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Krugman weighs in

Filed under: — david @ 11 April 2010

After weeks and months of press coverage seemingly Through the Looking Glass, Paul Krugman has sent us a breath of fresh air this morning in the New York Times Magazine, entitled “Building a Green Economy“. Krugman now joins fellow NYT columnist Tom Friedman as required reading in my Global Warming for English Majors class at the University of Chicago.

There is a lot here to comment on and discuss. The extinctions at the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum, for example, were mostly limited to foraminfera, single-celled shelly protozoa living at the sea floor, not really a “mass extinction” like the end Cretaceous when the dinosaurs got feathered. The Gulf Stream is not the only thing keeping Northern Europe warmer than Alaska. Krugman’s four reasons why it’s dubious to compare costs of climate mitigation to adaption didn’t include the unfairness, that the people paying the costs of climate change would not be the same ones as reap the benefit of CO2 emission. He also seems to have missed the recent revelation that what really matters to climate is the total ultimate slug of emitted CO2, implying that unfettered emission today dooms us to more drastic cuts in the future or a higher ultimate atmospheric CO2 concentration, which will persist not just for “possibly centuries”, but almost certainly for millennia.

But despite a few off-notes, reading this very nicely written, beautifully laid out and argued piece felt like getting a deep sympathetic body massage after a bruising boxing match. Thank you, Mr. Krugman.


510 Responses to “Krugman weighs in”

  1. 101
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Frank Giger
    > Environmental economics

    Good grief. Look, here’s an example of environmental economics, relevant to several ongoing threads here.

    Sulfur dioxide emissions decreased. How much of that was due to the Clean Air Act requirements being implemented, versus how much was due to the cost of shipping? There are many tradeoffs; to grossly oversimplify, between buying and shipping cheap high-sulfur coal from open pit mines in Wyoming, versus expensive low-sulfur coal from underground mines in West Virginia. Some of the costs are paid with money, some with individual health, some with public health, some in damage to the ecology, some in emission of mercury and thorium and other heavy metals.

    Here’s just a tiny bit of that:
    http://dandelion-patch.mit.edu/people/jpmonter/papers/publishedpapers/JEEM98v36p26.pdf
    That’s some of what environmental economics looks at.

  2. 102
    Hank Roberts says:

    Simon, econometric methods have been used in climatology for a very long time.
    It’s not a new idea.
    Search:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=Econometric+analysis+global+climate+change
    Example: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1364-8152(98)00094-2

  3. 103
    Doug Bostrom says:

    simon abingdon says: 13 April 2010 at 10:16 AM

    Any scornful dismissal of the possible usefulness of statistical mathematics in climatology may be premature, and unworthy of a scientist.

    Yes, but what VS and others appear not to notice is that you need a grounding in both statistics and climate to produce useful applications of statistics to the field of climate science. VS’ failure to include physical constraints in his concept speaks of his dedication to statistics while also talking of his ignorance of the field in which he was applying his tools. Tamino on the other hand has good statistical faculties coupled with a reasonable grounding in the topic of climate, which is why he was so easily able to demolish VS’ hypothesis.

  4. 104
    zeroworker says:

    #63 John Peter

    >>How you interpret that to mean Krugman and
    >>other Pigouvian economists depend on unlimited
    >>resources beats me

    I’ve never said they depend on unlimited resources, only that they assume continued growth. From the article in question (see, I really did read it after all!):

    >>The Congressional Budget Office, relying on a survey
    >>of models, has concluded that Waxman-Markey “would
    >>reduce the projected average annual rate of growth
    >>of gross domestic product between 2010 and 2050 by
    >>0.03 to 0.09 percentage points.” That is, it would
    >>trim average annual growth to 2.31 percent, at
    >>worst, from 2.4 percent.

    Call me crazy, but it looks like Dr. Krugman expects the economy to grow about 2.3% every year between now and 2050.

  5. 105
    zeroworker says:

    #79 John Peter

    >>Without pointing fingers, let me state that comments
    >>posted here to the effect that economic theory and/or
    >>economists favor unlimited growth are ignorant hogwash.

    As one of the ones who I’m sure you’re referring to (without pointing fingers), let me respond.

    This might actually be correct. However, I think one can be forgiven for such a view if one listens to a mainstream economist. They usually take a growing economy as a given (excepting short term reversals like recessions).

    As I’ve already mentioned, Krugman strongly implies in the article that kicked off this discussion that he expects the economy to grow through 2050. Why refer to the CBO study if you think it’s rubbish?

    Secondly, in the context of the current economic situation, Krugman is on record as saying he supports large current government spending (going into debt) because we can handle the debt load. Part of his reasoning is the economy will continue to grow, reducing the debt burden over time.

    And Krugman is by no means an outlier – he’s as mainstream as an economist can get.

    So even if you’re right in theory, in practice the economists generally don’t seem to be taking limits to growth too seriously. At least not yet.

    P.S. I also want to point out that at the end of my original comment I mentioned at least one economist, and one branch of economics, that does indeed recognize limits. Would it be impolite to suggest you read a posting in full before commenting?

  6. 106
    David Lewis says:

    Krugman’s thinking on climate has been evolving.

    For instance, in July 29 2008 he wrote this: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/29/economics-of-catastrophe/?pagemode=print where he describes the debate on climate that was taking place at that time, in the economic circles he floats in, as represented by the positions of Bjorn Lomborg and Weitzman. This partial sentence depressed me at the time: “Suppose there is a 99% chance that Lomborg is right”. Any legitimization of Lomborg tends to depress me. Krugman’s concluding remark: “The question is, can we mobilize people to make modest sacrifices to protect against low-probability catastrophes in the distant future?”. I have never thought that the risk of climate change was a low probability of catastrophe. Call me pessimistic.

    He’s come a long way.

    In this recent work, Krugman challenges modern convervative ideologues. He points out that they often “express a deep, almost mystical confidence in the effectiveness of market incentives…[i.e.] the magic of the marketplace… that…can deal with all kinds of limitations, that technology, say, can easily overcome any constraints on growth posed by limited reserves of oil or other natural resources.”

    Then he hits them:

    “Why do they think the marketplace loses it magic as soon as market incentives are invoked in favor of conservation?”.

    My day brightened up a bit after reading the article.

  7. 107
    Septic Matthew says:

    99, SecularAnimist: Paul Krugman wrote: “In fact, once you filter out the noise generated by special-interest groups, you discover that there is widespread agreement among environmental economists”

    Sadly, widespread agreement among economists does not betoken very great accuracy in any claims that they may agree on.

    104, zeroworker: Call me crazy, but it looks like Dr. Krugman expects the economy to grow about 2.3% every year between now and 2050.

    No, that’s just the average growth rate over decades.

  8. 108
    Doug Bostrom says:

    zeroworker says: 13 April 2010 at 11:02 AM

    This assumption that we’re capable of producing compound growth ad infinitum bothers me, too. It works while we’re filling the globe and coasting on stored resources, but what about when this temporary phase we’re in ends? The future appears to be approaching with ever increasing speed and in fact that’s the desired outcome according to economists’ projections of compound growth.

  9. 109
    Chris Dudley says:

    I find Krugman’s reasoning vague and imprecise here. The problem for him is emissions and his solution is cap-and-trade. One should not need anything else and singling out coal makes no sense in that context. The market should decide which fuel to cut the most. Hansen has, sensibly, singled out coal in the past because he believed there was a lot of it and oil would run out. But, he has since revised his views after considering tar sands and oil shale as potential fuels and much larger carbon reservoirs. For activists picking targets, coal makes since. But for lazy Krugman who wants the market to do all the work, there is no reason to pick a fuel.

    He also touts trading in sulfur emissions as a success because it cut emissions and at a lower cost than initially estimated. But this is strange indeed. Other methods might have been more successful and we have merely generated an actual cost through the effort but other methods might have cost less particularly considering that some of the dirtier plants are in populated areas and are also injecting mercury into the local environment. Health costs might have been reduced by closing plants that could not be easily fitted with scrubbers if there were people nearby. The market may be magical in its workings, but it is also too stupid to avoid local minima that are more costly than an approach that includes some thought and planning.

    There are reasons to pick out paths for reducing the use of each fossil fuel that are not based on emissions alone but Krugman does not hit any of them here. Cutting reliance on oil helps avoid a trade deficit. Ending the use of coal reduces mining deaths especially if the unsafe mines are shut first. Natural gas infrastructure might be reused with renewably produced gas and so encouraging more gas use now may save in the long run. An emissions market cannot address these issues.

  10. 110
    simon abingdon says:

    #102 Hank

    “econometric methods have been used in climatology for a very long time”

    As I read it Hank (Wikipedia), cointegration dates only from 1987.

  11. 111
    simon abingdon says:

    #103 Doug Bostrom

    “you need a grounding in both statistics and climate to produce useful applications of statistics to the field of climate science”

    Really? Why should (for example) the identification of a deterministic trend in a time series depend on the field of study?

  12. 112
    zeroworker says:

    #107 Septic Mathew

    104, zeroworker: Call me crazy, but it looks like Dr. Krugman expects the economy to grow about 2.3% every year between now and 2050.

    No, that’s just the average growth rate over decades.

    Yes, I could have worded it better. I should have said “grow at an average rate of 2.3% every year between now and 2050″.

    In any event, the larger point remains valid – that Krugman expects a generally growing economy through at least 2050, at which time world economic output will be ~125% larger than it is today.

    I find that fantastical.

  13. 113
    Hank Roberts says:

    Simon, try Google Scholar. You’ll find earlier citations.

  14. 114
  15. 115
    simon abingdon says:

    #113 Hank

    “try Google Scholar. You’ll find earlier [before 1987] citations”

    Tried, didn’t find. First 10 entries in Google Scholar searching for “cointegration” had years 1990, 1988, 1991, 1991, 1995, 1991, 1987, 1987, 1999, 1993. All these dates look pretty recent to me, but I’m only eyeballing.

  16. 116
    Georgi Marinov says:

    108 Doug Bostrom says:

    This assumption that we’re capable of producing compound growth ad infinitum bothers me, too. It works while we’re filling the globe and coasting on stored resources, but what about when this temporary phase we’re in ends? The future appears to be approaching with ever increasing speed and in fact that’s the desired outcome according to economists’ projections of compound growth.

    When that temporary phase ends, what follows is collapse of industrial civilization, drastic reduction of population and societal complexity, with all the associated unpleasantness. It is inevitable. The question is are we going to do it in an organized way so that the accumulated scientific knowledge and expertise that will allows us to live better than our stone age ancestors lived survives, or we let nature force it on us in which case it happens in a much more violent and chaotic way, all that knowledge disappears and since there will be no more concentrated resources which to drive the reaccumulation of such knowledge, it disappears forever.

  17. 117
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Why should (for example) the identification of a deterministic trend in a time series depend on the field of study?”

    By virtue of having changed what determines the trend to MAKE the deterministic trend.

    Temperature/Pirate numbers graphs doesn’t make the temperature depend on the paucity of high seas raping and looting.

  18. 118
    John Peter says:

    zeroworker@105

    Thank you for your courteous and thoughtful answers.

    Economic theory and economists do not cause mankind’s fixation on “unlimited growth”. This fixation stems from greed, a human characteristic that can be very destructive. Socrates, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and many, many others addressed this human failing long before there were any economists or economic theories.

    Economists attempt to make society’s expectations of growth more realistic, or at least they should. If anything, they can be a solution to the problem, not a cause. Do not kid yourself, the underlying cause is greed.

    Congressional Budget Office is a political construct created to evaluate laws, existing and proposed. It is, by accepted legislative convention, the final arbitrator of official “numbers”. Paul Krugman is a pragmatic thinker. He must use CBO numbers, or get the numbers changed, to be effective within the U.S. Government.

    It would be as foolish for me to try to argue against “debt load”, public or private, as it would be to deny the second law of thermodynamics. Both seem to be pretty well established. By using quantitative easement and setting low interest rates our national bank is trying to do its job to avoid as much pain as possible stemming from the real limits to asset growth. Within these caveats, I agree with your second points.

    I apologize for any misunderstanding I may have caused with my statement regarding faint praise.

    If you believe there are too many economists, I probably would agree. I you can only find one or a small group of thoughtful economists, I disagree. Actually Harry Truman, when he was president, told his staff to find him a one- armed economic adviser. Truman was sick and tired of hearing “on the other hand”.

  19. 119
    Georgi Marinov says:

    118 John Peter says:

    Economic theory and economists do not cause mankind’s fixation on “unlimited growth”. This fixation stems from greed, a human characteristic that can be very destructive. Socrates, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and many, many others addressed this human failing long before there were any economists or economic theories.

    Actually this is quite a shallow and superficial view of things. Which is also the reason why Socrates, Shakespeare, Tolstoy have very little of meaning to say about human nature, in contrast to evolutionary biologists.

    The fixation on growth is indeed a basic human characteristic, but so is true for pretty much every organism on this planet. Because evolution selects for the best replicators and behavior has been greatly influenced by that. In our case, two aspects of behavior are or of primary importance – one has to do with our primal reproductive instincts, i.e. the urge to maximize the number and chances of surviving of your offspring (note that it isn’t just the number that’s maximized), the other one has to do with the way we select individuals from the other sex to mate with. Both of them urge us to hoard as much resources as possible, because this is advantageous to our us and our offspring and because when we compete for mating with the best individuals from the other sex, how much resources we have managed to hoard is a primary determinant of our success in that competition. As result it is how much stuff we have relative to the next guy, not how much stuff we have relative to what we actually need that determines how much stuff we want. Which means that we basically never have enough stuff.

    There is a way to get out of the second part of this trap (i.e. we could be competing based on other things than possession of material stuff), and other cultures around the globe have managed to that in certain circumstances, but those cases have been rare and few and it doesn’t mean that they were also able to get out of the first part. And there will be no sustainable societal system that is not designed to control all those ultimately self-destructive urges in us.

    Modern economics is a particularly twisted and convoluted way of codifying human behavior, with the added bonus of completely ignoring the physical limits of the environment most of the time.

  20. 120
    Geoff Beacon says:

    He also seems to have missed the recent revelation that what really matters to climate is the total ultimate slug of emitted CO2, implying that unfettered emission today dooms us to more drastic cuts in the future or a higher ultimate atmospheric CO2 concentration, which will persist not just for “possibly centuries”, but almost certainly for millennia.

    To the unwary such statements imply that climate forcing agents other than CO2 are not very important. But if there are significant climate feedbacks in coming decades brought about by increased temperatures, this may bring dangerous feedbacks. Slowing temperature rises in the short term is best done by controlling forcing agents that have short lives. Methane and black carbon are obvious candidates so no beef, no diesel cars, no smoky cooking stoves.

    I have heard an influential science policy advisor say that by the time peak temperature occurs any methane released now will have been removed from the atmosphere by natural processes so it will not affect global warming at the all-important peak temperature – the peak aimed for was a 2 degrees Celsius rise.

    This view was based on Myles Allen’s “Towards the trillionth tonne”. You reference this in the piece linked to in your text, which argues that emissions of a trillion tonnes of CO2 will raise the Earth’s temperature by about 2 degrees Celsius. One (mistaken?) interpretation of “the trillionth tonne” is that since 1750 anthropogenic emissions have been half a trillion tonnes so we have just got to restrict emissions to a further half trillion tonnes and we will keep within the dangerous 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise.

    I know scientists don’t like making risky guesses but for climate feedbacks that are “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” and that’s the best we have. Taking these into account means cutting short term forcing agents as quickly as possible even at the expense of relaxing on the CO2.

    In the longer run CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere by geo-engineering but only if the human race survives more-or-less intact.

  21. 121
    geo says:

    I found Krugman’s piece pretty impressive. As a “lukewarmist” myself, I actually have no problem with a “ramped” approach to the issue, over decades, and with plenty of opportunity to change course at regular intervals as developing research and experience either does or doesn’t seem to warrant it.

  22. 122
    simon abingdon says:

    #117 Completely Fed Up

    “By virtue of having changed what determines the trend to MAKE the deterministic trend”. Means what exactly? How about an example?

    “Temperature/Pirate numbers graphs”. Is there a time series here somewhere?

  23. 123
    Doug Bostrom says:

    simon abingdon says: 13 April 2010 at 1:28 PM

    You already know where you can find the answer to your question but an answer is not what you’re looking for, you’re looking for somebody to return your serve. Guess what? The game ended weeks ago. “VS” recognized that, gathered up his own racket and balls and flounced off the court. Read the thread at the link.

  24. 124
    John Peter says:

    Georgi Marinov@119

    Tolstoy. Shallow?

    Tolstoy speaks about our human nature of greed. The nature of greed is that it is never satisfied. Greed is tied to the concept of self worth. We seek things and power because we know that people will then praise and admire us and that is how we find our self worth, i.e. in the eyes of others. But people soon forget our past accomplishments and we have to keep on seeking new things to keep up our self worth.

    How Much Land Does A Man Need? http://www.katinkahesselink.net/other/tolstoy.html

    ***

    Is this part of another blog also shallow?

    ”Human nature is a complex thing. There are many factors that affect it, many factors that help create it and drive it. Through virtue and vice it becomes the driving force behind most humanity. There are prominent features, however, and I do plan on discussing them. Through my observations I noticed that one of the features that stand out most out of all others is avarice. Greed. Greed is a despicable force that most being revolves around, the centrifugal force that drives humanity. I will concede the point that it is not simply the only force, yet cannot say without being forced to question my own ideals that it is not one of the greatest forces in human nature. By speculations I’ve noticed that the majority of people I pass, though their motives remain their own, show signs of intense avarice and self-centered desire. In my passing through public I see people placing themselves on a pedestal, most of the time without even noticing that they are doing so. Yet greed is a general term. It can be divided rightfully into three topics and likely each of those topics can be broken down further. However I will simply take these three categories into which greed can be divided and give brief speculation on each. Materialistic value, lust for power and self-centeredness are all different types of greed and do dabble within the other parts of human nature to which the name sin has been applied. I wish simply to inform when speculating on these, not to disregard humanity and call us animals. I find that simple knowledge, awareness of the various types of greed and other such vices of human nature aid in avoiding them. To know how people are self-centered, for example, allows those who know to avoid such faults. Yet at the same time I who write this, who exclaim that knowing helps to put aside can admit that I am not free of greed myself. If I was it would not be human, for as I stated many times greed is a chief aspect in human nature…” http://www.redroom.com/articlestory/the-properties-greed-human-nature

    ***

    Finally – Survival of the fittest, a natural law, might even show that greed extends beyond mankind as anyone who has observed young biological life, flora and fauna, could testify to.

    Growth may fulfill some human needs, but it’s way down the list from greed.

  25. 125
    Septic Matthew says:

    112, zeroworker: I find that fantastical.

    Why? It’s a simple extrapolation of the last 40 years.

    Do you think that the world will run out of stuff for humans to make things out of? It will run out of humans before that happens. The Boeing 787 is 50% carbon composite by weight. By 2050 cars will be made of carbon composite, as will water purification equipment. I don’t know when commercial and combat aircraft will be battery-powered, if ever, but you can get battery-powered models (fixed and rotary-winged) that have good performance, better performance than WWII combat aircraft.

    I mention those as illustrations of change, and the possibilities of more change. Whether electrical wires are ever to be mass-produced from graphene I don’t know, but it looks now like graphene could be an excellent substitute for aluminum and copper.

  26. 126
    Brian Dodge says:

    I did some googling at the Congressional Budget Office website, and found the following –
    Your search – “zero growth economy” site:cbo.gov – did not match any documents.
    Your search – “zero economic growth ” site:cbo.gov – did not match any documents.
    Results 1 – 2 of 2 from cbo.gov for “economic growth ” “physical limits”
    Doering,“Physical Limits of CMOS [Complementary Metal Oxide ...
    http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=3448&type=1
    "Physical limits on large buses in narrow suburban streets and low average ..."
    http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=5970&type=1
    Your search - "economic growth " "peak oil" site:cbo.gov - did not match any documents.
    Results 1 - 3 of 3 from cbo.gov for "economic growth " "resource depletion". (0.34 seconds)
    Search Results

    1.
    Greening the National Accounts
    IV - CURRENT EFFORTS TO ESTIMATE NATURAL RESOURCE DEPLETION AND .... Among the issues are the effect of environmental protection on economic growth, ...
    http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=4886&type=0
    2. [PDF]
    CBO PAPERS
    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – View as HTML
    Edward F. Denison, Trends in American Economic Growth 1929-1982 (Washington, …… Problems can also arise when estimating natural resource depletion. In …
    http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=4886&type=1
    same paper – 2 links – from which I quote -

    Robert D. Reischauer Director March 1994
    “Ecological catastrophes can appear as short-term economic stimuli because many of the negative effects on recreation, wildlife, and future harvests of fish and timber, for example, are not recorded.”
    “First, the national accounts do not reflect changes in environmental quality and natural resource reserves. When compared, investment and depreciation data are supposed to tell decisionmakers whether the nation is maintaining its productive assets, but the data ignore most changes in natural resources and the environment.”
    ” net domestic product (NDP). NDP is what remains after enough has been set aside to maintain the capital stock; it constitutes a recognition that one cannot maintain a consumption level by drawing down the stock of capital. The accounts do not, however, allow for the impact of output on the condition of mines, forests, soil, air, and water quality.”
    “The environment disposes of waste by absorbing by-products of output and consumption. Because there are no market transactions in payment for these services, the accounts do not treat the environment as a factor of production. They implicitly assign a value of zero to these services.” Forever?
    “There may be some differences in measurement techniques because of the special nature of various forms of natural capital assets. For example, no amount of investment will increase the
    amount of a finite (nonrenewable) resource; however, money can be spent to discover additional supplies.” Ad Infinitum?

    3. [PDF]
    Energy Policy Alternatives
    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – View as HTML
    aided the U.S. economic growth through the 1960s has peaked. Oil imports have risen rapidly to ….. treat resource depletion as a separate goal, it is dis- …
    http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=11105&zzz=40287
    This paper from 1977 predicted oil consumption in 1986 would be ~80 quadrillion BTU, or 40 million barrels per day of domestic production, and 20 quadrillion BTU or 10 MBPD of imported oil(20% of the total). Actual 1986 US production was 8.68 MBPD (http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MCRFPUS2&f=A), imports were 6.22MBPD (http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MTTIMUS1&f=M), or 42% of the total. Not a stellar prediction.

    “Results 1 – 10 of about 1,810 from cbo.gov for long term economic growth. ” versus 2 papers, one 16 and the other 33 years old.

    The real physical limits to resources and the implications for economic growth aren’t very high on the CBO radar.

  27. 127
    Georgi Marinov says:

    Is this part of another blog also shallow?

    Yes, everything that never goes beyond the standard vocabulary and concepts we use to describe human behavior and never mentions any biological factors is highly likely to be superficial. Which is why the vast majority of what we consider “classics” is not only useless but in fact quite harmful as every new generation is being indoctrinated into the same fairy tale nonsense.

  28. 128
    Hank Roberts says:

    From the introduction to
    OUR ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT
    Wackernagel and Rees; New Society Pub., 1996; ISBN 0-86571-312-X

    “Some years ago, I read of a species of tiny woodland wasp that lives on mushrooms. It seems that when a wandering female wasp chances upon the right kind of mushroom in the forest, she deposits her eggs within it. Almost immediately, the eggs hatch and the tiny grubs begin literally to eat themselves out of house and home. The little maggots grow rapidly, but soon something very odd happens. The eggs in the larvaes’ own ovaries hatch while still inside their immature mothers. This second generation of parthenogenic grubs quickly consumes its parents from within, then breaks out of the empty shells to continue feeding on the mushroom. This seemingly gruesome process may repeat itself for another generation. It doesn’t take long before the entire mushroom is over-filled by squirming maggots and fouled by their bodily wastes. The exploding population of juvenile wasps consumes virtually its entire habitat which is the signal for the largest and most mature of the larvae to pupate. The few individuals that manage to emerge as mature adults then abandon their mouldering birthplace, flying off to begin the whole process over again.

    We wrote this book in the belief that the bizarre life-cycle of the mushroom wasps may offer a lesson to humankind. The tiny wasps’ weird reproductive strategy has apparently evolved under extreme competitive pressure. Good mushrooms—like good planets—are hard to find. Natural selection therefore favored those individual wasps and reproductive traits that were most successful in appropriating the available supply of essential resources (the mushroom) before the competition had arrived or became established.

    No doubt human beings also have a competitive side and both natural and sociocultural selection have historically favored those individuals and cultures that have been most successful in commandeering resources and exploiting the bounty of nature.”

  29. 129
    John Peter says:

    Georgi Marinov@127

    How do you tell it doesn’t go beyond if you haven’t read it?

  30. 130
    Georgi Marinov says:

    125 Septic Matthew says:
    13 April 2010 at 6:42 PM
    112, zeroworker: I find that fantastical.

    Why? It’s a simple extrapolation of the last 40 years.

    This is the problem – it is a simple extrapolation. Simple extrapolations aren’t exactly the best way to predict the future

    Do you think that the world will run out of stuff for humans to make things out of? It will run out of humans before that happens.

    The second sentence is quite ironically correct, but only as far as complete running out of stuff goes. Because the humans will be gone because there will not be enough stuff for them to make things out of. Remember, when populations overshoot, the size of the population reaches its maximum just before the collapse. At that point, if unaware of the fact that they have overshot, its members will be thinking “Look, we’re doing great, we’ve never been more numerous”. Well, that’s technically true, but it is how long you can sustain this for that matters

    The Boeing 787 is 50% carbon composite by weight. By 2050 cars will be made of carbon composite, as will water purification equipment. I don’t know when commercial and combat aircraft will be battery-powered, if ever, but you can get battery-powered models (fixed and rotary-winged) that have good performance, better performance than WWII combat aircraft.

    They will never be battery-powered because batteries weigh too much for this purpose. Synthesizing hydrocarbons from C02, H20 and sunlight is a better option.

    I highly doubt that they will never use any aluminium, but it doesn’t really matter, you can make them out of 100% carbon, if you don’t have fuel to run them on, and energy to make those carbon materials, there will be no airplanes. Of course, in reality there will be no airplanes for the much more mundane reasons that when millions are dying of starvation, building more B787s will not be on top of the priority list

    I mention those as illustrations of change, and the possibilities of more change. Whether electrical wires are ever to be mass-produced from graphene I don’t know, but it looks now like graphene could be an excellent substitute for aluminum and copper.

    And as usual you completely ignore the limits to growth and the time we have left that will make such change impossible.

  31. 131
    John Peter says:

    Hank Roberts@128

    Greed is not unnecessary…

  32. 132
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Hank Roberts says: 13 April 2010 at 7:09 PM

    And then there are the Sandtiger sharks, the ultimate in fully evolved libertarianism.

  33. 133
    Hank Roberts says:

    John Peter:

    The point of the mushroom wasp analogy is this:

    “In general, solutions to Fermi’s paradox come down to:
    – Life is difficult to start and to evolve to an intelligent and technologically advanced stage and we’re the only one in the galaxy.
    – Advanced civilizations destroy themselves on short timescales.”
    http://www.fermisparadox.com/Possible-answers-to-fermi-paradox.htm

    “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya …?

  34. 134

    FWIW, my take on “greed vs. sociobiology” is that you can’t usefully mistake either for a philosophical silver bullet.

    Human nature (soi-disant) is not truly unitary, but complexes of competing values: “Should I sleep? I’m a little tired. . . but I’m a little hungry too–and I wanted to see about. . .” And so at higher levels of abstraction as well.

    But we do need to find a way out of always needing “more”–especially insofar as that “more” puts us on a collision course with fundamental environmental limits. It is not, and will not, be easy to figure out what that means for human societies.

    Random examples: Does the proscription Ike proposed somewhere up-thread on “ecocide” help? Do we need to consider more carefully the doctrine of the Buddha that desire creates unhappiness? Do we need to sublimate “real” progress via “virtual” progress? Channel energy-intensive “progress” off-planet?

    Hell if I know. . . but I do know that people whom I’ve known who were relatively less-dependent on ever-increasing “more” were happier than their fellows. Maybe there’s a wider lesson in that.

  35. 135
    Completely Fed Up says:

    ““Temperature/Pirate numbers graphs”. Is there a time series here somewhere?”

    http://www.venganza.org/about/open-letter/

  36. 136
    Completely Fed Up says:

    PS THAT was an example.

    Deterministic graph produced by someone making s*it up.

  37. 137
    zeroworker says:

    #125 Septic Matthew

    Why? It’s a simple extrapolation of the last 40 years.

    Yes, even an extrapolation of the last 150 years, but the future will not be like the past. Over the last 150 years, energy was abundant and cheap. It will not be so in the future. Take a look at The Oil Drum web site for excellent information on peak oil. But resource depletion will be a general problem, not limited to oil.

    In the past, the Earth was able to absorb our pollution without causing ecological breakdown. It will not be so in the future (since you’re reading RealClimate, you should have at least an inkling of what I’m talking about).

    In short, in the past we had not yet hit planetary limits. We are hitting them now, therefore the future will not be like the past, therefore extrapolating economic growth out another 40 years is fantastical.

  38. 138
    simon abingdon says:

    #123 Doug Bostrom

    Doug, I was indeed looking for you to “return my serve” because you made the assertion in #103 that “you need a grounding in both statistics and climate to produce useful applications of statistics to the field of climate science”.

    Recent threads have not clarified my understanding sufficiently to answer this question, which I now restate:

    Given any extensive set of data, can raw mathematics determine whether there is an underlying trend, regardless of the field in question?

  39. 139
    John Peter says:

    Hank Roberts@133

    I feel lucky, blessed, and agnostic – what else for a skeptic. I believe there exist many things I understand, many things I do not understand and many, many many more that I could not understand. Each collection seems quite dynamic to me which adds a little pleasure to my trying to keep them straight…

    I have no more (or less) problem with Fermi’s paradox than with Zeno’s; my inclination would be to combine the two so that I would only have to contend with the single resulting (super?) paradox. Perhaps if each try we can only go halfway towards discovering ET, universal existence is more rational after all.

    I believe in free market capitalism with greed as a requirement for success. I interpret evolution and survival as subsets of this belief – which likely is why Three Penny Opera is my bible.

    Science is my “thing” – art is a mystery to me. Cruising the internet to search for expressions that might allow me to communicate an understandable answer for you, I discovered “The art of Literature and the Science of Literature” http://www.theamericanscholar.org/the-art-of-literature-and-the-science-of-literature/

    As a long time student of pattern recognition, I find it a fascinating attempt.

  40. 140
    simon abingdon says:

    “extensive ordered set of data”, to be a little more precise.

  41. 141

    Thomas (73) – I agree that our path is unsustainable… and I still think that increased spending as cure to economic crisis is crap.

    Barton (88) – Ok, I know that stimulus package DID HELP regarding jobs etc (but preferentially banks…), but how can this be desirable or sustanable, simply looking at the increasing DEBT of USA (and of other countries for that matter)? (just google “global debt time bomb”)

    I recommend reading of just few post over at the AutomaticEarth.blogspot.com or at TheOilDrum.com for more details…

    if “recovery” was not coupled with increasing debt, I would (maybe) buy the idea of “stimulus package”…

    best,
    Alex

  42. 142
    Ron R. says:

    My 2c in the discussion simplistic as it may be. This is nothing we don’t all already “know”. There are a number of factors at work here but the base problem today is overpopulation. Turns out that the use and even overuse of natural resources for the benefit of one’s own species is perfectly natural. All species do it as far as possible for them. With attrition in ‘mind’ every form of life ever trying to maximize its chances for its survival. Each tries to leave as many of its kind as it can. Thus growth, competition and even selfishness are natural. From the individual to the species.

    Thing is, in the natural world each species is a part of an evolved ecosystem long evolved into a rough self-perpetuating ‘balance’ and as such is subject to the natural limitations that evolution has created. Sometimes predators, sometimes disease, sometimes territory and geography, sometimes natural disaster etc. Species limit each other, and it has worked out well that way for a long, long time.

    WE, on the other hand, due to a set of unique circumstances, have recently largely removed ourselves from the laws of nature and now breed out of control. We do this in ignorance. Our strong genetic drive, like those of other species, continues to compels us ever onward (and upward) as if there were only a relatively few of us around and the world were still wide open for our expansion.

    But knowledge came and with it medicine to extend life and therefore breeding times. The convenience of industrialization, following the ‘path of least resistance’ law that nature follows, made the extraction of resources easy. Coal and then the the discovery of oil drove the engines of industrialization and population growth naturally followed right on its heels.

    It was inevitable that resources would not hold out forever (despite what Libertarian Julian Simonesque types delude themselves into believing). What’s happening to fisheries are one example. That same selfishness which once ensured our growth now threatens our survival as nations war with each other for them, still driven by an innate ‘drive to survive’. When other ‘issues’ we as a species have are factored in such as our innate fear of ‘monsters’, (based on vestigial genetic memories) which in prehistoric times were simply other carnivore species (and later ‘demons’), we see the decimation of wildlife all over the world. We have a driving need to “cleanse” the forest and thus the world of them and for us.

    We all see the elephant in the living room, our numbers are exploding. Overpopulation touches just about every other major issue we have. From resource depletion and habitat destruction to species extinction to pollution to war. It will only get worse as time goes by unless we as a species suddenly wake up and see the concrete wall we are rapidly speeding toward. It would go against our basic nature to decide as a species to slow down and then stop and put it in reverse, but we have also developed an ability to understand. True, a lot of people, perhaps most, comfortable in their delusions simply don’t want to know ‘the truth’ on any number of issues. That self-delusion may well lead to our termination as a species. Sadly though, it would probably also lead to the termination of many, many others as well.

  43. 143
    Ron R. says:

    Do we also have an innate drive to self-destruct? I wonder sometimes.

  44. 144
    krog says:

    Supposing cap&trade. This will reduce demand for oil & coal in some countries. Will this reduced demand result in less oil and coal being extracted worldwide? Can anyone point me toward an analysis that estimates the total reduction in carbon to the atmophere as a result of C&T ?

  45. 145
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Will this reduced demand result in less oil and coal being extracted worldwide?”

    It will pay for unaccounted externalities and make alternatives attractive enough to persue despite having to build new infrastructure to take advantage of it that current old-time incumbents amortised over many decades.

    As the desire for fossil fuel as merely an energy source declines (remember, until the British Navy moved from coal to oil powered navy, there was little for oil wells to be used for, except to poison farmland), the carbon-heavy uses will be reduced.

  46. 146
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Do we also have an innate drive to self-destruct? I wonder sometimes.”

    Accountants.

    Trust me on this.

    Accountants.

    Ball-achingly afraid that someone somewhere is getting money that they can’t get.

    How else do you work out a rationale for the copyright cartels actions against copyright restrictions (on them) and the abuse of law to persue even the most miniscule chance of winning money off someone else.

    Heck, when something isn’t being produced any more, why is “pirating” it wrong?

    BECAUSE IT’S SOMEONE ***ELSE*** MAKING MONEY FROM IT.

    That they weren’t making any is irrelevant.

    Patents are exactly the same thing now too.

  47. 147
    Ron R. says:

    As biologist Lynn Margulis says, our survival as a species now depends on our (quickly) making an evolutionary leap from species competition to species cooperation. But as ever, it’s about self preservation.

  48. 148
    Gilles says:

    krog : 144 :”Supposing cap&trade. This will reduce demand for oil & coal in some countries. Will this reduced demand result in less oil and coal being extracted worldwide?”

    In my opinion, not at all. Reducing the demand (which has never been really obtained by this method up to now) would make the price to sink, and it will of course annihilate any supplementary cost associated with cap and trade, and benefit to all activities that aren’t submitted to it.

    Anyway, even if a reduction of the demand could be achieved (which is following the above argument not guaranteed at all), I don’t see anything that could prevent to use the spared fossil fuels just a little bit later. Given the very likely bell shape of the fossil fuel consumption in the XXIth century, the overall effect would only be to flatten a little bit the bell – without any fundamental reason that the integral below it would change at all. Meaning much probably that the integral over 100 years would hardly change as well.

  49. 149
    Hank Roberts says:

    Simon, see Robert Grumbine on detecting trends, or any introduction to statistics. The answer takes some vocabulary, because the answer is an assessment of probability, not simply yes or no.

  50. 150
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Reducing the demand (which has never been really obtained by this method up to now) ”

    Aren’t you supposed to try something before you can even start to work out whether it worked or not?


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