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Forced Responses: Aug 2020

Filed under: — group @ 1 August 2020

This is the bimonthly thread on climate solutions. Climate Science discussions should go here.

324 Responses to “Forced Responses: Aug 2020”

  1. 51
    Al Bundy says:

    Nigelj: In fact I think we just have to accept the reality of slower economic growth,

    AB: That’s crazy. Robotics and AI are set to halve the number of humans needed per unit of productivity. Your disconnect is thinking that productivity is tied to jobs.
    That was last century. Look at the data for the last recovery. It went grandly without workers.

    The issue is dividing up the incredible largesse. When a machine can spew out a bazillion widgets that used to take a human a day each, the problem is ‘ownership’ not ‘work’. Who owns AI? Cuz ownership is becoming the only realistic way for most folks to ‘earn’ more than a typical grunt.
    The other way is ‘fame’ – oh, and being born in a wealthy family is fast becoming the primary way to make it: pretty soon most millionaires will have not done significant work in their life.

  2. 52
    Mal Adapted says:

    In an NYT Opinion piece, a self-described “conservative Christian environmentalist” asks: Are Republicans Getting Serious About Climate Change? She says they are:

    In March, Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, unveiled the first in a series of three original proposals to help slow the earth’s warming. The bills aim to help cut emissions by expanding a tax credit for carbon-capture technology and draw on federal funds for research and development.

    I’m skeptical. Taxpayer funding for CCS with emissions as usual, no carbon price (oh, Hell no!). The GOP leadership still denies the Tragedy of the Climate Commons.

  3. 53
    Adam Lea says:

    51: “That’s crazy. Robotics and AI are set to halve the number of humans needed per unit of productivity. Your disconnect is thinking that productivity is tied to jobs.
    That was last century. Look at the data for the last recovery. It went grandly without workers.”

    If you are advocating automation, what are all these humans who are out of a job supposed to do, and how do they earn a living?

  4. 54
    nigelj says:

    Al Bundy @51

    Nigelj: In fact I think we just have to accept the reality of slower economic growth,

    AB: That’s crazy. Robotics and AI are set to halve the number of humans needed per unit of productivity. Your disconnect is thinking that productivity is tied to jobs.That was last century. Look at the data for the last recovery. It went grandly without workers.

    Nigelj: Robotics will keep economic growth going for a while, but the basic driver of economic growth is the resource base of the planet. The basic reason for high economic growth has been fossil fuels and extraction of other minerals, and use of timber at scale. As we use up these resources and hit the limits, costs will increase and I think economic growth will slow, all other things being equal. You cannot keep increasing the rate of output with less inputs or inputs that become more difficult and costly to extract. Not indefinitely.

    AB:”The issue is dividing up the incredible largesse. When a machine can spew out a bazillion widgets that used to take a human a day each, the problem is ‘ownership’ not ‘work’…..”

    Nigelj: Yeah. An intractable problem. I think necessity will force a UBI at some point. I just cant think of another solution. But remember most millionaires do work and don’t actually own ten cars and televisions (I read a study on this somewhere). If robotics can really produce a bounty of products, in the end they might have to be just about given away.

  5. 55

    Piotr, #45-6–

    …poor countries with high TFR – say Middle East, Africa, Central and South America…

    I guess my concern is that I think there’s a bit of the fallacy of composition going on here. TFR in Africa varies quite a bit, but does tend to be quite high; Niger, for example, is #1 in the world for TFR, at 6.49:

    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2127rank.html

    You have to go down to #10 to find the first nation *not* in Africa:

    #10 Afghanistan: 5.12

    Then it’s six more places to #16 Timor-Leste (4.79)–and even further to the next non-African jurisdiction:

    #31 Gaza Strip: 4.13

    From there, you start to get more of the poorer jurisdictions in the Middle East, intermixed with African nations. But the African spectrum extends to South Africa:

    #91 South Africa: 2.29

    That’s actually a tick below nominal replacement rate.

    But the situation in the Americas is kind of interesting; the highest I found was Belize:

    #59 Belize: 2.85

    Also above replacement in Central and South America (including the Caribbean) are Guatemala (2.77), Haiti (2.71), Honduras (2.67), and Bolivia (2.63).

    But the next South American nation you get to on the list is Venezuela, which is already basically at replacement at 2.32. #150 Uruguay is all the way down at 1.80 (and there are quite a few in between).

    Point being, Central and South America actually aren’t all that high TFR anymore.

    In general, there’s a pretty clear correlation between wealth and TFR, but it’s also quite clear that it’s not the only factor in play.

  6. 56
    nigelj says:

    Piotr @46, you could be right regarding possible third world population tends. However I came across a study, cant find the thing now, but a small African country gave away contraceptives for free in two regions, and the birth rate declined dramatically. This was despite the communities in question being poor, and women having limited rights and a generally poor education. It makes you wonder how many conditions are really needed for population growth to fall.

    Still I take your point that tribal religion is strong and probably conservative leaning, and I guess probably against free contraceptives or even easier access, as a general rule. Still I prefer to be a bit optimistic about it all, because it helps my state of mind. If all that’s really required is free or low cost contraception easily available and maybe just a modestly improving economy, the problem would be solved easily enough.

  7. 57
    Al Bundy says:

    Geoff,
    The private car issue will evaporate rather soon. Rideshare today and robocar tomorrow will result in a populace that couldn’t give a fig about acceleration. Self-driving cars divorce you from the power train, and actually the journey. A box you enter, interact with your screen for a while, and you open the door and you’re somewhere else! Was it an elevator or car? In 2030, who knows?

  8. 58
    Al Bundy says:

    Adam Lea: what are all these humans who are out of a job supposed to do, and how do they earn a living?

    AB: I ain’t advocating automation, just noting that it exists and is ramping up.

    To answer, exactly what wealthy folks do to earn a living: nothing at all.
    Or are you advocating stripping all wealth from the wealthy as a kindness to them so they’ll have to earn a living?

    Now, if you want more than a living, you probably should have something that an AI-driven team of robots can’t do better and faster than you, or be willing to do something sensual for cash.

    And I don’t understand your “out of a job” thing. Now, in the near future a job that takes more than a few hours a week better be wicked fun cuz 20+ hours of drudgery is subhuman torture.

    Society can easily provide plenty of 10 hours per week jobs. Really, two 5 hour days or one ten hour shift is plenty of work for a human. Leaves time for growth and important stuff, like wasting time here.
    ;-)

    Truthfully, society is going to shift from money crazy to focused on personal growth, exploration, and discovery…

    … or things are going to get way bloody.

  9. 59
    Al Bundy says:

    Nigel: As we use up these resources and hit the limits

    AB: Perhaps. But we’ve been very busy building future mines quite suitable for robotic extraction that are chock full of just about everything we need.

    Declining population. 3-d printed stuff that morphs and utilizes far less rare stuff, organics replacing rare Earths, the erasure of the human vehicle driver (driving and testosterone is a mix that surely drops transportation efficiency by, hmm, half to an order of magnitude).

    The mass of stuff a person today utilizes in life is probably way more massive than the mass of stuff a person with ten times the income a hundred years from now will have.

    So… I don’t see the problem. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is way more virtual than today.

    A question: given robotic supply of whatever your whim (a sandwich?), of all the entertainment hours in your life, how many require more than six square feet of nondescript indoor space and a screen? And if you include hours spent in front of a bigger screen (TVs sure have bloated while dropping to near-disposable price levels)?

  10. 60
    Piotr says:

    Kevin McKinney says (55): “I guess my concern is that I think there’s a bit of the fallacy of composition going on here”

    I see two other more prominent fallacies at work here:

    1. a fallacy of breaking down the door that nobody locked: your: “it’s also quite clear that it’s not the only factor in play” even though nobody claimed that [affluence] was the only factor the play. In fact – I repeatedly put the culture/religion as a factor that can be important.

    2. a fallacy of splitting apart a tree, while missing the forest – forest being Nigel’s claim: “it looks impossible to reverse [drop in population growth] even if we wanted”. Take away from my argument against this claim your tree (Latin America) and my argument … still stands: Africa and Middle East are enough of the counterexamples.
    To disprove the claim that all swans are white, 2 instead of 3 flocks of black swans would do just fine.

  11. 61
    Al Bundy says:

    Nigel: But remember most millionaires do work

    AB: depends on your definition and what year you use as data. Today you might be right. Thomas Pikkity (a French economist) is the world expert in this and he says that ‘the average millionaire who worked for his money’ is just about dead. His heirs? When you make hundreds of thousands by breathing, would you get a $10/hr job? Leeching is too profitable.

    As is zero-sum-gaming. Folks can dis my definition, but if your job is taking money out of one person’s pocket and putting it in another’s, such as a stockbroker, or gambling, such as an “investor”, it is a serious stretch to call what you do “productive work”.

    Nigel: and don’t actually own ten cars and televisions (I read a study on this somewhere). If robotics can really produce a bounty of products, in the end they might have to be just about given away.

    AB: Yep. “Coveting” can drive a person to aquire ten cars, but driving more than one at a time is hard. The trajectory is towards sharing. Rent that exotic car for a couple hours. Now that car’s utility just multiplied by about a thousand vs the ultra-wealthy car collector model.

    And yep. Widgets are so cheap that half their capability can be shipped to every customer but extra work done so as to disable all that value for everyone but those who pay extra.

    Negative value work. Cuz it’s profitable. Some sucker has to pay for all those ads that constantly degrade your life.

    And that sucker is you.

  12. 62
    Al Bundy says:

    Kevin: #31 Gaza Strip: 4.13

    AB: a bit of a stretch for this thread (but this site’s stretchy thread policy is the reason I like it).

    Anyway, humanity’s response. Will we embrace a sane future (renewables with or without nuclear) or rush to Armageddon so as to force reality to fit the beliefs of our anscestors? (And yes, LOTS of fundamentalists are praying for Armageddon (they euphamize it by calling it “Christ’s return” and will act and vote to help end the world; what do you think support for Israel’s ethnic cleansing is about if not to forcefill (ooo, I like that new word) the prophesy that will herald the brutal and violent death of humanity and the planet). And nothing could be more desirable than that, eh?5

    When Gaza becomes uninhabitable, as opposed to merely an open air prison…

    Interesting that the UN estimated that the switch would flip in 2020 and imagine what covid is going to do to Gaza. Could be mass death there already. Until the powers that be lose control of the narrative, how would we know?

    So, imagine Israel having to truck bodies of covid victims out of Gaza for cremation…

    Get a picture of a convoy and the story writes itself.

    Humanity has no more time to play around with 200+ year old racial and 2000+ year old religious beliefs. But it sure smells Armageddonesque.

    Remember, WW1 started because some twit killed some other useless twit. (OK, I have no idea what the assassin and the assassinated were like).

  13. 63
    Al Bundy says:

    On work:

    People love to work. Just like people love to learn. But school as is often currently embodied is not even fun. And jobs often suck.

    Cuz all the goopy jobs have to be done. I mean, the time it takes to do the unpaid stuff you do to survive, from cleaning to cooking to exercise! Then consider keeping informed and pondering possible solutions.

    “We” need robots to do what blacks, women, and white trash have been doing for “us” for centuries. This robotics thing is all about turning everyone into a White Man of Means.

    And White Men of Means are agast. To let others have what We have, to live like Us… they are inferior and couldn’t even survive. We must prevent others from living like We fight tooth and nail to provide Our offspring

    Because you love Others and hate your kids? Cuz otherwise the logic fails completely.

  14. 64
    Al Bundy says:

    I predict that work will evolve in two directions. Most will become quite social. Child enrichment beyond what their robotic caretakers and their parents provide, Greeters, social workers, you name it. People helping people.
    And STEM and other stuff (sports, acting, art) that is not too terribly more likely to hit than a lottery ticket. Remember, the floor is “what the best AI can do”. You don’t beat that and what do you bring that’s more valuable than a few kilowatts of well-directed electricity?

    You’re being human and providing joy. Or you’re Effin’ Awesome at something.

    What other jobs are left?

  15. 65
    nigelj says:

    I found this useful podcast by Steve Keen on the repair economy.

    https://www.facebook.com/stevekeen101/videos/140374287390009/?__so__=permalink&__rv__=related_videos

    Steve Keen specifically states in this interview that you can’t completely get rid of all waste due to the laws of thermodynamics, you can only minimise waste, exactly as I said previously on FR. You can only minimise waste.

  16. 66
    nigelj says:

    Killian @41 says “It was bloody obvious you can’t have profit in a steady-state economics system because profit would act as a leak on the system. It becomes wasted energy as profit is accumulated and not returned to the system. It is absolutely impossible to balance the energy in an economy that has profit built into it (and by extension, ownership).”

    A profit is just an accounting entry that gives you a right to part of the physical world much like money does. Profits are not generally hoarded under someones bed, they are spent one way or the other, so they go back into the system and they are not wasted. If I sell a car (in a steady state zero growth economy, or a circular economy) and make a profit and buy a television, the profit has gone back into the system. Nothing is wasted and not retuned to the system. Please explain where the waste is here.

  17. 67

    K 39: You are absolutely clueless on econ and sustainable systems and dont even see the need for balancing inputs and outputs.

    BPL: Nothing I said leads to the conclusion that I don’t see the need for balancing inputs and outputs. I contend only that economic systems other than whatever fairyland you believe in have no problem doing so. Market systems do it through the price mechanism and the old Communist command economies did it crudely through input-output charts and “discount rates.” Your contention that economic systems other than yours can’t balance input and output is simply nonsense.

  18. 68

    K 41: If Steve Keen couldn’t prove me wrong, BPL sure as hell can’t!

    BPL: I don’t have to. Your contention that existing economic systems don’t balance inputs and outputs is sheer tinfoil-hat lunacy. You clearly don’t understand how the price mechanism works.

  19. 69
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Mal Adapted: In an NYT Opinion piece, a self-described “conservative Christian environmentalist” asks: Are Republicans Getting Serious About Climate Change?

    Allow me to introduce you to a nearly inviolate law of journalism:
    Betteridge’s law of headlines is an adage that states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

  20. 70
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Kevin and Piotr,
    It is one thing to look at statistics, but if you talk to people in countries, you invariably find that most people–especially women–wish they had options that would allow them to have smaller families and ensure the children they have get an education.

    Cultures vary, but everyone wants the best for their children.

  21. 71

    Couple interesting things from David B. Benson.  New electrocatalyst shows promise for reducing CO2 to ethanol:

    https://phys.org/news/2020-08-electrocatalyst-carbon-dioxide-liquid-fuel.html

    Note that “Faradic efficiency” is not energy efficiency; it’s a measure of electrons converted.  There are always overvoltages required to drive such reactions forward.

    Second, CO2 is the magic ingredient for mining acid mine drainage for rare earths:

    https://phys.org/news/2020-08-acid-drainage-treatment-valuable-critical.html

    Taking a problem and turning it into a resource sounds good to me.

  22. 72

    #54, al–

    The issue is dividing up the incredible largesse. When a machine can spew out a bazillion widgets that used to take a human a day each, the problem is ‘ownership’ not ‘work’…

    C.f., Frederick Pohl’s “The Midas Plague” (1954), in which the only ‘jobs’ humans have are the consumption of the ‘incredible largesse’ delivered by automated production. Trouble is, it’s just as bad trying to keep up with the firehose output of consumer goods as it ever was when humans struggled to accomplish the actual production…

    It’s a nice bit of satire, but I’m not sure it’s really that close to reality just yet. The central rub is the reality of limits, especially the environmental ones we’ve been talking about. The machines may be able to spew centuries worth of widgets, but the sea will still fill with plastic, the sky with GHGs.

    And then there’s the fact that there’s still a lot of raw poverty in the world, which is why we have Sustainable Development Goals:

    https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

    It’s not my purpose either to critique them or endorse them here; I merely note that they define tactics intended to meet the need mentioned above.

    But we do face the question al labels ‘ownership’–when capital becomes ever more crucial to production with respect to labor, then power naturally shifts ever more toward the large capitalists. That’s precisely the dynamic Karl Marx identified in Das Kapital, way back in 1867, and used to project the inevitability of class warfare and ultimately revolution. His predictions failed to materialize throughout the 20th century–where ‘Marxist’ revolutions in fact occurred, it was not, as specified, in the heart of the rich capitalist nations but on the peripheries of the industrial world–underdeveloped Russia, and barely developed China. In the West, the dominion of capital was muted, partly by ceding some bargaining power to organized labor and hence allowing them a semi-satisfactory cut of the goodies, but also by the expansive, if intermittent, industrial growth occurring over much of the period.

    In the US, though, organized labor has mostly been broken, and legislatures have more often than not been acting to promote the (short term) interests of the emerging oligarchy. IMO, it’s a toxic situation, and at present one that’s growing worse, and more potentially explosive. The violence we’ve seen has been focused around the ever-troubling racial problem that goes back to America’s roots, but I have no doubt that the ongoing economic strains, as well as the multivalent stress of the Covid pandemic, play into it in very important ways. And I’m very much concerned that we’re likely to see more violence over the coming months.

    Efforts to deal with the climate crisis must take cognizance of these strains, too–social upheaval does not make for the easy realization of longer-term goals. And inevitably, those goals will be evaluated in part through the effects they have on issues receiving the glare of the ‘social spotlight.’ One of the virtues of the Green New Deal principles was that they explicitly recognized that reality.

    And that gets us back to values, because this ultimately comes down to what we do, or do not, value.

    Do we value human life? Then we will enact policies that support it in realistic, effective ways, and we will modify them pragmatically as we observe what happens in the real world.

    Do we value short term profit? Then we’ll have the status quo, only progressively worse until we break the system altogether. (And, probably, much of the biosphere as well.)

    There are, of course, quite a few other values that people might adhere to: nature, posterity and its survival, “traditional values”, personal freedom, conviviality, sustainability, and on and on. My perspective on that is that it is a mistake to reify any one value as a quasi-absolute. Pragmatically, it doesn’t work because society as a whole will never agree on just one, which means that enforcing the prioritized value as primary will be socially destabilizing. But more fundamentally, it’s unrealistic: there are good reasons for valuing all sorts of things, and negating some subset of those will always be a dangerous cognitive distortion. Hence, values must coexist in what I like to call a ‘creative tension.’

    For an example highlighted by the Covid crisis, personal freedom must coexist with social responsibility. The optimum balance point may be debatable, and in fact may need to adjust to circumstances (such as the need not to wantonly spread a potentially deadly virus). But I think relatively few would disagree with the proposition that neither value should ever completely negate the other. (Though, in the current American reality, the ‘few’ who do in fact assert the complete primacy of individual freedom and to hell with everything else are problematically numerous.)

  23. 73
    Prefer-anonymous says:

    This debate over economic growth growth limits and future growth is happening in a vacuum. The discussion is earth bound and short sighted. We are about to enter a new era. The future of economic growth now includes outer space. The new technology to actually visit, sample and then shift an asteroid to a new orbit, just did a test flight last week. A NEO with an estimated diameter of 340 meters will pass close to Earth in 2024 and humans now could capture that asteroid to mine it for materials and hollow it out for radiation shielded factory and habitat volume. The point is that any discussion of the economy and resource limits past 10 to 20 years out must include the effect of cheap abundant and compared to resource needs for coming centuries, essentially unlimited new resources from outside the Earth ecosystem. Humans developing the capability to access the resources of the solar system is an evolutionary step like the invention of the use of fire.

  24. 74
    Mr. Know It All says:

    73 – Prefer-anonymous
    “….A NEO with an estimated diameter of 340 meters will pass close to Earth in 2024 and humans now could capture that asteroid to mine it for materials and hollow it out for radiation shielded factory and habitat volume. …”

    We will not be mining any 340m diameter NEOs. How do you suggest we capture it? Only way I can think of is to nuke it into pieces and hope some land on earth – what could possibly go wrong? ;) We don’t have rockets of sufficient power to change the trajectory of something that large.

    Resource limits are not an issue, we’ll mine more of whatever we need.

  25. 75
    nigelj says:

    Prefer-anonymous @73

    “The future of economic growth now includes outer space. …The new technology to actually visit, sample and then shift an asteroid to a new orbit, just did a test flight last week. A NEO with an estimated diameter of 340 meters will pass close to Earth in 2024 and humans now could capture that asteroid to mine it for materials and hollow it out for radiation shielded factory and habitat volume. ”

    Yes undoubtably its going to be possible to mine asteroids and they are known to contain significant resources, but the problem is getting them back to earth. Look at the enormous costs of getting even one space shuttle into space and back again with a small cargo (back when these things were used). And its hard to see that changing all that much.

    So mining and transporting small quantities of critical materials like the rare earths, cobalt and the like looks feasible and useful, but getting large quantities of other materials back to earth is probably going to be cost prohibitive. The whole exercise might prolong some level of economic growth, but dont count on 3% per annum:)

  26. 76
    nigelj says:

    Piotr @60

    “Take away from my argument against this claim your tree (Latin America) and my argument … still stands: Africa and Middle East are enough of the counterexamples.”

    Kevin might have been splitting hairs a bit, but he highlights the importance of one thing, the recent relatively low fertility in latin america. Latin america used to have high population growth partly because it is very Catholic, and Catholic bishops have been against birth control, however things have changed in the last decade or so, the people have in recent years largely used contraceptives anyway, hence the change towards moderately low fertility.

    Thinking of your earlier point, it may be that tribal religions in Africa will have a similar difficulty stopping people having small families. The evidence suggests once people get a taste for small families its hard to reverse this regardless of circumstances. Even climate change leading to a sluggish economy might not be enough.

  27. 77
    Postkey says:

    “The focus on equilibrium and prices is due to the hypothetico-axiomatic method, a.k.a. the deductive methodology. The axioms are postulated that people are individualistic and focus on maximising their own satisfaction (named ‘utility’, in honour of Jeremy Bentham, the first economist to argue for the legalisation of the then banned practice of charging interest; Bentham, 1787). Next, a number of assumptions are made: perfect and symmetric information, complete markets, perfect competition, zero transaction costs, no time constraints, fully flexible and instantaneously adjusting prices. McCloskey (1983) has argued that economics has been using mathematical rhetoric to enhance the impression of operating scientifically. Equilibrium will not obtain, if only one of the axioms and assumptions fails to hold. But their accuracy is not tested. Yet, one can estimate the probability of obtaining equilibrium.
    Despite the claims to rigour, the pervasive equilibrium argument and focus on prices reveal a weak grasp of probability mathematics: Since for partial equilibrium in any market, at least the above eight conditions have to be met, if one generously assumed each condition is more likely to hold than not – corresponding to a probability higher than 50%, for instance, 55% – then the probability of equilibrium equals the joint probability of all conditions, which is 0.55 to the power of 8: less than 1%. As the probability of each of the eight conditions being an accurate representation of reality is likely significantly lower than 55% (most having a probability approaching zero themselves), it is apparent that the probability of partial equilibrium in any one market approaches zero (Werner, 2014b). For equilibrium in all markets, these very low probabilities have to be multiplied by each other many times. So we know a priori that partial, let alone general equilibrium cannot be expected in reality. Equilibrium is a theoretical construct unlikely to be observed in practice. This demonstrates that reality is instead characterised by rationed markets. These are not determined by prices, but quantities: In disequilibrium, the short side principle applies: whichever quantity of supply and demand is smaller can be transacted, and the short side has the power to pick and choose with whom to trade (not rarely abusing this market power by extracting ‘rents’, see Werner, 2005).1
    Without equilibrium, quantities become more important than prices.”
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800916307510#bb0295

  28. 78
    nigelj says:

    Al Bundy @59 @61 on resources and growth and millionaires and the future of work, pretend work (I think frigging lawyers is another example really) robotics and self drive cars. Most of what you say sounds true including future projections. However economic growth has already slowed despite automation, and its hard to believe its going to speed up. There are too many constraints. But this doesn’t worry me because most of what you espouse is feasible in a slowing economy.

    One specific. Yes substitutes may be found for the rare earths, but its the middle range resources that are going to be challenging things like lead,copper, zinc and lithium that are not rare, but are not massively abundant like iron and are needed in large quantities. Its going to be hard to find substitutes for all these. It would be good if less of these materials were wasted on stockpiles of frigging weapons and just thrown away as e waste.

    ——————

    Kevin McKinney

    The thing that bothers me about the future is if owners of capital, and this is concentrating in fewer hands, own all the factories and use them just for themselves, locking out huge masses of people made unemployed by AI, so a sort of dystopian future. However hopefully it doesn’t come to that, and there will be forces pushing against it.

  29. 79
    Killian says:

    Re 73 Prefer-anonymous:
    This debate over economic growth growth limits and future growth is happening in a vacuum. The discussion is earth bound and short sighted. We are about to enter a new era. The future of economic growth now includes outer space.

    What vacuum? I have been talking about that for nearly a decade. However, you err in speaking as if meaningful mining of the solar system is a near-term thing. It is not. It will be decades, at best, and nowhere near fast enough to affect Climate Change in a meaningful way.

  30. 80
    zebra says:

    Ray Ladbury #26,

    I was hoping for a response to my #23. Instead, you seem to be stuck in some kind of mental loop about pensions and college expenses.

    I answered that already…if you have a stable population, and the age distribution is relatively stable, the resources necessary for those two things are also stable. There is no need for “growth”.

    It’s very hard to understand what you are trying to say about this; you just keep repeating the same words without any concrete or quantitative explanation. If you have consistent cohorts of students, you don’t need an increase in teachers or school buildings, and likewise for the goods and services for cohorts of retirees. It’s hard to believe you don’t understand that.

  31. 81
    Ray Ladbury says:

    @73…well, I can see why you prefer to remain anonymous. I wouldn’t want to put my name to an analysis that shallow, either.

    Dude, do you know how small the samples are that are being returned to Earth? We’re talking grams. Any talk of mining asteroids is at least decades away from where we are now. Moreover, unless the asteroid is Psyche, with its high concentration of platinum group minerals, it isn’t worth the bother.

    And then there is the fact that Club of Rome ran multiple simulations where they removed the resource limits entirely–and the planetary ecosystem still collapsed due to pollution.

    Here’s a hint: Star Trek is science fiction. Take a minute to mourn and join us back in reality.

  32. 82

    P-a 73: The future of economic growth now includes outer space.

    BPL: Exponential growth is self-limiting even if outer space is included. Asteroid mining may buy us time; it cannot fix the underlying problem.

  33. 83
    Adam Lea says:

    73: “The point is that any discussion of the economy and resource limits past 10 to 20 years out must include the effect of cheap abundant and compared to resource needs for coming centuries, essentially unlimited new resources from outside the Earth ecosystem. Humans developing the capability to access the resources of the solar system is an evolutionary step like the invention of the use of fire.”

    Can’t see it happening. There are two critical issues:

    1. The distances in space are MASSIVE.
    2. There is an upper limit on how fast one can travel.

    The nearest star to the Earth apart from our sun is 4.5 light years away. It would take a space craft moving at conventional space craft speeds tens of thousands of years to get there. Even going across our own solar system, which is a hairs breadth in astronomical terms, takes years to decades. We haven’t figured out how to send manned probes to Mars yet. All this talk of collinising space any time soon is sci-fi fantasy.

    It is nothing like learning how to use fire.

  34. 84
    Adam Lea says:

    “To answer, exactly what wealthy folks do to earn a living: nothing at all.”

    If that were true, then we could kill all the wealthy people in the world and it would have zero effect on civilisation.

    Your statement is nonsense. I lean strongly toward the political left, but saying wealthy people do nothing is just ridiculous extremism. Extremism is usually dreadful, and I have no time for it.

  35. 85
    Piotr says:

    Poet (71) –
    “New electrocatalyst shows promise for reducing CO2 to ethanol. […] Second, CO2 is the magic ingredient for mining acid mine drainage for rare earths[…] Taking a problem and turning it into a resource sounds good to me.”

    Yes – but what it has to do with climate? It’s not like we are taking the problem relevant to this group (“CO2 in the atmosphere”), and making this CO2 into a “resource”:

    1. conversion CO2 to ethanol _requires_ energy, so it won’t lower atm. CO2
    UNLESS we use this reaction as energy storage for low-CO2 energy sources.

    Which is ironic since you and your “David B. Benson”, dismissed the renewables, among other by pointing to the (exaggerated by you) limitations in the amount of energy storage (on which the renewables depend more than nuclear).

    2.Poet: “Second, CO2 is the magic ingredient for mining acid mine drainage for rare earths”
    this has even less in common with “the problem” in this group: the purpose of this reaction is to increase retrieval of rare earth elements, not to sequester atm. CO2 – so the source of CO2 needed for this reaction won’t be CO2 extracted from air (too low a concentration), but CO2 produced specifically for this reaction thus if anything, adding CO2 to, not removing from, the atmosphere.

    And your poetic characterization of CO2: “the magic ingredient for [turning a problem] into a resource” reminds me the enthusiasm for CO2 from some of the odeniers for whom emissions of CO2 are good, because “CO2 is food for plants”.

  36. 86

    #73, p-anon–

    …any discussion of the economy and resource limits past 10 to 20 years out must include the effect of cheap abundant and compared to resource needs for coming centuries, essentially unlimited new resources from outside the Earth ecosystem.

    Sounds great, and good point, but when do you expect this actually to become “cheap”? Even coming down, that gravity well needs some management…

  37. 87

    #62, al–

    On Covid in Gaza, I note that the Palestinian Minister of Health is on Facebook:

    https://www.facebook.com/ibra.milhim/

    “Health: 277 new Coronavirus cases 239 recovered cases in the last 24 hours”

    Worldometers takes note of the official numbers from the Palestinian Authority and logs them in their tracker. They currently have the Palestinian numbers as follow below:

    Cumulative cases: 14,205
    Deaths: 96
    Recovered: 7,945

    This isn’t Gaza, though; that’s in the hands of Hamas. “Palestine” in this instance means the West Bank only.

    But the NYT says that travel restrictions in Gaza have worked so far in keeping the infection at bay:

    The system seems to have succeeded, sparing Gaza’s health sector, already devastated by years of war and conflict, from additional strain. Medical officials detected all 78 known infections in the territory at quarantine facilities.

    Still, experts did not rule out the possibility of the pandemic penetrating into the area’s densely populated cities and towns.

    “All it takes is one small mistake,” said Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the World Health Organization’s mission to the Palestinians. “There’s no guarantee the virus won’t get inside.”

    Mr. Rockenschaub also warned that Gaza lacked the resources to deal with a widespread outbreak, noting that medical institutions carry only about 100 adult ventilators, most of which are already in use.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/08/world/middleeast/coronavirus-gaza.html

  38. 88

    Piotr, #60–

    I repeatedly put the culture/religion as a factor that can be important.

    Indeed you did. But–IIRC, and if I summarize fairly–you also argued that the “poor/cultural or religiously conservative” nations would constitute a de facto bloc which could (and maybe will) invoke a sort of feedback on population trends that would tend to push population higher. It’s that idea that I’m (somewhat gently) pushing back against.

    I’m not saying that it has no basis; there are still quite a few places in sub-Saharan Africa that fit the bill, more or less. But I am pointing out that the declines in TFR are much wider than you initially seemed to imply. (I.e., it’s not just affluent nations.) In turn, that reduces the potential demographic harm from the effect you identify.

    I’m afraid the topic is a bit of a hobby-horse for me, as I find that in general, the magnitude of the demographic shift that’s been occurring is seriously underappreciated. So is the economic growth that’s been occurring in the developed world. (Just as one random example of the latter, Ghana had been averaging around ~7% annual growth in GDP for years. Not the stereotype, I think.)

    #70, Ray–

    Appreciate your observation.

    Further, the near-universality of wishing one’s kids well (and the willingness to take quite a lot of trouble to further that wish) help drive that widespread decline in TFR that we’ve been talking about. Or so I suspect.

  39. 89

    nigel, #66–

    Yep, that was my thought, too. How can ‘profit’ escape the economic system?

    Even if you hoard banknotes, or IOUs, or gold, under your bed, effectively ‘sequestering’ the *symbols* of value, the value itself isn’t lost. Rather, the other banknotes, IOUs, or gold that are circulating just become very slightly more valuable. (I.e., “deflation.”)

  40. 90
    nigelj says:

    Latest from the “Project Drawdown” collection of climate solutions. Link to full report provided in body of the article. Population issues get a mention. I like these guys because most of what they cover is practical and doable.

    https://cleantechnica.com/2020/08/08/drawdown-review-2020-how-to-address-global-warming-in-a-responsible-manner/

    “Project Drawdown is a non-profit organization that relies on the collaborative efforts of many scientists, economists, and technology specialists from around the world to craft intelligent ways of meeting the challenge of a warming planet. Three years ago, the group published its first book, entitled Drawdown, which presented 100 strategies for meeting the goals agreed to by the vast majority of the world’s nations in Paris in 2015.”

    “Three years later, it has updated that original with a new report entitled Drawdown Review, which dares to suggest humanity can manage the climate crisis effectively using only the tools available today. Of course, that assumes we have the will to address the problem as responsible adults.”

  41. 91
    nigelj says:

    Zebra I will put this in terms even you might understand. When population increases demand increases, which drives the economy forwards, and makes us prosperous. Basic economics. Is that quantitative enough for you? With a stable population you will not have this. Therefore it will by definition be more stagnant than with an increasing population.

    However smaller population will not be totally stagnant, and has less pressure on the environment and I think this should take precedence. We already have enough material goods in developed countries. More is just a bonus. So I vote for smaller population.

  42. 92

    nigle, #78–

    …if owners of capital, and this is concentrating in fewer hands, own all the factories and use them just for themselves, locking out huge masses of people made unemployed by AI, so a sort of dystopian future…

    Yeah, that would if realized represent the triumph of the central prediction of the Marxist theory of history. And as the latter pointed out, it would be highly unstable–basically, you’d get either “1984” or violent revolution, and it’s possible you could get both. Not a road anyone should really want to go down.

  43. 93

    Writes Mr. Know It All @74:

    We will not be mining any 340m diameter NEOs. How do you suggest we capture it? Only way I can think of is to nuke it into pieces and hope some land on earth – what could possibly go wrong? ;)

    Why would you want ANY of it to land on earth?  The whole point is that it’s already in space instead of having to be launched.

    We don’t have rockets of sufficient power to change the trajectory of something that large.

    You send up a rolling mill, roll the native metal into foil, and use it to propel itself by photon pressure; all you have to do is point it in the right direction.  When it gets where you want it to be, you refabricate it into what you ultimately want.  The metal sail can carry along a cargo of silicates or volatiles or whatever else you want from the parent body.

    This may be the ultimate solution to climate change, because solar energy is vastly easier to capture when you don’t have a planet blocking it half the time and a troublesome atmosphere besides.  Go about a million miles sunward and you can block solar gain directly.

  44. 94

    Writes Piotr @85:

    Yes – but what it has to do with climate? It’s not like we are taking the problem relevant to this group (“CO2 in the atmosphere”), and making this CO2 into a “resource”:

    Mineralizing the toxic soluble components of acid mine drainage as carbonates would be a small but worthwhile part of the atmospheric remediation effort.

    1. conversion CO2 to ethanol _requires_ energy, so it won’t lower atm. CO2 UNLESS we use this reaction as energy storage for low-CO2 energy sources.

    You know I’m predisposed to nuclear energy for this, but this is one of the few use-cases where “renewables” are reasonably well-suited to the task.  Your electricity needs to be generated pretty much where and when needed, but you don’t really care how long your liquid fuel was in transit so long as you’ve got enough when you need it.

    This might redeem some of the sillier biomass schemes out there.  Whether they work by gasification or fermentation, they dump a lot of the feedstock carbon as CO2.  Recapturing that CO2 as product rather than waste is a big step forward.

    the purpose of this reaction is to increase retrieval of rare earth elements, not to sequester atm. CO2

    Who cares what the (main) purpose is?

    the source of CO2 needed for this reaction won’t be CO2 extracted from air (too low a concentration)

    Atmospheric CO2 capture is a potential “dump load” for excess electric power, and watts coming in over wires is way preferable to tanks of liquid coming in over roads.

  45. 95
    nigelj says:

    Engineer Poet @94

    “This might redeem some of the sillier biomass schemes out there. Whether they work by gasification or fermentation, they dump a lot of the feedstock carbon as CO2. Recapturing that CO2 as product rather than waste is a big step forward.”

    Came across this a couple of days ago fyi. Research paper “Can biomass supply meet the demands of BECCS?” (The answer is probably not, which should surprise nobody with a brain in their head)

    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.15296?af=R

  46. 96

    Wrote nigelj @95:

    Came across this a couple of days ago fyi. Research paper “Can biomass supply meet the demands of BECCS?”

    I wasn’t thinking of CCS very much.  Enhanced weathering is probably the least-effort way to sequester atmospheric carbon.  However, for those applications which use biomass to supply essential carbon-based fuels from non-fossil sources, converting surplus low-carbon electricity plus otherwise-waste biomass-derived CO2 into useful products is a worthwhile endeavor.  The virtue of that CO2 is that it’s quite pure and has to be removed from your process anyway.

    Speaking from experience, substituting electric power for fossil fuel is an 80/20 proposition:  the first 80% takes 20% of the effort, and the last 20% takes the other 80% of the effort.  But if you attack fossil fuels from both ends, you can get 80% with electricity and 20% with biofuels relatively easily.  You may even save money over petroleum.

  47. 97
    Piotr says:

    Poet (94):

    Piotr: >> 1. conversion CO2 to ethanol _requires_ energy, so it won’t lower atm. CO2 UNLESS we use this reaction as energy storage for low-CO2 energy sources.

    Poet: You know I’m predisposed to nuclear energy

    No, really ? ;-) Why would I bring it up if not to illustrate your childlike lack of self-awareness – after pooh-pooing renewables for the (exaggerated by you) shortage of energy-storage, you then keep bringing up … new energy storage technologies ;-). Left hand knows not what the right hand is doing?

    Poet: “Mineralizing the toxic soluble components of acid mine drainage as carbonates would be a small but worthwhile part of the atmospheric remediation effort.”

    “small but worthwhile” – a Poet believing in the strength of the word.
    An Engineer would not be caught at such snowflaky statements unless he were able to support his claim with a falsifiable logical argument and calculations proving that it is indeed “worthwhile”.

    Piotr >> the purpose of this reaction is to increase retrieval of rare earth elements, not to sequester atm. CO2

    Poet: Who cares what the (main) purpose is?

    You should – since it tells you something about the value of your “small but worthwhile” claim – if the reaction had “worthwhile” effect on atm. CO2 sequestration, then the AUTHORS would made it the selling point of their technology

    But instead, they are all about the … improved efficiency of retrieval of rare earth elements. And given that 400 ppm of CO2 in the surrounding air is not likely be enough – probably to do so they burned fossil fuels for CO2 – so with the losses in production and degassing from acid drainage – the net effect would be “small but worthwhile” ADDING CO2 to the air…)

    So much for your wide-eyed admiration for “magical”, Midas-like, properties of CO2:

    >>your poetic characterization of CO2: “the magic ingredient for [turning a problem] into a resource” [Poet, 71], reminds me the enthusiasm for CO2 from some of the deniers for whom emissions of CO2 are good, because “CO2 is food for plants”.

  48. 98
    Killian says:

    Barton Paul Levenson:K 41: If Steve Keen couldn’t prove me wrong, BPL sure as hell can’t!

    BPL: I don’t have to.

    Yeah, you do, or STFU.

    Your contention that existing economic systems don’t balance inputs and outputs is sheer tinfoil-hat lunacy.

    Because you say so. Got it.

    You clearly don’t understand how the price mechanism works.

    You think price balances where physical shit ends up? Seriously? There’s no waste anywhere on this planet because of *pricing?*

    You’re trying so hard to score a point you are literally saying anything as long as it’s opposite of what I have said, regardless how loony your comment is. At least, that’s the only thing that explains this Victor moment of yours.

    Zero waste everyone, because prices!

  49. 99
    Killian says:

    Barton Paul Levenson said K 39: You are absolutely clueless on econ and sustainable systems and dont even see the need for balancing inputs and outputs.

    BPL: Nothing I said leads to the conclusion that I don’t see the need for balancing inputs and outputs. I contend only that economic systems other than whatever fairyland you believe in have no problem doing so. Market systems do it through the price mechanism and the old Communist command economies did it crudely through input-output charts and “discount rates.” Your contention that economic systems other than yours can’t balance input and output is simply nonsense.

    Game, set, match.

    To repeat, there is no waste anywhere on this planet. All inputs and outputs move in circular fashion, everything perfectly matched with zero waste anywhere. Nothing is ever hoarded, rich people do not sequester resources for their own use, houses do not sit empty, one person doesn’t own dozens of cars, none of the stuff we take from the planet ends up as trash in any way shape or form, one-third of food in the U.S. is not wasted. There are no junkyards, no landfills, no planes in the American desert. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch simply does not exist. And so on.

    Good God, Levenson… Truly pulling a Victor/KIA here.

  50. 100

    P 77: Equilibrium will not obtain, if only one of the axioms and assumptions fails to hold. But their accuracy is not tested.

    BPL: Who says their accuracy is not tested? You? Are you completely unfamiliar with the economics literature? These “a priori assumptions” have been tested over and over again, and where they don’t hold, other hypotheses have been advanced and tested. This is a critique of economics by people who have never looked very far into economics. Jeremy Bentham, forsooth!

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