Delusions of Grandeur in Building a Low-Carbon Future

31 01 2018
With many thanks from Ugo Bardi who first published this on Cassandra’s Legacy…… 

Some excerpts from Carey King’s excellent paper titled “Delusion of Grandeur in building a low-carbon future” (2016). By all means worth reading: it identifies the delusionary approach of some policy proposals. Image Credit: K. Cantner, AGI.

…. the outcomes of economic models used to inform policymakers and policies like the Paris Agreement are fundamentally flawed to the point of being completely delusional. It isn’t the specific economic assumptions related to the “low-carbon” transition that are the problem, but structural flaws in the economic models themselves.

There is a very real trade-off between the rate at which we address climate change and the amount of economic growth we can expect during the transition to a low-carbon economy, but most economic models insufficiently address this trade-off, and thus are incapable of assessing the transition. If we ignore this trade-off, or worse, we rely on models that are built on faulty premises, then we risk politicians and citizens revolting against the energy transition midway into it when the substantial growth and prosperity they’ve been told to expect will accompany the low-carbon transition don’t materialize. It is important to note that citizens are also told that doubling-down on fossil energy also only provides growth and prosperity. But this is a major point of this article: mainstream economic models can’t tell the difference. There are foreseeable feedbacks of a fast transition to a low-carbon economy that increase the risk of major recessions.

The AR5 indicates that if the world invests enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time — such that total annual greenhouse gas emissions are practically zero by 2100 — to stay within the 450 ppm and 2-degree-Celsius target, then the modeled decline in the size of the economy relative to business-as-usual scenarios is typically less than 10 percent. In other words, instead of the economy in 2100 being 300 to 800 percent larger than in 2010 without any mitigation, it is only 270 to 720 percent larger with full mitigation. Meanwhile, there is no reported possibility of a smaller future economy. Apparently, we’ll be much richer in the future no matter if we mitigate greenhouse gas emissions or not.

This result is delusional and doesn’t pass the smell test.

Another flawed piece of the framework in the IAMs is that they assume that factors in the economy during and after a low-carbon transition will remain at or return to the statistically positive trends of the last several decades — the trend of growth, the trend of high employment levels, the trend of technological innovation. Those positive trends change over time, however, so it is faulty to assume they’ll continue at historic levels independent of the need for rapid changes in the energy system. They also assume that energy costs will not significantly increase over the long term. Further, they extrapolate trends in growth, employment and technology from the past and current carbon-based economy to apply to a future decarbonized economy in ways that represent guesswork at best, and ideology at worst.

Perhaps most importantly, IAMs do not consider the substantial negative feedback between high energy costs and overall economic growth. Negative feedback means that when one factor increases (energy prices, for example), another factor consequently decreases. Many of us know from practical experience that if gasoline costs too much — like when it was near $4 per gallon in 2008 — it may eat into our budget to such an extent that we can’t pay all our bills or can’t pursue hobbies. On a personal level, then, we see that increased gas prices cause decreased discretionary spending — a negative feedback. This idea can be extended to the entire economy’s budget and income.
….. the models currently answer a question that is barely useful: “If the economy grows this much, what types of energy investments can we make, and at what rate?” The models should address the question we really need to answer: “If we make these energy investments at this rate, what happens to the economy?”

There is a fundamental conflict between achieving low- or zero-carbon energy systems and growing an economy. Both the scale and rate of change during a low-carbon transition matter. So, let’s create macroeconomic models that can plausibly replicate historical trends of the most important energy and economic variables in times of high energy investment, recession and growth, so that we have confidence that we can ask relevant and informative questions about how low-carbon investments impact economic growth. Let’s stop deluding ourselves by using models that assume answers we want to see.

Read the complete paper (open access) at this link



6 responses

31 01 2018
Dr. George W. Oprisko

The growth under discussion is “economic growth”.
The very act of converting from BAU to a carbon neutral economy
involves considerable economic activity as follows;
1. Construction and emplacement of PV arrays and wind turbines
2. Construction of NaS and LiH batteries
3. Construction of double tracked, electrified railways
4. Construction of pumped storage units
5. Construction of wind fuels refineries
6. Construction of electric vehicles
7. decommissioning unneeded facilities
8. conversion of industries to electric

All the above will generate considerable economic activity, which will be seen as “growth”

Then of course, there is the impending “grand solar minimum” which,
according to the solar scientists has already begun and which will last some 50-100 years, lowering temps 1-2 celsius.


31 01 2018

Yeah right…… and all those things will happen with renewables..? Bwahahahahah……..

Britons won’t be able to keep warm in Winter without fossil fuels, let alone build all that green fantasy…….

1 02 2018
Blue Peter

G’day, Damnthematrix peoples

3 points:
Friedrich Nietzsche.
George Orwell.
3: What can be predicted with absolute certainty, is there will be unintended consequences.

1 02 2018
Jean-Jacques @ Gypsy Café

Thanks Mike for posting the excellent article above.

Interestingly, the real Maya prophecy for 2012 to 2032 (not the fake “end of the world” nonsense), known as the Katun prophecies, predicted that 2012 – 2022 would see continued growth and from 2022 onwards there would be a downturn. Seems to correlate with real events as they develop. My latest article highlights:

The Making of an Illusion:

“The result of living in an environment with abundance of choice that has been artificially created, is that people end up losing their psychological self-reliance mechanisms and their natural drive for self-sufficiency. In the process of living out the illusion of never ending, unconstrained abundance, much of the future of the entire planet is being consumed in advance – especially by populations that demand a much higher quality of life than others do [2].”

Whose paradigm shift is it anyway:

“Should, for example, first-world city dwellers experience sudden interruptions in food supplies, experience extended power cuts, or find a lack of fuel at filling stations, a complete paradigm shift is guaranteed. Modern world city-dwellers do not have resilience.

Should there ever be fuel supply shortages in general, even the more resilient groups would have to adapt somewhat, but due their inherent survival skills such changes would be much easier for them than for consumer oriented city dwellers who simply have no reference points for “going back in time”.

Full article here:

1 02 2018

So if we keep CO2 under 450 ppm we might keep the climate to roughly Emian proportions. Pardon my skepticism, but didn’t the Eemian max out at about 300 ppm. Me thinks it will be somewhat worse.

1 02 2018

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