An alliance of the most influential global institutions, including the UN, World Bank, IMF and OECD, just issued a report of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, chaired by Felipe Calderón and Nicholas Stern. The report’s title is Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy. In a nutshell, it says that not only is climate action compatible with economic growth, but the two may actually work as a positive feedback loop: more climate action leading to more growth, “smart” growth-spurring policies reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. By and large, the report does not contain any new arguments, as it is more of a synthesis of existing research. Alas, it is a synthesis of only a part of existing research, which can be already seen in the title: economic growth is a main objective along with the mitigation of climate change. You’ll vainly look for any reference to the degrowth and a-growth debates, and so the report, while valuable in some respects, reproduces many of the common errors of growth-enthusiasts. Continue reading
“It’s a question of balance.” I guess, this might be the most often-used phrase on this blog. Today, again, I would like to write about an important balancing act that is not easy to achieve. Particularly so, as we have to achieve it (almost) everyday. It is the balance between being satisfied, on the one hand, and not being satisfied, on the other. Continue reading
Every theory or, to use the term famously coined by Thomas Kuhn, paradigm is based on a set of assumptions. Some assumptions are more, others less important for the overall theoretical system that is built upon them. This has to do with the ease with which they can (or cannot) be relaxed if shown not valid. It is, however, a truism that every model, theory or paradigm must be based on simplifying assumptions and that “closeness to reality” is seldom a relevant criterion for their evaluation (this latter statement must be, of course, qualified, which I will do below). Resource economics, i.e., the branch of economic theory that deals with the exploration, extraction and markets for (non-renewable) resources is no exception from this rule. One of my professors at the university used to present empirical findings regarding important assumptions of economic theory (such as the interest rate parity) by stating: “This is one of the few economic assumptions that stand up to reality.” The so-called Hotelling’s rule, one of the crucial models and assumptions of resource economics, is not one of those few. Continue reading
In his famous treatise The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probably Exhaustion of Our Coal-Mines, published almost 150 years ago, the British economist William Stanley Jevons described a phenomenon whose importance today might be even higher than back in 1865–the so-called rebound effect, also known under the names of second-order effect, Khazzoom-Brookes effect, backfire or Jevons’s paradox. Jevons argued that the increased efficiency of steam engines shall lead to increased use of them and thus, counter-intuitively, to an increase in coal consumption. His insights have surprising relevance for today’s debates on economic growth and climate change. Continue reading
Advocates of true action on climate change do not have an easy job to do. Scientists keep producing evidence of dangerous man-made climate change, the IPCC keeps producing reports that summarize that evidence, activists keep doing their activism… Meanwhile, politicians, and decision-makers more generally, keep talking and the society at large sticks to business-as-usual. No wonder that the “alarmists”, as we are sometimes called, are steadily looking for new powerful arguments. In hope either that a specific single argument will suddenly make people wake up and act on climate change, or that the accumulated mass of arguments will do. One such argument is about so-called “green jobs”. Clean technology investments are presented as a great opportunity to create jobs, as a growth booster. However, in this specific case, the well-intentioned pro-climate-action argument might actually be a shot in the cause’s foot. Continue reading
When I started this blog some 3.5 years ago, the focus was on climate issues, particularly climate economics. More recently, however, I have neglected this topic a little. Fortunately, working at a research institute gives one the opportunity to learn a lot about things other scientists do–e.g., regarding the quite popular question whether the EU needs both emissions reduction and renewable energy deployment targets such as the 20-20-20 target. In other words: do we need an energy mix consisting, e.g., of emissions trading and feed-in tariff schemes? Or is emissions trading enough to reach policy goals? And, by the way, what are these goals? Continue reading
Within a few days, Yale e360 published two extremely interesting analyses of China’s recent environmental and social problems: China’s Great Dam Boom by Charlton Lewis and China at Crossroads by Ed Grumbine. Both fascinating in their own right, these articles show that if you want to save the world from a looming environmental catastrophe, you have to start in China. Continue reading
More than two years ago I wrote here a piece about nuclear power. I critisized in it a commentary authored by Bjorn Lomborg, who argued that nuclear power is the all-environmentally friendly energy source. Then, I replicated a “green dogma” and wrote that
first, we cannot but abandon both [nuclear power AND fossil fuels], and, secondly, it is not necessarily true that we cannot afford a switch to renewables.
No, I do not intend to present some other “sweeping” Climategate-like “proofs” that all those climate scientists warning since the 1960’s that human activities influence the global climate have been wrong. Quite the contrary, to date, science tells us clearly that the Earth is warming and that we are those responsible. Moreover, it tells us that it is likely to keep warming unless we do something about it, and if we do not, the consequences may be very unpleasant. So, the title question is entirely hypothetical. Nevertheless, I still find it very interesting because climate science may be wrong. Continue reading
Who should decide what the proper policy towards genetically engineered plants in agriculture is? Should it be experts who determine, say, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that is acceptable (after they had defined what “acceptable” means)? What about other sustainability-related problems: biodiversity loss, Peak Everything? Are science and scientific analyses enough, or do we need a different basis for decision-making? Continue reading
Where is the global warming? After a rather long and hard winter this year, many Europeans ask this question. The media have been spreading the terrible scenarios of a human-made global warming for years. But in Europe and many other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, in April there was still a lot of snow outside. Reason enough to become doubtful. Seemingly. Actually, however, the winter of 2013 is perfectly fitting the picture drawn by climate science. To understand why, we have to answer a few preliminary questions first. Continue reading
Last week, the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar went to an end. Similar to most of the COPs held since 1994, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, it was not successful – unless you count as success the fact that it did not end in disaster. As a Polish commentator put it, the COP18 saved the international community’s honour, but it did not save the climate. Continue reading
There is a common foundation of most, maybe even all problems I deal with in this blog. The foundation is a somewhat metaphysical one and regards the ethical categories “right” and “wrong”. Indeed, what we do about climate change, whether we engage in genetic engineering, whether and how we should achieve sustainability – all these questions boil down to “What is right?” and the way this basic question can and should be answered. Continue reading
How much is a pristine ecosystem worth to us? And a stable climate? These are questions that are very controversial among many environmentalists, as I recently discussed. However, economic valuation of Nature and its “services” is not just a theoretical possibility, it is a fact. A particularly interesting example of an (implicit) valuation of an ecosystem is the Ecuadorian Yasuní-ITT Initiative. Continue reading
How is it that we really do care about too-big-to-fail banks and largely embrace the sacrifice-laden efforts of governments to bail them out, but apparently don’t care enough about our too-big-to-fail climate system to accept personal and collective sacrifices needed to “bail it out”, i.e. to keep catastrophic climate change at bay? Well, this is a question psychologists and sociologists are better suited and trained to answer than I am. Instead, I would like to sacrifice a few minutes of my spare time in an attempt to sketch the consequences of the fact that our climatic system is too-big-to-fail in conjunction with the fact that we have not really cared to stop dangerously interfering with it so far. Continue reading
A man is diagnosed with cancer and the oncologist orders treatment. The patient waits and waits and waits. He is not suicidal but thinks “What does this doctor really know?” Over the next few weeks, he gets a second opinion and then a third opinion…they are all the same: a chemotherapeutic cocktail. Meanwhile, the cancer is spreading. Begrudgingly, the man begins taking the medicine. But pride mixes with fear and he takes just one third of the prescribed dose. What does the oncologist say? If depends on the personality of the oncologist. A hopeful one will urge the patient to follow the full regime. A discouraged one will level with the man “either you follow the full regime or don’t bother taking anything”. The dishonest one says “those side-effects aren’t all that bad…”. [Joseph Henry Vogel, The Economics of the Yasuní Initiative: Climate Change as If Thermodynamics Mattered, p.78]
Last year, it was the 27th of September. This year’s Earth Overshoot Day, however, is the 22nd of August. Even though the methodology of the Global Footprint Network and similar projects is not completely unproblematic, the main message is clear: we are (ab)using the Earth’s resources in a way that is extremely unsustainable.
Today, August 22, is Earth Overshoot Day, marking the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. We are now operating in overdraft. For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by drawing down local resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
In last years, there were reasons to hope: Copenhagen, Durban, Rio +20, the election of Barack Obama for president of the United States, China’s seeming calming down in Cancún, progress in the EU… Still, the overall progress was terribly disappointing. We are still massively burning (and even subsidizing) fossil fuels, consumption levels still aren’t dropping in the developed world (while they are steeply rising in its developing parts), our agricultural systems remain, in spite of some progress toward agro-ecology, unsustainable (possibly because of most environmentalists’ sticking to the dogma of “bad biotechnology“)… Shortly, we, i.e. humanity as a whole, still apparently don’t care about our own and our children’s future. We prefer short-sightedness and short-term pleasure over reason and long-term survival. We prefer keeping our eyes closed and denying on what appears inconvenient to us, instead of facing the truth that we have to change. Indeed, the way we live will have to change anyway, as a result of the pressures we put over the Earth system. Wouldn’t it be easier to stop shooting at the Earth on our own, instead of waiting until lifestyle changes will become inevitable?
The much awaited (though recently rather with a lot of pessimism) Rio+20 “Earth Summit” came to an end. Instead of commenting myself on all the things which went wrong (and the few that weren’t as bad), I would like to provide links to commentaries made before, during and after the Summit that give a fair account of what happened and how to interpret the failures of the international community to commit to saving our planet. Also, they provide an outlook on what developments we may expect in the near future.
Elinor Ostrom Green from the Grassroots
Sunita Narain Beyond Rio+20
Jagdish Bhagwati Rio’s Unsustainable Nonsense
Kristen Sheeran From Top-Down to Bottom-Up: New Directions for Climate at Rio+20
George Monbiot Rio+20 draft text is 283 paragraphes of fluff
From now on, you can use “Rio+20” as a synonym for “failure”.