Tuesday, September 30, 2014

#274 / Errors And Emissions

Paul Krugman (pictured) is one of my favorite economists. In a recent commentary in The New York Times, titled "Errors and Emissions," Krugman delivered the following message: successfully cutting back global warming emissions will NOT mean the end to economic growth. In fact, a successful strategy to transition to a non-hydrocarbon economy could actually stimulate growth. 

Well, that is happy news (particularly if you think that economic growth is a precondition to a good life)!

Not everyone, as you might expect, agrees with Krugman's analysis. The Post Carbon Institute, for instance, does not agree that we can do what needs to be done to avoid a global warming calamity and still keep up the current pace of economic growth. The Post Carbon Institute was "miffed," to use a polite word not starting with the letter "P," that Krugman singled them out in his Times' column, pairing the Post Carbon Institute with the Koch Brothers in an "odd bedfellows" group of those practicing "climate despair."

You can read the Post Carbon Institute's response to the Krugman column by clicking the link. By my reading, the Post Carbon Institute does end up pretty much where Krugman says they do. In other words, the Institute does believe that dealing with the global warming crisis will lead to reduced economic growth. Here's one of the comments from the Institute's response to Krugman

It takes energy to get energy, but historically fossil fuels delivered an immense profit on the meager investments of energy required to drill or mine for them. The EROEI figures for renewables are generally lower than current ones for fossil fuels. And energy returns for fossil fuels are declining as companies are forced to dig deeper and deploy more sophisticated (read: expensive) technology to get at lower-grade resources. The overall EROEI of society is falling, and the transition to renewables will not halt that process (though it will lead to an eventual leveling-off). If you think long and hard about what declining EROEI actually means for our civilization, it’s difficult to imagine an outcome that could be characterized as economic growth—at least, growth as we’ve known it for the past century.

I have to say, having now read the comments of both Krugman and the Post Carbon Institute, that I am not so sure that they are really that far apart. What the Post Carbon Institute objects to is being labeled as "despairing." They're not despairing! We shouldn't either. Economic "growth" is not what makes for a good life. 

So, whether Krugman is right about economic growth, or not, isn't really the question that should concern us. What should concern us is whether or not we are willing to run as fast as we can from combusting the hydrocarbon fuels that are creating our climate crisis. 

If we aren't willing to do everything we can to stop burning hydrocarbons, we've got trouble. If we are willing to do everything we can to stop burning hydrocarbons, life is going to be a lot better. 

Both Krugman and the Post Carbon Institute agree on that.

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1 comment:

  1. If "we" stop burning hydrocarbons, life won't get better. Burning hydrocarbons is not the source of all the worlds ills. But, if we're very, very lucky, if we stop burning hydrocarbons, life may get worse a little slower.

    The base cause of human threats to the natural world is not burning hydrocarbons, it is unlimited economic growth and consumption of natural resources. If we stopped burning hydrocarbons tomorrow, we would have to increase our rate of consumption of natural resources in order to build millions of solar panels and wind generators to put in every available spot on the planet. This would require enormous mining of metals and rare earth elements, which in itself would require fossil fuels to power all the mining equipment.

    Oops, we've slipped off the no fossil fuels pledge already!


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