms and protection to workers who bound themselves to the land. Once bound, they became serfs.
Also, while Plague was a large contributor to the die-off, famine was also significant, and one of the causes of the famine was the insecurity of farms with a continent full of marauding men at arms in the power vacuum after the fall of Rome.
RichardC, I think we will find some parallels as our own population starts to decline. Just look at Eastern Europe now.
Retraining existing farmers could be a problem. In one case (see “Against the Grain” by Richard Manning), farmers just couldn’t believe the results of a demonstration using sufficient but not excessive fertilizer, and continued out of habit or fear to practice the excessive status quo.
Stephanie – maybe you could help me with this. You have “one method for determining the discount rate is r = rho + eta*growth, where rho is the “pure rate of time preference” and eta is the “elasticity of the marginal utility of consumption” where rho and eta are both measured empirically. If growth is negative, you could indeed witness a negative discount rate.)”
Okay. For small scale intragenerational issues (setting aside the philosophical point that we are not exactly the same people from one moment to the next, so one could argue we really have obligations to our future selves, etc, and doing addictive drugs is an infringement on your future self’s freedom, but anyway…), it makes sense that there would be some pure time preference because of uncertainty in the future (that I could die tomorrow) – however, at the societal level this uncertainty should tend to be smaller, or could be made smaller by agreements to shape future trajectories (a feedback)).
The net cost of climate change is the difference between what will be and what could have been. The uncertainty could be incorporated into that equation using probabilistic descriptions.
If climate change contributes to a population and economic decline, that is part of the cost of climate change. However, if there is a population and economic decline, the cost of climate change for the time period could be reduced (not in proportion necessarily – for a given change in natural resources, a given population decline could result in greater than in proportion decline in the cost of climate change because of increased migration options and decreased ease of disease transmission, among other things perhaps. However, while a purely utilitarian calculation reduces the costs to people by reducing the number of people (who never existed in the first place – if we get into potential people we could end up regarding every moment spent not copulating with fertility drugs as mass murder, but anyway), the remaining people would experience the changed conditions and in fairness to them some additional moral value conceivably should be assigned; also, there could be a population recovery beyond that which would have to deal with the conditions they are dealt – or even if humans go extinct, if some other beings came upon the scene in the not too distant future (getting into tricky territory here, considering dolphins and apes – then again, we can’t give the same moral weight to individual dolphins if they do not abide by a moral code (how do dolphins treat each other? Well I guess it varies among species and individuals …) – however, we humans might prefer to leave things less of a mess than more of a mess even if we are not there to see it, regardless of obligations or lack thereof to nonhuman entities). There are also costs of depopulation, such as reduced specialization and mass market advantages and opportunities for niche markets, loss of ability to preserve knowledge of the past (a loss for us – while some of us might not experience it directly, it increases our hope for being remembered and known in some way if we can expect conditions to allow it, so…) (also a loss to the future who might learn from us, even possibly the distant future, even perhaps some distant bionic amphibious flying centaur/mermaid descendants of us or others if we go extinct, who excavate the remnants our civilation, buried in hundred million-year old sandstones, limestones, and lava flows, etc. (what minerals would metamorphic cell phones be made of?), and potential loss of human biodiversity, which could have a medical cost to future generations (although given the recent population explosion, assuming depopulation is not too unevenly distributed among populations, any loss in human genetic diversity going down to … 500 million (?) … would not be particularly more special than what could quickly be replaced with a population recovery.
That being aside from the process of population decline, however (reduced life expectancy a problem; a reduction in birth rate not so much (which can be achieved by a combination of reduced fertility rate and increased generational spacing in time), and the ramifications of any change too rapid for easy adaptation, climate or economic or societal or all.
But a negative growth, while itself being a cost of climate change, could also reduce the subsequent costs of climate change, and that would go for a negative growth rate due to some independent cause.
…Except for the effect that greater economic power per person could reduce some of the costs of climate change by decreasing the net cost of adaptation – and/or it’s effect on standard of living, which might be one of the most straightforward metrics to use, if it can be defined well. This may include greater ease of adapting crops and other production/distribution processes to climate shifts due to greater economic resources including technological advances and reduced political tensions that could otherwise lead to self-destructive behavior for the whole of humanity. There is also the possibility of shifts in consumer demand – if the joys of cyberspace became great enough people might be able to make up for losses in physical reality, although I find that depressing so it is a cost to me. (PS I think we should assume most Earth people will continue to be largely carbon based organisms with dietary and psychological, etc, requirements and wants similar to those of most present day Earth people.)
“setting aside the philosophical point that we are not exactly the same people from one moment to the next, ”
Or maybe don’t set that aside – I guess that’s part of the reason for the pure time preference (If I don’t know me 50 years from now, I can’t plan his wellbeing as effectively as my own now. But I know that me 50 years from now, if he exists, will not be happy with me now if I don’t do enough for the future me…)
(Of course, some of what I do for myself now will benifit me in the future, and some of what I do for my future will benifit me now, just as it can benifit others to do something for me and can benifit me to do something for others.)
Not that this doesn’t require the same analysis, but it might in some way be easier to just try to optimize our time-integrated reality from now to as far as we can work with to whatever degree we can work with it – and if we get it right, whatever net price signal is imposed on emissions will be, by free market logic, the true cost, up to the limitations of market accuracy, etc.
… It might be argued that we have a moral responsibility to ourselves in part because we are something special.
… regarding preservation of nature and natural trajectories, when all else is equal, it makes sense to preserve because it is hard to go home again – ie you can’t just jump back and forth among different geological time divisions (aside from the aesthetic and scientific value of a natural state). On the other hand, natural trajectories will eventually bring about change, and even new geologic time divisions, so the preservation justification has a time decay (aside from aesthetic and scientific value) …
“It might be argued that we have a moral responsibility to ourselves in part because we are something special.”
That was not what I meant – not that we don’t have moral responsibility to ourselves (although often it is the easy choice type – we can do the right thing for us and others without much effort in various everyday activities, so we don’t think of it as being moral).
But what I meant was
It might be argued that we have a moral responsibility not just to us, to preserve ourselves and our accomplishments, because we are something special, even if there is no other thing in particular to have responsibility towards.
OK, Ray, I knew that there were still “serfs” in name, but what I read from the discussion on that form of the institution was very different from serfdom before the huge die-off. It could be that such serfdom wasn’t all that different, but I suppose it depends on what historian you read and how you read it.
NOTE: a die-off that wouldn’t have been so problematic if the concentration of wealth and the reduction of “productive workers” hadn’t been worsened by technology advances. The rich have much more to lose and could not do the work required. Someone on the poverty line doesn’t have much to lose, and if they can still get their own food, falling isn’t possible without external force. We’re in a much worse situation now. How many of us could grow our own food to feed us and our family? Without technology and its required infrastructure (set to a coastline roughly where it has been for the last 200 years), we wouldn’t survive and the powerful would be able to look after themselves but would have to put up with a much MUCH lower standard of living.
Or pay thugs to take what they wanted from the dregs of society, trading the future of their family for comfort now.
On this one:
“2. upper-class Romans poisoned themselves (via food, drink, and make-up) with lead, reducing their own fertility, intelligence, and sanity.”
MUCH earlier than that.
Ancient Egypt used Arsenic and Digitalis for cosmetic reasons and, because the royal family were the children of the Gods and reincarnations thereof, they HAD to interbreed, lest they send the holy spirits into the unenlightened or diluted the holy soul.
And the poor did just as badly, with their limited resources.
The primary reason the Roman Empire in the west fell was insufficient civilian control of the military. When social problems arose, every General thought he could do a better job as Emperor than the sitting Emperor, and tried to take over. If he couldn’t do that, he tried to split off a piece of the Empire. The Romans spent more time fighting each other than fighting the external enemies, who took advantage of the situation to chip away at the borders of the Empire until they worked their way to the center. When the Gothic king, Odoacer, finally took Rome in 476 BC, he didn’t even bother to fire the last western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus. He just told him to go home.
The bit about degeneracy and insanity doesn’t really explain anything. The Roman upper classes were degenerate and insane from the get-go. Caligula was around in the 40s AD; the Empire fell more than 400 years later. And the Empire in the east, now called the Byzantine Empire, lasted until the Turks took it over in 1453, with outposts holding out till 1461. Technically, the monastery at Mt. Athos, which is on an isolated island, is still the Roman Empire, though in practice the monks have to pay taxes to Italy.
“The primary reason the Roman Empire in the west fell was insufficient civilian control of the military.”
Somewhat engendered by the unfortunate side effect of power concentration of people who used to think “I can do better therefore I’m in charge” changed their idea to “I’m in charge, so I do it better”.
Tony Blair did this to a T.
He became right purely because he was in charge.
And therefore anyone disagreeing was wrong.
And also in the rulers of Rome becoming completely hatstand.
Fascinating factoid, BPL! I can’t forbear to mention that the Romans also had financial problems due to dysfunctional taxation mechanisms.
Maybe the takeaway is that many disparate factors worked synergistically to bring down the Empire, accounting for the fact that historians have been arguing about “the cause” at least since the days of Gibbon.
And maybe another takeaway is that a society’s response to climate change–as mentioned WRT Imperial Rome by Patrick in his comment–can be seriously constrained by structural and economic factors, or by leadership failures.
“It might be argued that we have a moral responsibility not just to us, to preserve ourselves and our accomplishments, because we are something special, even if there is no other thing in particular to have responsibility towards.”
If true, that would likely also apply to some moral value of preservation regardless of who is served by it. (Preservation of nature, however, means also allowing the next ice age to occur without interference.)
While preservation has some more direct (aside from the economic effects and their repurcusions of adapting or losing infrastructural value in a rapid change) aesthetic and scientific value, there is also direct aesthetic and scientific value to AGW, in that ‘may you live in interesting times’ is both a blessing and a curse (think storm chaser videos), and AGW can be studied by science. However, there may be decreasing returns of both science and excitement with each incremental increase in AGW, and in addition to no longer studying the climate in a ‘natural state’ (or whatever remains of that), some paleoclimatic records would be lost (ice cores – although geologists would have easier access to the rock record in some cases), and biodiversity and ecosystems (although the die-off/changes could be studied). Of course I am not trying to suggest that such silver linings would outweigh the direct losses in nature as well as the net losses from ecosystem and climate services , ecosytsto the economy, etc (medical/health and agricultural resources, water and trade, physical comfort, property and infrastructure value, etc.), but just mentioning them for the sake of greater completeness.
Of course, each effect of climate change in isolation would be modulated by other effects. Other changes modulate the cost of climate change and climate change modulates the other changes.
“However, while a purely utilitarian calculation reduces the costs to people by reducing the number of people (who never existed in the first place – if we get into potential people we could end up regarding every moment spent not copulating with fertility drugs as mass murder, but anyway), the remaining people would experience the changed conditions and in fairness to them some additional moral value conceivably should be assigned”
Varies. Fairness is a moral good but obviously not the whole of it. We would like to end poverty; out of fairness some sacrifices on the part of the well-off could be justified (being careful of fairness, though), but bringing everyone down to the same level of poverty would be of little good. There is poverty today, war today, diseases that are hard to treat today; people suffer and die. It would be absurd to not advance politically, economically, and technologically, in the name of fairness.
However, future generations will benifit from work done now and before – through economic investments and scientific/technological/cultural progress, etc. It would be allowable for the people of today and near future to benifit with some expense to future generations if it is more than balanced by benificial inheritance. Of course, not all is give and take; some of what we do for ourselves benifits the future and vice versa. And the cost of climate change (and other messes) could not only subtract from the net inheritance but also degrade the part that is or would be good (as has been suggested above by others).
And inflation adjusted G(D/N)P and/or accumulated property value per capita wouldn’t probably be linearly proportional to quality of life/standard of living – in which case, economic growth would reduce the impact to standard of living of the same economic loss from climate change, although it wouldn’t be the same economic loss because of the economic growth, etc.
This does suggest that a portion of emissions tax revenue could go to cuts in other taxes and equal per capita rebate as well as general long-term economic investments (whether in green power or efficiency, adaptation, or something not so directly related to climate, like medical advances) could be justified on the basis of paying back the future for the incurred climate change costs. This suggests that the net imposed price signal as defined by some form of emissions tax + efficiency and clean energy subsidy could be greater than the actual public cost of the emissions, the remainder justified by the future benifits that would help make up for the adaptation costs and losses (and also justified by the utility of public planning – such as helping new industries grow to the point where they can realize mass market advantages, overcoming habitual practices in building, etc.)
PS on the societal level uncertainty being less than individual uncertainty – we don’t know future individuals exactly (future versions of ourselves as well as new people yet to be determined), but the mix of individuals may be characterized in a more predictable way – and we know we have limited options to slow and halt population growth, although we should be doing what we can within moral guidelines (war, famine, disease, totalitarian stuff – is not a valid strategy), etc.