RealClimate logo

Technical Note: Sorry for any recent performance issues. We are working on it.

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. 151
    Doug Bostrom says:

    simon abingdon says: 14 April 2010 at 3:35 AM

    Against my better judgment:

    With all the proper caveats and escape clauses, yes, of course; a set of numbers can be evaluated to recognize a trend in the value of those numbers. But the numbers alone tell us nothing of the meaning behind the trend, nothing of from where it is coming, whither it is going or why, whether it can continue or must stop. That’s essentially where VS ran off the rails and why and how his hypothesis was taken apart by Tamino. VS implied that his treatment had predictive power that was in fact lacking due to his insufficient knowledge about the origins of the numbers.

    There’s not going to be any final word on this, really, not in the grand scope of things but in this little microcosm I’m done, last word goes to you.

  2. 152
    Radge Havers says:

    Robert @ 6

    “The whole “for English majors” trope to imply innumeracy and/or scientific illiteracy is a gross generalization and a tired, over-used device. Students of the humanities manage to introduce culture to the ignorant without marketing it as “Culture for computer science majors” or suchlike.”

    Speaking as someone who switched majors from humanities to science (way back in the day) I have a slightly different take. For the most part, I’ve seen the “for English majors” bit used descriptively even playfully, but lets be clear, the two areas are not equal in terms of accessibility. Most anyone with a little fortitude and a good dictionary can pick up and read among the greatest works of literature ever written, even if they won’t appreciate them with the same depth as an English prof.

    Physics in particular is another matter, I’ve seen students in related science graduate programs struggle in futility with the opacity of physics papers in first tier journals. This is not to denigrate the humanities. Just the human condition is the human condition, the world of science, however, is ever expanding in all its aspects. And that’s not to deny that there are scientists who could do with a heavy dose of culture.

    Now, seriously, if somebody wrote a climate science book in the “for Dummies” series would you be offended? On the other hand, maybe we should as a culture be ashamed at our increasing immersion in a simulacrum contemptuous of rationality. In any case, you can overdo repackaging courses just for the sake of keeping them sounding fresh.

  3. 153
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “With all the proper caveats and escape clauses, yes, of course; a set of numbers can be evaluated to recognize a trend in the value of those numbers. But the numbers alone tell us nothing of the meaning behind the trend, nothing of from where it is coming, whither it is going or why, whether it can continue or must stop.”

    Can I just emphasize this section:

    “whither it is going”

    Trend analysis doesn’t tell you where it’s going, it’s only going to tell you where it’s going if it does the same things now as it did in the past.

    You CANNOT trend analyse the mandelbrot set. You CANNOT trend analyse Langton’s Ant.

    And NO TREND ANALYSIS can help you decide how to change things in the future, because that very change ruins the trend analysis you’re using.

    But it is a great thing to do if you’re of the mind that we should do NOTHING about AGW apart from “survive the result” because you’re not then changing the future.

    Though they’re also unwilling to admit that change is inevitable in climate because BAU changes the climate.

    If they were honest about their intent, they would have 100% reduction in human production of CO2e. Only at that point is the past going to be closest to the pattern of the future that trend analysis relies upon.

  4. 154
    Frank Giger says:

    Apologies for not putting a “smiley” after the jibe about Greenpeace accountants.

    And not all hippies are dirty. Some of them disguise themselves as regular people. But they’re still hippies.


    On a serious note, I’m very shocked to see a call to criminalize CO2 emissions. “Ecocide” as defined in the article for inclusion to the ICC is so broad anything qualifies. Any “harm” to the environment – which is to say any alteration – is punishable, including every step taken before the harm. If someone pours raw sewage into a creek, it’s the farmer at the market that gets charged as well, since he grew and sold the food.

    All the more reason why not signing on was one of the best moves of the last three US Presidential administrations (Clinton, Bush, Obama).

    Being dragged in front of a UN court for taking a Sunday drive for no reason at all and having the judge from Zimbabwe or the Sudan pronounce sentence (with a fine lecture about the rule of law and human rights) doesn’t sound very reasonable.

  5. 155
    simon abingdon says:

    #151 Doug Bostrom

    “last word goes to you.”

    Doug, thanks for your response. I think I might now know more than the little I did before. Regards simon

  6. 156

    I have to agree with Frank Giger at 154.

    I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever be writing a sentence like that.

  7. 157
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Frank Giger says: 14 April 2010 at 1:55 PM

    Frank, forgetting for a moment the absurd notion that people will be thrown into jail for taking a Sunday drive and ignoring how much that reminds me of the recent and startlingly analogous circus regarding imaginary “Death Panels” here in the U.S.A., your remark about sewage was an excellent way of showing how reality might actually operate in the case of criminalizing willful and egregiously abusive emissions of C02.

    Now, if I inadvertently have a sewage pipe terminating or leaking in some inappropriate place I might expect to be notified of that. If it’s a drip, I’ll get a little notification, a little warning. I’ll be penalized if I choose to ignore the problem, the more so if I’m stubbornly intransigent.

    On the other hand, if I’ve got an enormous sewage disposal problem I’m fully aware of and then decide to ignore societal conventions and good by dumping this sewage in a creek, causing significant measurable harm as well as in the process conspiring to delay any rectification of the destruction I’m causing, I can expect a loud notification, a powerful threat and likely a penalty right out of the gate. If I then choose to ignore the civil sanctions I’ve exhausted by sheer stubbornness or perhaps greed I can fully expect to be found criminally liable and would not be able to make a reasonable case why not.

    That’s how things work today, with sewage. Why should it be different for a different pollutant?

  8. 158
    Ron R. says:

    #154 sounds more like Limbaugh, Beck or Alex Jones to me. Scare people with phantom fantasies about “The UN” and “The NWO”, make them suspicious (narrowed eyes) and that will color their views on environmentalists (dirty hippies/environmental wackos) and protecting the environment. It’s on a par with death panels.

    We really ought to be further along in the game than that by now.

  9. 159
    Ike Solem says:

    Patrick O27, you might want to talk to fellow climate denialist Joe Bastardi about this slavery-global warming issue. He recently appeared on the Colbert Report:

    Colbert: Joe, you believe that there should be a Lincoln-Douglas style debate about global warming.

    Bastardi: Yes, I do.

    Colbert: Now, what was that original debate about?

    Bastardi: What? Lincoln and Douglas? About many things.

    Colbert: It was actually about slavery. Brenda, I agree with Joe here. There should be a Lincoln-Douglas style debate here – why are you pro-slavery? Why do you want to keep the glaciers chained to the North Pole? When Joe and I want to free them into the North Atlantic?


    As far as what Patrick claims, that “There is a big difference between owning slaves and emitting greenhouse gases” – well, no. Plus, I don’t think I said “emitting greenhouse gases” – I think I said burning fossil fuels

    Why does this matter? Well, the biosphere emits around 15 times as much CO2 per year as does fossil fuel consumption – but the biosphere also absorbs that same amount of CO2 each year. You and I are breathing out CO2 and taking in organic carbon (food) created originally via photosynthesis, with the carbon source being the atmosphere. However, this is a steady-state situation, and the atmospheric CO2 level doesn’t change as a result (unless you are talking about the glacial cycles, in which small imbalances play a role – over thousands of years).

    So, the comparison is between buying and selling and using slaves and buying and selling and burning fossil fuels, for starters.

    Now, Patrick 027, are you claiming that dumping pollutants into the air, water and soil is a “victimless crime”? You are clearly doing harm to any individuals who have to deal with the results. What about the inhabitants of the drowning Pacific islets? They certainly can claim personal injury, can’t they?

    Why do you think they shouldn’t be able to bring criminal and/or civil cases against the major emitters of greenhouse gases?

  10. 160
    Frank Giger says:

    Doug, you need to read closer. It’s not the polluter himself that gets pulled in front of the ICC – it’s the guy that sold the food that got turned into sewage as well.

    If an oil tanker ruptures, who’s to blame? Well, the drilling company for pulling it out of the ground in the first place, and not just the drunken captain! Everyone in the production chain is made liable in the ecocide theory.

    For CO2 emissions, that’s everyone using fossil fuels. There is no limit to how it could be applied. Pick a target, any target – and that person will fit the charges.

  11. 161
    Ron R. says:

    Frank, your theory is askew. It may be that the captain of the Exxon Valdez was personally to blame but the ship was Exxon’s. Further, they hired that captain, so it was ultimately their responsibility.

    BTW, Do you have a link about farmers being convicted of growing food that led to sewage pollution?

  12. 162
    krog says:

    #148. Then my point is that C&T may shift around the end user. But it will move us no closer to a solution. The only thing that might reduce the amount of carbon put into the atmosphere over the relevant period would be substantial taxes at the point of extraction. Consumer taxes are just political fluff that lead to economic inefficiency. The use of fossil fuels would no longer be allocated according to market price, but according to political influence.

  13. 163
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Frank Giger says: 14 April 2010 at 7:17 PM

    Frank, where we’ll end up is with C02 being treated more or less as pollutant, more or less along a continuum of perceived harm and with greater or lesser penalties being attached to its emission in a way that is intended to escape accounting procedures and is substantially willful, malicious and/or intended for illicit material gain.

    Despite C02 being recognized as a pollutant, the structure of law and regulation around C02 emissions will at the end of the day acknowledge and foster the concept that C02 is a part of our economy demanding toleration for some period of time, yet must be eliminated as swiftly as possible, if possible.

    The ramp of discouragement against emitting C02 will be very long and with a very gentle slope. At one of the slope will be encouragements to use energy sensibly– cheery reminders to do something obvious and attractive– as we already see. On the other end of the slope will be a jail cell waiting for somebody with the brass to fake for material gain sequestering or otherwise disposing of a tremendous amount of C02, or to conspire in emitting a substantial quantity of C02 in a manner designed for concealment and intended to defraud an accounting system for C02 emissions.

    Most of us live at the smart, non-larcenous end of the hill.

    It’s the same structure and continuum we use and most of us accept today for a myriad of situations where common sense and regulations touch on a broad swath of society and our economy.

    Nothing new. Nobody’s going to dragged from behind the wheel while wearing their Sunday best by jackbooted government agents.

  14. 164
    Hank Roberts says:

    People can. People do.

    “The best conservers were residents of single-family homes, who used nearly 30% less water as compared with February 1997.”,0,458868.story

  15. 165
    Ike Solem says:

    Fossil CO2 is the pollutant, not biological CO2. You can tell the difference in that fossil CO2 emissions don’t contain any 14C. This is just a basic carbon cycle issue.

  16. 166
    Gilles says:

    CFU ; you focus on an incident remark that is not the core of my argumentation. I didn”t say that the fact it has never been done proved that it was impossible. I said that it was very unlikely to work because nothing in the modern economy limits the growth, so nothing prevents to use the spared fossil fuels to increase the growth – and of course nothing prevents to use spared fossil fuels later. And the fact that a decrease of global fossil fuel use has never been achieved is at least a hint that this theory is correct.

    Concerning the near impossibility to reach the goal of continuing the growth with an improvement of 20 ( !!) of the carbon intensity of the economy in 40 years (!!!) :

  17. 167
    Septic Matthew says:

    137, zeroworker: 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.

    Even under G.W. Bush the production of energy from non-hydro renewable sources grew by a factor of 8, and the growth rate is slightly higher now. For a while, energy will become more expensive, then it will become cheaper again as manufacturing of solar and wind devices (and other production) becomes more proficient. At least, that’s what has been happening recently. As for the claim that “resource depletion” will limit growth, there is no particularly good reason to think that is inevitable. In order to think that material resource limitations will necessarily inhibit growth you have to believe that human ingenuity will solve no problems. In between total pessimism and technocornucopia, a 2.5% mean growth rate for 4 decades is quite reasonable. With bridges made from recycled plastic (I didn’t make that up, its a DARPA achievement), aircraft made from carbon composites, and fuel made from municipal waste (solid and sewage) the future will not “be like” the past; it also will not be more destitute.

    Sunlight is used to power the breaking of the C=O bonds in CO2 and to provide C=0 for fuel production and C for manufacturing graphene and carbon nanotubes. It’s small scale, like fiber-optic cable and semi-conductor fabrication 30 years ago. There is sufficient sunlight to power these operations on a huge scale. Now that fabrication techniques are in operation, scaling up is no more impossible than was the scaling up of auto production 100 years ago.

    What will actually happen is not known, but what is known is that a sustained 2.5% growth rate is reasonable based on what has happened in recent years, over the last decade, over the last several decades, and over the last centuries.

  18. 168
    Septic Matthew says:

    130, Georgi Marinov: 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.

    Second sentence is probably true, at least based on what I have read lately. First sentence is probably false: as I mentioned, power-to-weight ratios in models are already better than power-to-weight ratios in early aviation, and are getting better. To me, you are like a guy looking at WWI aircraft and betting that trans-oceanic flight will always be impossible. Or perhaps like the fellows at IBM who in the early 1950s thought that there would not be demand for more than 10 computers.

    As for limits to growth, China has already exceeded the limits identified in the 1970s, and still people believe in limits to growth. Paraphrasing my last, the two false extremes are the belief that all problems will be solved and the belief that none of them will be solved. It looks like, by 2020, the US and the EU will each get at least 25% of electricity from non-hydro renewables (and at least a few percent more than now from nuclear). Whenever it happens, the 25% milestone will require all these projections to be revised. Meanwhile, Krugman’s projection of 2.5% per annum sustained growth is the most sensible projection.

  19. 169
    CM says:

    Frank Giger, et al,

    Noone’s getting dragged in front of the International Criminal Court for peacetime pollution. Noone will, either.

    After WW II, the Holocaust, and the UN Charter, it took half a century, Bosnia, and Rwanda, for a draft international criminal statute to become the Rome Statute of the ICC (1998). The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and (should they ever get around to defining it) the crime of aggression. War crimes include, among many other things, intentionally launching an attack knowing it will cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment beyond military necessity, in the context of international armed conflict (article 8.b.iv). (A broader conception of environmental damage as an international crime was mooted in the drafting process but abandoned in the face of opposition from governments.)

    No, Sunday driving doesn’t quite cut it. Nor are governments likely to reopen the statute to penalize Sunday drivers, or Exxon, or themselves for polluting as a part of normal peacetime economic activity.

    A newspaper report about one environmental activist’s pipe dream is being bandied about because it feeds into the fantasy life of the death-panel, black-helicopter, pry-it-from-my-cold-fingers, the guvmint’s-gonna-come-right-into-your-living-room-and-take-your-light-bulbs-away crowd.

  20. 170
    Kevin says:

    What’s clear (but not surprising) is that many posting comments are not that up to speed re the policy or econ work that has been going on re this subject for many years. I’d strongly recommend three sources to get started. Rob Stavins at Harvard has a excellent blog:

    MIT’s Center for Global Change has done good work on the economics and science, with an interesting quantification of the risks:

    And finally, for more general stuff re environmental economics — sort of a Realclimate lite for the enviro econ set — (they don’t do science though)

  21. 171
    Hank Roberts says:

    Gilles, if you could be convinced you were wrong, would you admit the possibility exists that things could be different than you think they are?
    Specifically, if you found that our actual burning of fossil fuel and CO2 production dropped for several years, would you then consider it possible that this could actually happen?

    Or would you go on saying it’s never happened so it never can happen?

  22. 172
    Hank Roberts says:

    Gilles — okay, did you look?

    Now, here’s the caption and source:

    “Figure 1: The century’s emissions to date (the grey area, showing the emissions drop that accompanied the great recession), the 350 pathway (the top of the red area), a 2°C pathway consistent a 75% chance of keeping warming below 2°C (the red line), and a “G8 style” pathway (the thin black line) consistent with the aim (popular among the elites) to halve global emissions by 2050. Also shown (the big numbers), are the number of Gigatonnes of CO2 that each step in this sequence of ever less adequate targets would add to total cumulative emissions.

    This graphic, which well represents the methods and conclusions of current science, shows that a global 350 ppm emissions pathway (illustrated here with a 2011 global emissions peak and global 2020 emissions that are 42% below 1990 levels) is extremely challenging. It also shows a 2°C pathway (the red line), one that has a reasonable if not comforting chance of actually meeting the 2°C target. And, most importantly, it shows the “G8 style” emission pathway (global 2050 emissions projected to be 50% below 1990 levels), the one that was almost written into the Copenhagen Accord, the one which the elites persist in calling a 2°C pathway.”

    No one’s saying it’s easy.

  23. 173
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Gilles says:
    15 April 2010 at 12:50 AM

    CFU ; you focus on an incident remark that is not the core of my argumentation.”

    You keep changing your statements, ignoring your past statements if they no longer achieve your aim of denying.

    “I didn”t say that the fact it has never been done proved that it was impossible.”

    You have several times before.

    “very unlikely to work because nothing in the modern economy limits the growth, so nothing prevents to use the spared fossil fuels to increase the growth”

    Nothing says we have to increase or maintain fossil fuel use. Since there’s a thousand fold excess of energy available and extractable, why use a limited resource, especially one with such an unwelcome side effect?

    After all, slavery was very efficient, yet we don’t use it. Well, OK, we DO use it, but we call it the Free Market In Jobs, aka Capitalism. However the fact that we don’t admit that this is just an attempt to achieve slavery without calling it that shows how we don’t want to use slavery, despite its ability to increase economic output.

    You just assume that it is very likely that we will still use as much oil even if we don’t use it for energy.

    I (and most thoughtful people) consider it highly unlikely.

    “And the fact that a decrease of global fossil fuel use has never been achieved is at least a hint that this theory is correct.”

    See Hank’s post.

    Not knowing what’s going on has never stopped you making statements as if they were true before, though.

    “Concerning the near impossibility to reach the goal of continuing the growth with an improvement of 20 ( !!) of the carbon intensity of the economy in 40 years (!!!) :”

    Easy peasy.

    40% reduction could be done by refusing to waste the energy we currently use. Two-three years. Easy. If people with the power (which = money in a capitalist system) wanted us to do it.

    Bare reduction in use can halve the needs yet again. That could be done in half a generation no problem. 10-15 years.

    So we’ve gone from 90% fossil fuels, 10% carbon neutral to 24% fossil fuels (remember: no need to make the cuts in anything other than fossil fuel use), 10% carbon neutral WITH NO INCREASE IN CO2 NEUTRAL GENERATION.

    If over 40 years we can’t triple the CO2 neutral generation capacity, we’re not trying. 40 years we won’t even have doubled our population, so from 34% of current generation, 10% of which is renewables, we now need maybe 50%. 40% from renewables, 10% from fossil fuels.

    There’s a 9-to-1 reduction.

    Ignoring the capacity of technology to mitigate the CO2 load of power generation from fossil fuels over 40 years. Do you think it’s not possible to reduce that by half over that time?

  24. 174
    Ike Solem says:

    Kevin, let’s take a look at Rob Stavins from Harvard on cap-and-trade:

    Despite all the hand-wringing in the press and the blogosphere about a political “give-away” of allowances for the cap-and-trade system in the Waxman-Markey bill voted out of committee last week, the politics of cap-and-trade systems are truly quite wonderful, which is why these systems have been used, and used successfully.

    As a matter of fact, the only so-called “success” of cap-and-trade is said to be the removal of sulfur from diesel fuel, correct? Sulfur allowances were used in a market-based trading scheme which resulted in refineries reducing the sulfur content in their fuel. That’s the only putative example of cap-and-trade working as advertised, yes?

    However, what’s curious here is that while the sulfur content of diesel fuel sold in U.S. and European cities has indeed fallen, this has been matched by a rise in the sulfur content of ship bunker fuel. The sulfur wasn’t removed, it was simply put into a different fraction of the oil refinery distillates. Hence, ship sulfur emissions have increased – but this has a lower effect on the air quality of cities, unless those cities have busy shipping ports.

    Hence, while California diesel fuel for vehicles has a sulfur limit of 500 parts per million (.05%), the sulfur content in marine bunker fuel is typically limited at 1.5% (15,000 parts per million). That’s the physical reality – it’s called mass balance. The sulfur has to go somewhere, and it costs energy to extract it.

    All cap-and-trade did with sulfur, in reality, is to redistribute it. So, the one historical argument that cap-and-trade relies on is quite bogus, wouldn’t you agree?

    So, how is cap-and-trade supposed to work for fossil CO2?

    When you extract and burn fossil fuels, you are taking carbon out of stable geological reservoirs and pumping it into the actively recirculating carbon pool – and the active reservoirs include the atmosphere, biomass, oceans, & soils. This is called the carbon cycle, which is linked to the hydrological and nitrogen cycles, particularly with respect to biomass and soil levels.

    A spectacular example of the failure of economists to understand these scientific issues can be seen in Canada, where the Canadian forests were supposed to serve as an “offset” for Alberta tar sand production. However, due to the changing climate (warmer drier winters in particular) pine beetles have devastated the forests, causing them to dump an estimated 74 megatons CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere.

    Now, Canadian politicians with ties to the Alberta oil interests had hoped to use “forest storage of CO2″ to offset the emissions from their tar sands projects. Those oil sands emissions can be counted two ways – on site only, which accounts for all the natural gas consumed in the tar sand process, or the complete picture, which includes the emissions produced by the oil refineries that process syncrude into gasoline, and also the emissions from the vehicles that consume that syncrude. Canadian politicians and economists prefer not to account for these downstream emissions, however – a matter of political expediency which again ducks scientific reality.

    Similar issues arise with forest-based “carbon offsets” all over the world. These are NOT stable long-term reservoirs for CO2, so they should be eliminated from the carbon trading program – along with any other biomass-type approach (dumping tankers of iron into the oceans to promote algal growth comes to mind).

    So, how does one generate a real fossil CO2 offset, Kevin? There’s only one way – you have to bury an equivalent amount of CO2 in a geologically stable form, one that won’t be recirculating through the atmosphere, oceans, soils and biomass. That means you have to convert the CO2 (a gas) back to some more solid from – graphite, perhaps. However, the cost is too high, energy-wise, for this to ever be a practical solution.

    For example, if you wanted to capture all the emissions from a big coal plant, you’d probably have to build another power plant just to do this – say, a big nuclear power plant, a giant solar array, a large wind farm – but if you did that, why even bother with the fossil fuels? Just use the energy as is, and forget about coal and oil.

    Hence, economists like Rob Stavins who are promoting this cap-and-trade approach seem completely divorced from physical reality – but then, they never had to learn anything about physics, chemistry or biology in the course of their academic careers, did they? That’s why they are constantly embarrassing themselves on these issues.

  25. 175
    Septic Matthew says:

    160, Frank Giger: . It’s not the polluter himself that gets pulled in front of the ICC – it’s the guy that sold the food that got turned into sewage as well.

    It’s not a large part of any fuel solution, perhaps 5%, but illustrative of widespread deployment of relatively small scale installations: sewage is now feedstock (pun intended) for fuel. What’s more, there are multiple technologies for making the fuel.

    To recapitulate:

    1. There are multiple technologies being adopted to make fuel or electricity from municipal solid waste;

    2. There are multiple technologies being adopted to make fuel or electricity from sewage;

    3. There are multiple technologies being adopted to make fuel and electricity from sunlight;

    4. There are multiple technologies under development for carbon capture and storage, including reforestation;

    5. There are multiple technologies being adopted for making biofuels (ethanol, butanol, diesel) from cellulose;

    6. There are multiple technologies (hardware plus strains) for harvesting biofuels (diesel, butanol, ethanol) from vats of microbes, some of them salt-tolerant;

    7. There are multiple technologies for desalinating water;

    8. There are multiple strains of seed-oil based biofuels (palms, camelina, jatropha), some of them salt-tolerant;

    9. There are multiple designs of turbines for harvesting the energy in wind;

    10. There are multiple designs of nuclear power plants that produce little radioactive waste (and none that can be made into explosives, though all waste could be made into a dirty bomb, as can mercury, cyanide and other toxins.)

    It is simply not the case that humans are doomed to an energy-poor or water-poor existence. Exactly who will produce the energy (South Africa, EU, US, China, Brazil, India, Japan, etc) and who will best manage water ( South Africa, EU, US, China, Brazil, India, Japan, etc) isn’t known, but there is no good reason to predict that no one will develop anything.

    As a bonus, there is 11: multiple designs for small-scale fusion (though none are net producers of power yet) and for fusion-fission hybrids, in addition to the more conjectural large-scale fusion facilities (under test or under constructioin.)

    and even more: 12, multiple designs for increased efficiency in all uses of energy.

  26. 176
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Ike Solem says: 15 April 2010 at 10:38 AM

    Ike’s forgetting that cap and trade as it applies to sulphates was implemented and used for reducing emissions from coal-burning electrical power generation plants, not liquid fuels. Too bad, because all his subsequent discussion becomes moot, rather pointless and not at all believable.

    Meanwhile, he’s also forgetting that accounting for the costs of carbon emissions is intended to level the playing field for other more modern and up to date technologies.

  27. 177

    (Different Kevin here.)

    Ike (#174), you’re confusing me a bit–the goal of cap-and-trade wrt sulfur emissions wasn’t to lower the total emissions globally–it was to mitigate acid rain in the US. Which it did, right? Is there a harm resulting from the greater sulfur content in bunker oils that you reference? (Admittedly, if the scheme were intended to affect global levels, it would be a closer analog to our present dilemma.)

    This is the story I’m familiar with:

    I don’t see anything to do with diesel oil or Europe here.

    I’m also confused about your contention that forest-based offsets are a bad idea. The boreal, like the tropical rainforest, has in fact been essentially stable over the last 10,000 years or so, AFAIK. Now both are suffering seriously deforestation at human hands, rendering that stability merely historic. (Of course the rain forest is the more critical of the two.) Why does it not make sense to provide economic incentives to reduce this source of CO2 emissions? IIRC, AR4 has them as pretty significant.

    Another point–you’ve been very pessimistic, here and elsewhere, about the potential of CCS. I don’t (yet) have a “personal position” on the matter, though I’ve been skeptical about CCS generally. What about such reports as this:

    The first step in CCS is to capture CO2 at the source and produce a concentrated stream for transport and storage. Currently, three main approaches are available to capture CO2 from large scale industrial facilities or power plants: (1) post-combustion capture, (2) pre-combustion capture, and (3) oxy-fuel combustion capture. For power plants, current commercial CO2 capture systems could operate at 85%-95% capture efficiency. Techniques for capturing CO2 have not yet been applied to large power plants (e.g., 500 megawatts or more).

    Post-Combustion Capture

    This process involves extracting CO2 from the flue gas following combustion of fossil fuels or biomass. Several commercially available technologies, some involving absorption using chemical solvents, can in principle be used to capture large quantities of CO2 from flue gases. U.S. commercial electricity-generating plants currently do not capture large volumes of CO2 because they are not required to and there are no economic incentives to do so. Nevertheless, the post-combustion capture process includes proven technologies that are commercially available today.


    Wrong, misleading, slanted–just overly optimistic? Or is there something to this?

  28. 178
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hat tip to Ike Solem’s blog for:
    How Much Would You Pay to Save the Planet? The American Press and the Economics of Climate Change

  29. 179
    zeroworker says:

    #167 Septic Matthew

    At this point I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  30. 180
    Kevin says:

    Ike (#174) — you are incorrect. Cap and trade was used successfully in phasing lead out of gasoline in the U.S. as well as in the reduction of ozone depleting chemicals in the U.S. It was used successfully in lowering SOx from U.S. power plants beginning in the 1990s and again in lowering NOx. It can and will work in lowering CO2 emissions. It does so by applying a price to CO2, which is then factored into every investment and consumption decision throughout the economy. In this way, the lowest cost reductions are made via changes in technology or shifts in consumption. Looked at another way, the least valuable sources of emissions are reduced first — methane emissions from a landfill (least valued) will reduce before emissions from an ambulance. There is nothing magical about it. Simply saying because it has only been applied in a particular case does not constitute proof that it will not work in other cases.

  31. 181
    Michael K says:

    Krugman has a lot of ability… yet he often seems to step back from some of the obvious conclusions his own logic and analysis lead him towards, because they inevitably pose very fundamental questions about the very structure of our socio/economic system, which some call free market capitalism, and others, corporate/state capitalism. One profound question Krugman chooses to ignore, for obvious reasons, is, does capitalism survive in a low growth, low energy intensive, society?

  32. 182
    Gilles says:

    CFU : “Easy peasy.
    40% reduction could be done by refusing to waste the energy we currently use. Two-three years. ”
    Sorry, how can you change in two or three years the carbon intensity by 40 % , without impacting the growth?? be serious please.
    “Bare reduction in use can halve the needs yet again. That could be done in half a generation no problem. 10-15 years.

    Bare reduction – as I understand it – means less consumption and thus no growth, but a recession. If you accept recession, there is of course no problem to reduce the amount of fossil fuels as much as you want : it’s enough to live like people who consumes currently the amount of fossil fuels you’re targeting. Of course this possible (it happened during Argentine and Soviet crisis for instance). There is no point to discuss here.

  33. 183
    Rod B says:

    Kevin (180), cap and trade was responsible for lead-free gasoline and keeping CFCs out of the atmosphere??? That does not match my recollection at all. Both were simply outlawed. The fact that to ease the burden (and stretch it out a bit) subsidies were created, some of which looked a little like cap and trade, doesn’t change the cause and effect.

    [Response: SO2 was regulated by a cap and trade mechanism in the US, while CFCs were phased out by mandate. Lead-free gasoline was priced out of the market through a tax mechanism in the UK at least, not sure what was done in the US. Cap-and-trade has been successfully used before if that was the point of the comment. - gavin]

  34. 184
    Georgi Marinov says:

    181 Michael K says:
    15 April 2010 at 3:00 PM
    Krugman has a lot of ability… yet he often seems to step back from some of the obvious conclusions his own logic and analysis lead him towards, because they inevitably pose very fundamental questions about the very structure of our socio/economic system, which some call free market capitalism, and others, corporate/state capitalism. One profound question Krugman chooses to ignore, for obvious reasons, is, does capitalism survive in a low growth, low energy intensive, society?

    Of course it doesn’t, but a mainstream economist can not say that. Which is why economics is a pseudoscience – it relies on a set of underlying assumptions that can not be shown to be correct (in fact they demonstrably aren’t) and that aren’t subject of revision.

    But there is another, much more sinister reason for why he can’t say that. The whole house of cards is built on the assumption that future growth will repay today’s debt. The reason why people wake up every morning, they go to work and they do it is that they have faith in the correctness of this assumption, because it gives them hope for a “better” future (where “better” means more material possessions), retirement, etc. If someone with sufficient authority (say, Obama) comes out today and says “Look, we have overshot the carrying capacity of the planet / we have reached the limits to growth, we’re running out of oil and other resources, we’re wrecking the climate, we have to scale down, no more growth” this faith will disappear in an instant, and with it, the whole economic system collapses immediately, as the foundation of faith in future growth it is built on disappears. Which will momentarily cause our society to spiral into probably irreversible chaos, because 99.9% of people are completely unprepared to hear such a message, so their reaction will be one of anger, confusion, and most likely violence.

    So even if you had the power to come out and state these things clearly, it may not be advisable to do so as it will trigger societal collapse almost immediately

  35. 185
    Hank Roberts says: is a good summary on the history of leaded gasoline in the US.

  36. 186
    Hank Roberts says:

    And this one,
    which focuses on the way decades of cautionary scientific knowledge disappeared from the public record after the 1920s, not to be rediscovered until the predicted effects began to be documented in the 1970s.

    “… Even the court decision backing EPA’s ban on leaded gasoline in 1976 said: ‘It is only recently that we have begun to appreciate the danger posed by unregulated modification of the world around us.’3
    The historical vacuum surrounding leaded gasoline was so complete that when the city of Chicago banned all sales of leaded gasoline in 1984, the New York Times said the ordinance was the first of its kind. In fact, the Times itself had covered city and state bans on leaded gasoline in the mid-1920s.5,6
    These examples reflect a historical amnesia that is typical in the field of environment and public health policy, particularly so in this case. They also reflect the personal and social costs of having to repeat history when it is forgotten….”

  37. 187
    Ron R. says:

    Georgi Marinov #184 you’re right and wrong. Right that we have overshot the carrying capacity for the continuance of the biosphere as a whole. What comes to mind now is that old Italian saying, “feather by feather the goose is plucked”.

    Others though, I have Libertarians and Republicans in mind here, the kind of people who spin for CATO, AEI, CEI, the US Chamber of Commerce etc. believe, rightly, that the earth still has lots more resources to exploit for our use. Lots more forests to cut down, lots more land to wrest from other species for development and agriculture, lots more coal to mine, lots more mountains to level. And that’s true, that is IF we wish to go forward as if other species simply do not exist or do not have a right to continued existence. We can simply take it all for ourselves and watch them slip away, one by one, into the eternal night of extinction.

    “the technological optimists are probably correct in claiming that overall world food production can be increased substantially over the next few decades…[however] the environmental cost of what Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich describe as ‘turning the Earth into a giant human feedlot’ could be severe. A large expansion of agriculture to provide growing populations with improved diets is likely to lead to further deforestation, loss of species, soil erosion, and pollution from pesticides and fertilizer runoff as farming intensifies and new land is brought into production.

    Bush had on board a guy by the name of Terry Anderson who seriously proposed auctioning off the national parks to the highest bidder and at least one that I know of of the above mentioned think tanks is all for that (Cato).

    “Our burgeoning population and urban way of life have been purchased at the expense of vast ecosystems and habitats. … It’s no accident that as we celebrate the urbanization of the world, we are quickly approaching another historic watershed: the disappearance of the wild.” – Jeremy Rifkin

    We have overshot the carrying capacity of our planet when our continued growth must be purchased as the expense of other species simple right to exist. We are past that point.

    There are certain powerful people who have no love of, or respect for nature nor understanding of how intimately connected we are to other species, and they to each other. John Muir wrote of them as having “a perfect contempt for nature”. These people envision a world of wall to wall construction towering into the sky jam packed with people living in a “utopia of technology”. Some of them wouldn’t even mind seeing this planet wither and die. They have their sights set on the stars. I know, I’ve talked to them. They delude themselves into thinking that space travel and terrafoming of other planets are just around the corner. This planet exists simply for what we can rip out of it right now. It’s obscene.

  38. 188
    Ron R. says:

    On the other hand some of us think that maybe we should perhaps begin, oh I don’t know, thinking about and maybe even discussing nationally and globally limiting our numbers. Maybe now is a good time to get serious about population – while we still have something left to preserve.

    Or we can just let the future happen and the chips fall where they may.

  39. 189
  40. 190
    Septic Matthew says:

    188, Ron R: maybe we should perhaps begin, oh I don’t know, thinking about and maybe even discussing nationally and globally limiting our numbers.

    Where you been these last few decades? Every nation with a growing economy has a declining fertility rate, and some without growing economies have declining fertility rates. Japan and Russia have fertility rates below the replacement rate, as perhaps do France and Germany (at least the populaces of European descent.) Eminentoes like Ehrlich and Holdren wrote about forced sterilization in democratic countries in the 1970s. Every woman in the world who has learned to read has learned about birth control pills. In China and India there has been a demonstrable effort to reduce the numbers of girl children. Discussion and action are well underway.

  41. 191
    Michael K says:

    Mrugman is… a bourgeois economist, a talented one, but still bourgeois. What this means is that he cannot, or won’t, follow what his observations and logic lead him towards, if that means questioning the fundamental structures of state capitalism and the dire consequences of business, more or less, as usual for the biosphere, and clearly, by exstention… us.

    Whether or not people would react with total hysteria, leading to a collapse of our economic and social system, if they were told the “truth”, is, I believe, highly debatable. Surely it depends on exactly how they were told the truth?

    In theory, if we lived in real, and functioning, democracies, it should be possible to discuss reality and, even at this late stage, change course in a calm, rational and effective manner. Are we really just slaves to our fate and nothing more?

    But, but, but, this does mean examining the most deeply held and core values of state, corporate, capitalism, which means challenging the most sacred dogmas we live by, and talking about power in society, who has it and who doesn’t and why, and where does power come from, does it come from votes, or from the access to and control of vaste wealth?

  42. 192
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Bare reduction – as I understand it – means less consumption and thus no growth, but a recession”

    Nope, bare reduction is bare reduction in use of energy.

    If I walk to the shops, there is no recession caused because I didn’t use my car. But I HAVE managed bare reduction.

    If I carpool, that reduces use.

    Still not a precursor to recession.

    See, you’re back on your schtick of “Fossil fuel use is economy growth”.


  43. 193
    VS says:

    Doug Bostrom

    You might actually want to read the threads in question, before making factually incorrect statements. I didn’t ‘run off’ because of Tamino, I quit contributing, a full two weeks after our argument ‘ended’, because it made no point to continue discussing these (elementary!) statistics on Bart’s blog.

    I explained the argument ad nauseam, but apparently people still like to stick their own definition. E.g. as far as I can see in the most recent comments, to Bart ‘stochastic trend’ still means that there is no ‘determinism’, even though I explained why this is not the case at least five times. People also don’t seem to understand that a near-unit root process, in small samples, needs to be treated a as a pure unit root process, instead of a trend-stationary one.

    The general level of statistical illiteracy is amazing. While the IPCC report starts with a comparison of (misspecified) ‘statistical trends’, nobody seems to have any clue about what a ‘trend estimate’ actually represents formally, and why trend estimation is not an ad hoc exercise where you can just pick the assumptions you like.

    In any case, my story with Tamino ended when *he* ran off, after performing a spurious regression (reference to formal proof of where he messed up, under link below), in order to ‘debunk’ me.

    Here’s an overview of our ‘argument’, including my reply to both his blog entries:

    Get your facts straight, Doug.

    Best, VS

  44. 194
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “to Bart ’stochastic trend’ still means that there is no ‘determinism’, even though I explained why this is not the case at least five times.”


    “A stochastic process is one whose behavior is non-deterministic”

  45. 195
    Georgi Marinov says:

    Completely Fed Up says:
    16 April 2010 at 3:20 AM

    Nope, bare reduction is bare reduction in use of energy.

    If I walk to the shops, there is no recession caused because I didn’t use my car. But I HAVE managed bare reduction.

    If I carpool, that reduces use.

    Still not a precursor to recession.

    See, you’re back on your schtick of “Fossil fuel use is economy growth”.


    Actually if everyone reduces their energy use, this will cause a recession because GDP will automatically fall because of that. Energy costs money and it counts as GDP as do all the expenses made while generating it.

    Of course, this isn’t entirely relevant to the claim that you can grow the economy without fossil fuels. Of course you can in theory, the problem is that you can’t in practice as there aren’t any other energy sources in sufficient abundance and with similar characteristics to support growth. Which, in turn means that growth will end soon no matter what we do. However, even if there was another vast energy source to tap, it would still not be advisable to grow the economy because there are dozens of other limits to growth that will makes sure that we collapse after we overshoot them.

  46. 196
    Septic Matthew says:

    194, CFU: “A stochastic process is one whose behavior is non-deterministic”

    A stochastic process is one whose behavior is not predictable given what is known. It may still be deterministic. The twinkling of stars, to pick one example, is caused by variations in atmospheric density whose causes are known (and measurable in particular cases to correct for them), but for which incomplete knowledge prohibits accurate prediction in most cases. Another example is radioactive decay, which appears random but may be deterministic with unknown causal mechanism. On this, your wikipedia entry appears to be not fully informed.

    Another example closer to the interests of Real Climate is weather, which is unpredictable despite many deterministic components because not all of the deterministic links are completely known in time to make the predictions.

    This debate about randomness, knowledge, and indeterminism has been going on for over 200 years, and it is clearly not the case that empirical randomness implies non-determinism or acausality.

    192, CFU: Nope, bare reduction is bare reduction in use of energy.

    And to extend that idea, reduction in the use of energy entails reductions in expenditures on energy (because generally reductions in demand produce reductions in price), which can produce capital available to invest in other enterprises, which then grow. There is no guarantee that converting to renewable energy supplies will necessarily lead to faster growth in material wealth, and the near-term cost may be tangible, but the long-term advantage of renewable energy supplies is that we won’t run out of them, whereas we clearly will run out of coal, oil and natural gas eventually. The limits that we are up against already have driven up the price of fossil fuels, whereas recent developments have driven down the costs of the renewables. It is impossible to say exactly when and at exactly what costs the conversion to renewables is optimal, but it is about now and at about the current prices. Also unknowable is the exactly optimal rate of conversion, but even the fossil fuel companies are investing in renewable fuels, as are diverse groups in every industrialized nation and most industrializing nations.

  47. 197
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS for those outside the USA, here’s how the political system works:

    “When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made the laughable argument that the Wall Street reform legislation would “institutionalize” bailouts, there was one key upside: he was lying well in advance of Paul Krugman’s next deadline.

    The NYT columnist doesn’t disappoint …”

  48. 198
    Doug Bostrom says:

    VS says: 16 April 2010 at 6:27 AM

    Thanks for the pointer to the thread.

    Here’s where you ran off the rails:

    In other words, global temperature contains a stochastic rather than deterministic trend, and is statistically speaking, a random walk.

    Sure, if you put on your statisticians goggles and look at an isolated series of data they’re going to look like a random walk to you, how could I argue with that? But more importantly and the heart of the objections and rebuttal by Tamino you inspired, viewing the picture with goggles that remove all but statistical information is going to leave you ignorant of what creates and conditions the the signal you’re looking at

    By way of example, just a little distance into your second reply to Bart you swerve into what sure looks like speculation substituting for subject expertise:

    Given the hypercomplex and utterly chaotic nature of the Earth’s climate, and the non-experimental nature of observations it generates, I don’t see any other way of verifying/testing [by statistical methods] a model trying to describe or explain it.

    Climate is “utterly chaotic?” No.

    I’m quite sure you’re a statistical whiz, but you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to climate. That’s the basic problem with your assertion. Statistically sound, surely, but meaningless.

  49. 199
    Doug Bostrom says:

    By the way, VS, I wonder if you followed up on the following remarkable threat you made against another participant in the thread you pointed me to:

    You Dr. [redacted], are a disgrace to your institution and a disgrace to science. I seriously considering compiling all this I have on you and submitting it to some ethics commission at [redacted] University.

    Hmm. I think I’ll back away gently now and suggest simply that you publish your findings. That’s probably the best course and you seem quite confident so I suppose you’ll not have any trouble.

  50. 200
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “A stochastic process is one whose behavior is not predictable given what is known.”

    Or what is knowable.

    Emergence. cf Langton’s Ant.

    Now, if you don’t know now to determine the future state, how is it deterministic?

    Ask God?

    Your point is right but irrelevant.

    The second half of your post is better put than I would do it.

    I wonder if Gilles will listen.

Switch to our mobile site