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The tragedy of climate commons

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 May 2009 - (Svenska)

Imagine a group of 100 fisherman faced with declining stocks and worried about the sustainability of their resource and their livelihoods. One of them works out that the total sustainable catch is about 20% of what everyone is catching now (with some uncertainty of course) but that if current trends of increasing catches (about 2% a year) continue the resource would be depleted in short order. Faced with that prospect, the fishermen gather to decide what to do. The problem is made more complicated because some groups of fishermen are much more efficient than the others. The top 5 catchers, catch 20% of the fish, and the top 20 catch almost 75% of the fish. Meanwhile the least efficient 50 catch only 10% of the fish and barely subsist. Clearly, fairness demands that the top catchers lead the way in moving towards a more sustainable future.

The top 5 do start discussing how to manage the transition. They realise that the continued growth in catches – driven by improved technology and increasing effort – is not sustainable, and make a plan to reduce their catch by 80% over a number of years. But there is opposition – manufacturers of fishing boats, tackle and fish processing plants are worried that this would imply less sales for them in the short term. Strangely, they don’t seem worried that a complete collapse of the fishery would mean no sales at all – preferring to think that the science can’t possibly be correct and that everything will be fine. These manufacturers set up a number of organisations to advocate against any decreases in catch sizes – with catchy names like the Fisherfolk for Sound Science, and Friends of Fish. They then hire people who own an Excel spreadsheet program do “science” for them – and why not? They live after all in a free society.

After spending much energy and money on trying to undermine the science – with claims that the pond is much deeper than it looks, that the fish are just hiding, that the records of fish catches were contaminated by being done near a supermarket – the continued declining stocks and smaller and smaller fish make it harder and harder to sound convincing. So, in a switch of tactics so fast it would impress Najinsky, the manufacturers’ lobby suddenly decides to accept all that science and declares that the ‘fish are hiding’ crowd are just fringe elements. No, they said, we want to help with this transition, but …. we need to be sure that the plans will make sense. So they ask their spreadsheet-wielding “advocacy scientists” to calculate exactly what would happen if the top 5 (and only the top 5) did cut their catches by 80%, but meanwhile everyone else kept increasing their catch at the current (unsustainable rate). Well, the answers were shocking – the total catch would be initially still be 84% of what it is now and would soon catch up with current levels. In fact, the exact same techniques that were used to project the fishery collapse imply that this would only delay the collapse by a few years! and what would be the point of that?

The fact that the other top fishermen are discussing very similar cuts and that the fisherfolk council was trying to coordinate these actions to minimise the problems that might emerge, are of course ignored and the cry goes out that nothing can be done. In reality of course, the correct lesson to draw is that everything must be done.

In case you think that no-one would be so stupid as to think this kind of analysis has any validity, I would ask that you look up the history of the Newfoundland cod fishery. It is indeed a tragedy.

And the connection to climate? Here.

I’ll finish with a quotation attributed to Edmund Burke, one the founders of the original conservative movement:

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

See here for a much better picture of what coordinated action could achieve.


1,401 Responses to “The tragedy of climate commons”

  1. 101
    pete best says:

    Re #73, Fossil fuel is intensive today, the demand for all three is growing outside of a recession which will not last that much longer until BAU is resumed. If only the idea that fossil fuels could be replaced simply and cost effectively in a mitigating climate change time frame was even known and understood then fine but is it not is it? When you look at a graph of energy usage you can see the playing field is distorted by fossil fuels which provide over 80% of our present energy needs globally and of which the USA is a primary user (and waster of such fuels). The economic and political landscape is awash with it, lobbyists and public sentiment as reliant on it, our culture of prosperity and progress and capatalism means of bettering yourself which is ingrained in western thinking is increasing their usage, their is no plan for renewable energy as yet, no grand plan at all as yet. We are all awaiting this years meeting for a post kyoto treaty but regardless its a long haul even if they all agree to mitigate carbon emissions but do not expect politicians to point out to the electorate that our present standards of living are up for negotiation. The USA has been to war and still is some say for that expression of its cultural lifestyle.

    The present rate by which low carbon energy is being deployed in just far too low to have any 2 ppmv effect on AGW. Its needs to be a lot bigger, probably 3x as much as it is now. Electricity we can generate by low emissions means I am sure of it but gas and oil usage is a different ball game and its doubtful it can be done in time to stop us from using it all so its 450 ppmv minimum over a longer period of time as we have to target coal.

    Difficult decisions to be made globally.

  2. 102

    CO2 emissions are a problem for the entire world. Thus, barring truly effective international agreements, each nation should strive to work out an incentive scheme which fines CO2 emissions and rewards reducing such emissions.

    And the nations who come up with the best schemes will be rewarded – not only will they be more energy-efficient (thus saving a lot of money in the long run), but they will also be able to sell their technology and expertise to other nations who are lagging behind in this field – such as large swathes of the United States.

  3. 103
    Jan Williams says:

    I’m not sure I understand all this talk about how much it’s going to cost to cut carbon emissions. I’ve been working on saving mine for some years, and I’m saving a LOAD of cash!

    For instance:
    Not insisting that the house be a steady 70 degrees all year round, resetting the thermostat just a few degrees every now and then to reflect the outside temperature.
    Cutting travel miles by combining trips: this saves a surprising amount of time as well!
    Car sharing to and from work. A bit bothersome to set up, but I now enjoy the company. The rush hour doesn’t seem nearly so bad when you have somebody to rant with.

    And a lot more stuff. There’s nothing that impacts on the quality of my life except to make it better, yet I’m saving shedloads of money! So who are these people who are going to be so much poorer from cutting emissions?

  4. 104
    Mark says:

    “The UK only produces 2% of global emmissions.
    So there is no point in us in the UK doing anything – is there?”

    We have only 1% of the people.

    And if that 2% is so insignificant, it should be easy to forego, shouldn’t it!

  5. 105
    Rene Cheront says:

    > 98 Ike Solem
    > Can large investments for big solar projects be paid back to banks

    Bottom line question is : how much more will it cost? Five times now? Ten? Twenty?

    > Consider an analogous ‘tragedy of the commons situation’: As
    > pressure for herding on limited land grows, corn farmers point
    > out that they can grow more food per acre – but the herders band
    > together with local government officialdom to prevent farmers
    > from taking over any land The engineered lack of competition
    > then allows a deliberate run-up in the price of beef – and the
    > market has no choice but to pay or starve.

    The root problem here is the officialdom that obstructs rather than facilitates tradeable ownership of the land, thereby engineering a lack of competition.

  6. 106
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Well done again Gavin. I admire your tenacity. I have begun wondering whether it’s time to start writing the eulogy for much of human civilisation. We are facing a slowly evolving catastrophe of our own making and a person with the IQ of a moron would be better at tackling it than than all the people on the planet combined!

    Re. Zeke Hausfather at #2 and Chip Knappenberger at #1
    As there is considerable determination among large European nations to address climate change, the US will be going it alone. A genuine determination to shoulder “more than their fair share” (if you choose to define it as such) of the burden and aim for equal per capita emissions in the long run will bring enormous moral force to the table to fully involve India and China in the medium term.

    These two nations each have more people dependent on land within 1-2 metres of sea level than Bangladesh. They have far more to lose than the Western powers than are responsible for this mess. they cannot afford to let their own pollution drown their citizens.

    I wish my own nation would come to the party! Hint: It starts with Aus and it isn’t Austria.

  7. 107
    Mark says:

    “They are building solar and wind, true, but they are also building 2 coal plants a week. Total added capacity in coal, 80 GW in one year.”

    And china per capita is HOW MUCH less than USian or even British per-capita?

    If we all go for a “fair share” of fossil fuel burning, we in the developed world will use LESS because we use more than our fair share and those using less than their fair share will go UP.

    Now, if we reduce the “fair share” to 80% of the average, those above the average will make a GREATER THAN 80% cut and those at 1/5th the average will still “have to” increase their production to reach that same level.

  8. 108
    Mark says:

    Renee, #90: “This is because the whales were not owned. If they became farm animals like any other, they would be as unlikely to face extinction as chickens and cattle are.”

    Uh, may I point you to Mad Cow Disease and Salmonella Chicken (and H5N1!)?

    That which is owned is abused by its owner if they can get short-term gain from it.

    Just look at the “killer” CEO’s who come in to a company, fire staff and run out while the stock price is high. The problem is that here (as with vast pooling of any other “ownership” of resources) is that the renumeration they get is so large that even critical damage will not remduce the benefit to pauper status. The Shareholder in the company loses $10,000 from his $100,000 investment portfolio, but the company worker loses his livelihood and the CEO gets a new contract with another company.

  9. 109
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Mr Knappenberger at 18:

    “This is where I, as a climatologist, come in. My analysis, using accepted emissions scenarios and accepted modeling tools, shows that Waxman-Markey will not address the issue of mitigating projected climate change. We need significant contributions from the rest of the world—actually, not just significant, but we need the vast majority of the emissions reductions to come from the developing nations of the world.”

    That’s pretty much “Tragedy of the Commons” in a nut shell.

    In Australia the argument made by the mining lobby is that domestic action without international action will make no difference. If every major polluter takes this approach we are all but guaranteed a catastrophe.

    Look at the impeccable logic:
    IF I act and no one else acts, THEN it will make no difference AND there will be a catastrophe. HENCE I will not act.

    There is simply nothing more to this insanity.

  10. 110
    Bruce Tabor says:

    This underlying self-interested rationality of (one side of) this debate reminds me of a two line cartoon, which paraphrased would go:

    “We simply can’t afford to save the planet.”

    “But we can afford to destroy it.”

  11. 111

    #83, This was a figure of speach. I didn’t think I had to be that subtle. What Gavin wrote about has been understood about the issue for at least 30 years. There is no “we” to fix the problem.

  12. 112
    Rene Cheront says:

    >> Renee, #90: If [whales] became farm animals like any other, they
    >> would be as unlikely to face extinction as chickens and cattle
    >> are.”

    > #108 Mark : Uh, may I point you to Mad Cow Disease and
    > Salmonella Chicken (and H5N1!)? That which is owned is abused by
    > its owner if they can get short-term gain from it.

    Neither cows nor chickens face extinction, these mishaps notwithstanding. With the odd exception, people do not knowingly or deliberately abuse their own own property, since this is self-defeating. Do you knowingly or deliberately abuse your own property? Surely not.

    > Just look at the “killer” CEO’s who come in to a company, fire
    > staff and run out while the stock price is high. The problem is
    > that here (as with vast pooling of any other “ownership” of
    > resources) is that the renumeration they get is so large that
    > even critical damage will not remduce the benefit to pauper
    > status. The Shareholder in the company loses $10,000 from his
    > $100,000 investment portfolio, but the company worker loses his
    > livelihood and the CEO gets a new contract with another company.

    This simply ignores viability and efficiency. If the company was healthy, there would be no need to fire anyone in the first place, and shareholders would not be losing out. Doing nothing in these situations would typically mean EVERYONE eventually loses their job, and shareholders lose EVERYTHING. It’s a damage limitation exercise, that’s what the killer CEO is there to carry out.

  13. 113
    Geoff Wexler says:

    “Here in the UK we are planning to cut our fossil fuel burning by 80%.”

    The fact that this promise does not appear to be made in good faith, may not make it useless. Perhaps following #67, the UK should wave its (originally bogus) target around in order to apply pressure to the US to persuade it to follow our example. In return our American and Chinese colleagues might try to make the UK keep its word. This would be a beneficial many body effect. Up till now the opposite has been happening. Multilateral decarbonisation is like multilateral nuclear disarmament. It can have either sign.

    Here is a possible analogue. An announcement of a conference is circulated containing the names of several distinguished contributors. This is completely new to the individuals concerned, but they are attracted by seeing the other names on the list. With luck the project is a success.

  14. 114
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Chip at 80

    “The populace at large was not operating under forced economic incentives to aid in the success of those programs.”

    In fact they were. Neither program paid for itself. Both required public funding which was ultimately derived through taxation from the populace at large. Taxation is another word for “forced economic incentives”, as in “carbon tax” or “pollution permit cost” – passed on to the consumer.

  15. 115
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Re: Lawrence at 72 and Jeffrey at 82:
    “It looks more and more like Malthus might be vindicated after all.”

    Actually I think it will be Meadows et al’s Limits to Growth that will ultimately be vindicated.

    We are certainly on track:
    http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf

    The fundamental difference with Malthus is that it is not a single problem that overwhelmes us but a simultaneous confluence of problems that together overwhelm society’s adaptive & technological prowess. Climate change is just one of those problems.

  16. 116
    pete best says:

    Re #104, UK historical emissions are high regardless of present emission levels. The USA is historically higher and presently high so they know they have to do more than us, a lot more. UK consumes 1.7 Mbpd of oil and the USA 20. 5x the population but 10x the oil. They use it for all sort of things though to be fair, heating, making stuff (lots of it) etc.

    The true significance of climate change lies in the wests culture driven way of life. China for example is making stuff for global markets but a lot of it for us in the west. 1.3 billion population means cheaper goods and services in line with the global economic system even though they are shipped a long way. India with its 1.1 billion occupants can also produce cheaply and hence western investment continues unabated. If the fuel is available they will continue to grow at 3% per annum for the forseeable future, decades.

    Its not our fuels that are the problem, more the rate of consumption of everything it mines, extracts and makes. 70 million vehicles go onto world roads every year, thats close to a billion more every decade and they are presently coming out as diesel and petrol. How long before we see 850 million vehicles presently out there growing by 70 million per year in this format. Alternative energy cars will not impact 50% of car both present and future for many decades. Its like electric cars have to fight for market share with carbon cars?!! How daft is that is climate change is a concern. They are not going to be that much better are they ?

  17. 117
    Mark says:

    “Neither cows nor chickens face extinction,”

    So? It certainly cause several farmers to lose their livelihoods and many more would have been made penniless if it weren’t for government schemes to bail them out.

  18. 118
    Mark says:

    “This simply ignores viability and efficiency. ”

    Yup, it does.

    But the average number of directorship and similar posts held by a board of the directors of Nortel Networks is five.

    So if Nortel go belly-up (like John Ross made it do), the directors are AT WORST 20% down on their salary. What did JR get? a $6M bonus payment. Why? Because it wasn’t the Board’s money.

    Neither cared about efficiency or viability.

    See also Darl Mc Bride in SCO (in fact any spinoff branch from a company Ray Noorda owns).

  19. 119
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Sorry in 106 that should be, “As there is considerable determination among large European nations to address climate change, the US will NOT be going it alone.”

  20. 120
    MikeN says:

    Ike those rail cars aren’t piling up across the landscape, so you can’t use that as an estimate of land usage for a coal plant. The coal mines
    are fixed, and serve multiple plants. I don’t see what acid rain has to do with land area. BY that logic I should complain about mercury from CFLs poisoning Chinese workers or that the Prius battery factory is an environmental disaster in Canada.

    If one makes a mess, then it’s the responsibility of the person making the mess to clean it up.
    Now, if we reduce the “fair share” to 80% of the average, those above the average will make a GREATER THAN 80% cut and those at 1/5th the average will still “have to” increase their production to reach that same level.

  21. 121
    MikeN says:

    China’s coal electricity sector is about 80% of the US, and growing.
    With its current growth rates her per capita numbers may surpass the US by 2025.

    This would be like the largest fisherman having a large family, and if he doesn’t cut back significantly the fish will go extinct.

  22. 122
    Mark says:

    And their population 400% of the US and shrinking.

  23. 123
    Mark says:

    “Ike those rail cars aren’t piling up across the landscape, so you can’t use that as an estimate of land usage for a coal plant.”

    then include the space taken up by the rail link. After all, it NEEDS the link and if it wasn’t there, there would be no power station.

    I think you’ll find that a much larger area.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  24. 124
    Ike Solem says:

    I wish people would stop throwing around the phrase “the need to decarbonize the economy” – carbon being a rather important element in all life forms. What we need to do is switch the economy from a fossil fueled basis to a renewable energy basis, and stop pumping carbon out of stable geological reservoirs and into the atmosphere.

    Decarbonizing the economy would require the elimination of all food production, for example, as all food is carbon-based.

    Where did this language come from, anyway? It’s most evident in Congress, where calls for emissions cuts are popular, but calls for a transition to renewable energy and an end to coal and oil combustion are pretty rare, and renewable energy generation targets are unheard of.

    Rene says “Bottom line question is : how much more will it cost?”

    Well, it will actually cost a lot less over the lifetime of the solar power plant, because no fuel needs to be imported and burned to generate power. It’s this lower cost that makes banks who have seen high returns from coal-rail-utility deals uneasy.

    Low costs for the consumer translate into low profits for the supplier, and also towards a large-scale economic shift in the energy business, one that leaves coal mines and major railroads out in the cold. To avoid this scenario, they pay various PR organizations, front groups and anonymous bloggers millions of dollars a year to spread propaganda aimed at preventing that from happening. It has to be done in secret and anonymously because it flies in the face of the other propaganda lines promoted by the industry, such as “We believe in free markets and competition, not in exclusive cartels run with government assistance”.

    Essentially, the banks are still firmly refusing to finance any large-scale transitions to renewable energy because that would do serious damage to their existing holdings in fossil fuels. Something like half of the major bank’s underwriting is in the fossil fuel area, so we actually just made a $350 billion investment in fossil fuels, and if we agree that Iraq expenditures are mainly aimed at securing access to the oilfields (as per Alan Greenspan), then we can add another trillion on top of that. That would be a cartel run with government assistance, more or less.

    The problem is not just to replace our fossil fueled system with renewable energy sources, but also to replace large financial cartels with a competitive energy market that promotes innovation and fair prices. It seems impossible to one without the other, if past behavior is any guide.

  25. 125
    Ike Solem says:

    MikeN: “BY that logic I should complain about mercury from CFLs poisoning Chinese workers or that the Prius battery factory is an environmental disaster in Canada.”

    Yes, that’s the approach used by people who come up with EROEI estimates for biofuels and land-use change as well – I’m just applying the same approach without bias to all energy generation schemes.

    For example, David Pimental and Tad Patzek have won accolades from the oil industry for using similar approaches to estimate energy budgets for ethanol:

    Ethanol production using corn grain required 29% more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel produced.
    Ethanol production using switchgrass required 50% more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel produced.
    Ethanol production using wood biomass required 57% more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel produced.

    For their calculations, they include things like the energy needed to grow the food for the workers at the ethanol factory – it’s garbage, and anyone can see it is garbage because they give a single number, not a range of possibilities. If you do this for solar-powered vs. coal-powered ethanol production, then the fossil energy estimates would be very different – but no mention of that at all?

    The right way to do this is to use lifecycle analysis of energy and pollution costs – and that means including raw materials and wastes, like coal ash:

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/67753.html
    “Coal ash is damaging water, health in 34 states, groups say.”

    For an ethanol production system, you have to include the land used to grow the crops and the fertilizer inputs, but you also have to distinguish between energy sources. See the French farmer’s solar setup – with that, I’m sure you could power a good-sized ethanol refinery.

    Likewise, it is far easier to clean up dirty manufacturing processes than it is to remove CO2 from either exhaust streams or the atmosphere. It is interesting to see that the industry now views electric cars as a big enough threat to start running a PR campaign against them, however. As far as CFLs, mercury from coal is a ridiculously larger source – and CFLs will be replaced by low energy LEDs with better light, hopefully soon.

    The worst current performers under lifecycle analysis are tar sand oil and coal, but coal with carbon capture and sequestration would be an order of magnitude worse – the only way it could work is if you set up nuclear, wind or solar power plants for no other purpose than to provide energy for carbon capture – but if you did that, you could just shut down the coal plant and use your new sources.

  26. 126
    dhogaza says:

    the Prius battery factory is an environmental disaster in Canada.

    Sigh, so many lies, so little time to spend debunking them.

  27. 127
    EL says:

    [Response: As long as it is free to emit CO2, no innovation to prevent CO2 emissions can possibly compete (with the sole exception of efficiency gains, but that is insufficient). Demanding ‘innovation’ without giving it any economic incentive is like demanding ice cream without being bothered to go to the freezer. Nice in theory, but non-existent in practice. - gavin]

    Explain the economic theory of reduction of CO2 please. There is every economic incentive to continue the production of CO2 based technology. The solution being presented right now is bogus. The idea that people are going to switch to more costly technologies to save a future people is absurd. In a basic nutshell, it’s trading a future disaster for a disaster in the immediate future.

    Right now, there are some computer scientists tossing around ideas for global warming. One effort is to get an idea of the CO2 footprint from computer based technology. Another effort is to developed computerized methods to control energy consumption, so Less energy is wasted.

    Innovation is the way out of this problem. Computer scientists know that they will make money by saving people money, and they will reduce emissions at the same time. That plan is economically viable, but the call of sacrifice is not; as a result, the effort by some scientist to push that agenda will fail.

  28. 128

    # Chip Knappenberger Says:
    So, China is on course to do to us, what we are doing to you—that is fully replacing our national emissions by their new emissions alone in only a decade.

    Well in that case you had better start negotiating with them to prevent it. If you start cutting your emissions, not only will that have an effect, but it will also encourage China to do the same, so your cuts will be geared up.

    What infuriates me is that you seem to think that the Chinese are as selfish, greedy, and stupid as you are. They are already facing up to the main problem, which is over population, with their one child policy. (If global population was a tenth of its current size, then the current per head emissions would not be causing a problem.) But the oil companies arranged for China and India to be left out of Kyoto, knowing that it would set the American people against it.

    But thanks to Obama, the Chinese are now negotiating. See China ready for post-Kyoto deal on climate change. So, Chip, it is only red-necks like you who would rather see the world destroyed, than stop driving their SUV and Monster Trucks.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  29. 129
    Phillip Shaw says:

    Since this is a thread full of analogies and metaphors I’ll offer one more for consideration. Picture the nations of the world crammed into a large, but leaky, lifeboat. If the lifeboat sinks, everyone suffers. Does it make any sense for the US to say we’re not going to waste effort bailing our end of the lifeboat until everyone else does? Or does it make more sense to lead by example and bail as hard as we can while encouraging other to bail too?

  30. 130
    Doug Bostrom says:

    #126 dhogaza:

    Off topic, but I love this snippet: “HUMMER has, for example, established a new national network of new, standalone Quonset hut, hangar-style dedicated dealership facilities over the past several years,..”

    Hummer=military cross-dressing for civilians. Amazing how our fashion accessories have mushroomed to several tons in mass; Transvestite costumes with engines.

  31. 131
    Rene Cheront says:

    > #117 Mark
    > So? [Mad cow] certainly cause several farmers to lose
    > their livelihoods and many more would have been made penniless if
    > it weren’t for government schemes to bail them out.

    The point at issue, which still stands, is that farmed animals are the least likely of all animals to face extinction. This is because although mistakes may be made from time to time, people attempt to look after their own property. This is the opposite of a tragedy of the commons scenario, where unowned property is abused.

    > #118 Mark
    > the average number of directorship and similar posts held by
    > a board of the directors of Nortel Networks is five.
    > So if Nortel go belly-up (like John Ross made it do), the
    > directors are AT WORST 20% down on their salary. What did JR get?
    > a $6M bonus payment. Why? Because it wasn’t the Board’s money.
    > Neither cared about efficiency or viability.

    That directors don’t subsequently become unemployed is quite irrelevant. And you still ignore that if the company was viable, there would be no incentive to shut it down in the first place, hence no need to pay ‘killer’ execs to do the ‘killing’. Simply ignoring bankruptcy won’t make it go away.
    Efficiency stems from the fact that the Board/shareholders have no need to pay execs more than they need to, to secure their services.

  32. 132
    Ike Solem says:

    Please, Alastair, lay off the language. You’ve been loading up this blog with disingenuous commentary for quite a while now – are you going to tell us again how the climate models don’t handle radiation correctly, a theme you’ve posted on dozens of times? Yes, climate science is all wrong…

    Then, you promote the theme that economic growth is reliant on fossil fuels, another standard industry PR line.

    Finally, you engage in the equivalent of hate speech, as in calling people “selfish, greedy, and stupid” – just another irrational angry environmentalist, is it? Or are we doing a little side work for Edelman and Burson-Marstellar?

    You might think you’re fooling your audience, but you are really just demonstrating that Adam Smith was right: “No regard will be paid to truth, morals, or decency in the doctrines inculcated.”

  33. 133
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chip Knappenberger wrote: “I showed that even under scenarios with high climate cost, the benefit of U.S. emissions reductions (absent the development of readily transferable and accepted new technologies) was extremely low …”

    Your scenario contains a false premise, since “readily transferable and accepted new technologies” to replace fossil fuels already exist.

    According to WorldWatch Institute, 27 Gigawatts of new wind energy capacity was installed in 2008 alone. Wind accounted for 42 percent of all new electrical generation capacity in the USA in 2008, second only to natural gas for the fourth year in a row, and within a few years will account for the majority of newly installed generating capacity. Wind is already the leading source of new generating capacity in the EU. China has already surpassed its 2010 wind target of 10,000 MW and ended 2008 with 12,200 MW in place.

    Solar energy — including both photovoltaics and concentrating solar thermal power plants — is experiencing similar record-breaking growth.

    The fact is that alternatives to fossil fuels are not only already available, they are already being deployed at a large scale all over the world, and deployment is accelerating.

    Your claim that some unspecified, pie-in-the-sky “innovation” is needed before we can begin a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels is simply false.

    It seems pretty clear that you are interested in one thing only: to continue the use of fossil fuels, and the trillion dollar profits therefrom, as long as possible.

  34. 134
    TokyoTom says:

    Gavin, thanks for a thoughtful post that I hope will be brought to the attention of every so-called “skeptic” – none of whom has any basis to deny that there are simply NO property rights protecting the atmosphere (or the oceans).

    As a result, to prevent a continuing “tragedy of the commons” the nations of the world, need to make a collective effort to manage what is, after all, a shared resource.

    It`s nice to see that others see that where there are no formal or informal property rights or similar mechanisms, all incentives point to ruin.

  35. 135
    Mark says:

    “The point at issue, which still stands, is that farmed animals are the least likely of all animals to face extinction.”

    WHO CARES!!! The animal with the rotting brain falling all over the floor doesn’t care.

    It is an illustration of how people WILL abuse their property if they think they can get away with it and get money or power or prestige from it in the short term.

    Look what happened to the bloody fish stocks when Canada owned the Norfolk grounds again. Did they look after it?

    NO.

  36. 136
    Jim Eager says:

    Rene wrote @90: “This is because the whales were not owned. If they became farm animals like any other, they would be as unlikely to face extinction as chickens and cattle are.”

    And this is why those advocating private ownership of everything on Earth are regarded as lunatics.

  37. 137
    Jim Eager says:

    MikeN wrote @76: “Don’t coal and nuclear power plants occupy less land than equivalent amount of solar and wind generation?”

    I take it you have never even seen a photograph of a wind farm, let alone visited one. The footprint of each individual pylon is quite small, even including an access road. The surrounding ground between pylons is fully capable of being plowed and sowed with crops or grazed, and indeed is, even directly under the blades.

    As for solar, again, you might want to actually look at some examples of solar installations, such as those on the roof of residential and commercial buildings, those over parking lots, those along the otherwise vacant right of way of highways and rail lines, and even those above grazing land.

    True, base-load solar-thermal plants do have larger dedicated footprints, but by necessity they tend to be located where the sun shines most steadily, as in deserts where population density is very low and not at all suitable for agriculture and grazing.

    As for your coal and nuclear plants, be sure to include the land occupied by the mines and spoil piles, the prep and refining plants, the rail lines needed to get the continuous stream of coal from mine to plant–the rail line built to access the Powder River Basin coal field only carries coal, and the storage and reprocessing facilities that handle the nuclear and fly-ash waste streams.

    And if you want to talk about generation with a truly large footprint, take a look at hydro-electric. True, dams and their impoundments can also offer the benefits of flood control and irrigation and drinking water supply, but not always. Neither is a benefit of Hydro Quebec’s truly massive James Bay scheme, for example.

  38. 138
    pete best says:

    Re #133, it may impressive put project that out and it is not enough for several reasons. 50% more energy required come 2030 and hence all that new renewable energy currently being deployed is just going into leaving fossil fuels static in usage at around 88% of current demand.

    We have to ramp it up by around 3x its present deployment rate. It could happen but its a race against time ultimately and fossil fuel usage is not going to tail off soon enough.

  39. 139
    Wilmot McCutchen says:

    SecularAnimist #133 — I agree with you that wind and solar deployment should go as fast as possible, but there is such a long way to go (due to the huge predominance of coal in power generation) that in the next 20 years the wind and solar growth probably can’t be enough to make a difference in CO2 emissions. Also, the demand for power is increasing as the world adopts the energy-intensive American way of life, especially now with plug-in cars, so just keeping up with demand will require even more coal plants. Taking coal plants offline in China, crippling their new-found prosperity to please the Yankee imperialists, is not going to happen. For the foreseeable future, coal will remain indispensable for power generation in China and in the rest of the world. If you disagree with my conclusion, I’d be interested in hearing why.

    You say: “Your [Chip's] claim that some unspecified, pie-in-the-sky “innovation” is needed before we can begin a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels is simply false.” This is because you believe that wind and solar can substitute for coal without disrupting power generation. I wish I had sufficient reason to believe this, but presently I don’t.

  40. 140
    James says:

    Ike Solem Says (8 May 2009 at 3:11)

    “On one side you have a solar and/or wind plant that covers a large area, but which can coexist with residential/industrial land (solar) and agricultural land…”

    Except that this is not true for large-scale solar power – dedicated solar plants, rather than e.g. putting solar panels on your roof. Look at plans for the Mojave &c solar projects, where the land is first scraped bare, then sprayed with herbicides to kill off anything that might possibly survive.

  41. 141
    Rene Cheront says:

    #135 Mark
    >> Rene : farmed animals are the least likely of all animals to face extinction.

    > WHO CARES!!! The animal with the rotting brain falling all over the floor doesn’t care.

    The people who are about extinction would care. Which includes everyone who either sells or eats, and/or just admires the animals in question.

    > It is an illustration of how people WILL abuse their property if they think they can get away with it and get money or power or prestige from it in the short term.

    Compared to no ownership? And the more some people abuse their property, the greater incentive there is for other people to replace it.

    > Look what happened to the bloody fish stocks when Canada owned the Norfolk grounds again. Did they look after it? NO.

    Public ownership was it? Private owners in general would have no interest in depleting their stocks and killing off their golden geese.

  42. 142
    TGO'D says:

    As a first poster on this, or any other, climate site but one who frequently visits appreciates and learns much from RC and other sites, I found this thread fascinating, particularly in terms of the range of responses.

    While Chip appears to me merely to have presented data demonstrating the modest impact that any realistic emission control efforts are likely to have, many responses appear to have concentrated on the question of his motivation for doing so, rather than attempting any rebuttal of his analysis. If the facts are as he states them and are presented without distortion, then, in my view, both facts and presenter should be treated with respect. When faced with uncomfortable facts it is not justifiable to resort to querying the motivation and intentions of the presenter as a means of diminishing their argument, no matter how passionately one may feel about the practical and ethical issues involved.

    Ultimately the questions surrounding AGW and the appropriate response of individuals and societies must be resolved on the basis of incontrovertible science not moral outrage.
    TGO’D

  43. 143
    Alexandre says:

    Rene #59

    “The whole idea is to MAKE the products tradeable. Once this happens, it does not matter who owns them at any given point.”

    Yes, this is the basic idea. Sometimes it´s feasible, although it depends on regulation to artificially allocate it, as some (as far as I know) success stories of “privatized” fisheries in Alaska, for instance. How these rules are made can make all the difference between success and failure of the whole thing. It´s not as automatic as “once it´s on the hands of the market, the problem´s solved”.

    Farms are already privatized, and that does not prevent their owners to make some choices with bad externalities, like using processes that will deteriorate the land in the long run, if that means good productivity for some decades.

    “And externality problems are neither better nor worse.”

    Now that´s something very different. For example: you cannot define property rights to a big citie´s air, and I don´t see how it would help even if you could. Without emmission regulations, people are individually faced with a choice like this: they can spend some money to avoid emmissions and do a very tiny contribuition (individually) to the air of the city, or they can save that money a do a very tiny deterioration to that air. Since the agents, alone, won´t make much of a difference, they tend to do the latter. This tipically leads to the tragedy of the commons and the resource is depleted (or lost to pollution).

    Economically, it only makes sense if you can make that decision together with the other users of the resource: do we all want to have a clean air and spend some money for it, or do we prefer to save some and live in a polluted city? In a big population, this joint decision is usually done through the law, or regulation.

    For world CO2 emmisions, that´s even more complicated because you have to sew a world-wide treaty among sovereign states, who will in principle have an incentive to free-ride, pretend that they “don´t agree with the necessity of it” and emit freely, leaving costs of mitigation and externalities for others. They can even become more competitive because of that.

    That´s true for direct regulations (like present automotive emmision regulations) and for cap-and-trade limits too.

    The usefulness of Coase´s Theorem is nihil in pratice, when externalities are this diffuse.

  44. 144
    Rene Cheront says:

    #136 Jim Eager

    >> Rene : If [whales] became farm animals like any other, they would be as unlikely to face extinction as chickens and cattle are.

    > And this is why those advocating private ownership of everything on Earth are regarded as lunatics.

    Is there any rationale behind this attitude?

  45. 145
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Rene Cheront says:

    “This is because the whales were not owned. If they became farm animals like any other, they would be as unlikely to face extinction as chickens and cattle are.”

    The point at issue, which still stands, is that farmed animals are the least likely of all animals to face extinction. This is because although mistakes may be made from time to time, people attempt to look after their own property. This is the opposite of a tragedy of the commons scenario, where unowned property is abused.

    Yeah, let’s just domesticate and privatize everything, that’ll solve it! You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about, either with regard to endangered species protection, management of a commons, or the interaction between the two. Zip.

  46. 146

    Re: #133

    SecularAlarmist,

    So, what’s your point? I started with the wrong SRES scenario?

    It seems that currently, despite your list of renewable installations, the rate of global emissions growth thus far this century is exceeding A1FI (primarily on account of China).

    And that this trajectory is only temporary? And that, without legislation, we’ll eventually settle on a different trajectory, say A1B?

    OK. Well, the impact of the U.S. emissions reduction legislation like Waxman-Markey is even smaller assuming A1B than assuming A1FI.

    No matter how you slice it, the role that the U.S. has to play in mitigating projected climate change is through innovation, not through its own reductions–no matter how large or small they are. So why keep pushing this course of action?

    Efforts like Waxman-Markey are aimed at causing an artificial crisis (a diminishing supply of fossil fuels) to stimulate innovation.

    Perhaps there are other, more direct ways (I understand that Gavin doesn’t think so), but maybe others can come up with some?

    -Chip

  47. 147
    MarkB says:

    Zeke’s post (#2) covers the essentials. The “the U.S. acting without international agreement won’t help” is indeed a fallacious argument. If the U.S. doesn’t act, few others will. We’ve already seen that. If the U.S. acts, it’s not a guarantee that others will but the likelihood is increased. At the very least, the world’s strongest power taking action will create strong market incentives that will accelerate technological development which will all for quicker adoption by other nations.

  48. 148
    MarkB says:

    CBO has a useful graphic on their homepage:

    http://www.cbo.gov/

  49. 149
    SecularAnimist says:

    Rene Cheront wrote: “With the odd exception, people do not knowingly or deliberately abuse their own property, since this is self-defeating. Do you knowingly or deliberately abuse your own property? Surely not.”

    Owners of factory-farmed animals systematically abuse their property for the simple reason that it is profitable to do so.

    When animals such as chickens are raised in unhealthful conditions of brutal, filthy confinement, and transported to slaughter under even worse conditions, they suffer enormously and some of them die as a result. Their death is an economic loss to the owner. But if that loss is less than the cost of treating the animals better so as to reduce the number who die, then it is to the owner’s economic benefit to continue to abuse the animals.

  50. 150
    Jim Bouldin says:

    TGOD says:

    While Chip appears to me merely to have presented data demonstrating the modest impact that any realistic emission control efforts are likely to have, many responses appear to have concentrated on the question of his motivation for doing so, rather than attempting any rebuttal of his analysis.

    You need to go back and read the responses again, because there have been numerous rebuttals. His argument is either one of two things: (1) a self-apparent triviality if it is meant to be interpreted strictly as stated, as argued by SecularAnimist in #21 or (2) a subtle attempt to imply that, since U.S. actions will do little to affect future temperatures, nobody should do anything, which was picked apart by a whole bunch of people in numerous posts.

    He’s aligned with a group that wants no part of anything that involves economic sacrifices, and if you think that doesn’t raise questions about his motives, then I don’t know what to tell you.


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