Citizen Action Monitor

Capitalism’s economic growth imperative significantly worsens the existential threat of climate change

Can economic growth end soon enough to prevent climate’s coming threat to civilization?

No 2345 Posted by fw, August 6, 2018

Dr. Richard Nolthenius

“Dr. Richard Nolthenius is a climate scientist that I respect. I have previously posted some of his excellent work …. Nolthenius stopped by today to leave a comment. This gave me an opportunity to ask a climate expert a question that I have wanted to ask for a long time: ‘Do you think the end of economic growth (which will probably occur soon due to low-cost oil depletion) will be enough to prevent a climate incompatible with civilization?’ Here is his answer: ‘No, not at this point.’ … ‘As scarcity increases, I expect to see more of it, not a “come let us love together” transformation, I’m sorry to say.’” Rob Mielcarski, un-Denial

Dr. Nolthenius’ “No, not at all” answer makes Canada’s Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna dead wrong in her defence of a new plan for industrial emitters, reducing the amount of carbon emissions on which they will have to pay a carbon price.

Minister McKenna is either actually or wilfully ignorant of climate science math. Where is McKenna’s scientific evidence and math to defend her government’s self-serving claim that, when it comes to economic growth and climate change, ” … we have to do it in a smart way. I’ve always said the environment and economy go together, and we don’t want to drive industry out of our country.” In fact, historical evidence clearly refutes her claim: See for example, There’s no historical evidence of absolute decoupling of GDP from resource use between 1990-2008 by British ecological economist Tim Jackson.

In essence, is McKenna denying that continuing to grow the economy will not significantly worsen climate-driven threats? – Is she suggesting that the two are compatible? Is she implying that she’s willing to play dice with the wellbeing of current and future generations by “looking at the environment and the economy together?” To put it another way, for McKenna, do the economic interests of the oil industry trump the health and welfare interests of citizens?

As climate science prof. Richard Nolthenius explains in Rob Mielcarski’s article below, this is the WRONG ANSWER.

Rob Mielcarski is an ex systems software developer and high-tech executive. Previous pieces by Rob are reposted on my website here and here.

Dr. Richard Nolthenius is a professor of climate science at Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz, CA. His background is  in thermal engineering and astronomy. Visit his website at https://www.cabrillo.edu/~rnolthenius/. His college lecture presentations are available at https://www.cabrillo.edu/~rnolthenius/astro7/A7PowerIndex.html 

Below is a repost of the Nolthenius/Mielcarski article. Or read it on the un-Denial website by clicking on the following linked title.

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By Richard Nolthenius: Will the End of Growth Tame Climate Change? by Rob Mielcarski, un-Denial, August 4, 2018

Dr. Richard Nolthenius is a climate scientist that I respect. I have previously posted some of his excellent work here and here.

Nolthenius stopped by today to leave a comment. This gave me an opportunity to ask a climate expert a question that I have wanted to ask for a long time:

Do you think the end of economic growth (which will probably occur soon due to low-cost oil depletion) will be enough to prevent a climate incompatible with civilization?”

Here is his answer: ”No, not at this point.”

The old IPCC carbon budgets are woefully politically manipulated and wrong, missing key physics and assuming massive carbon capture and sequestration later this century to boot.

We are crossing the permafrost thaw tipping point right now – since [Anton] Vaks et al 2013 showed that +1.5C was the tipping point, and we’re arriving there right now, as of the end of 2016 +1.48C if you use the new Schurer, Mann et al 2017 work on what is the more reliable measure of “pre-industrial” temperature. We’re passing the West Antarctic melt tipping point too, and even at today’s temperatures the Arctic Ocean is soon to be free of summer ice.

It’s too late for merely ending growth (as if “merely” were easy or going to happen !). We’ll need active human-effort [to remove and sequester] atmospheric CO2. AFTER ending growth, AFTER ending all current CO2 and GHG emissions.

Also, merely ending growth doesn’t stop energy generation. We still need to support all past growth. Even getting to the point we can do that with renewables entirely, still means we need much more CO2 emissions from factories etc. just to build the infrastructure to put in place an entirely new grid and energy system. 81% of primary energy consumption in the world today is still fossil fuels and that hasn’t budged for the entire century we’re in. I’m reading 2% growth in emissions in 2017, and predicted 2% more in ’18 and another 2% in ’19. While renewables has a good % growth rate, it’s on such a tiny base that fossil fuels even at only 2% are easily able to keep the same percentage of total energy.

The only solutions at this point are going to be EXPENSIVE, as in maybe 5-10% of GDP for a very long time, to do the transition and take Earth to the Urgent Care ER. And we as a global society only do “expensive” when we get short-term bling out of it.

No; we have to grow up, spiritually and emotionally, in a huge hurry, and so far I see none of that, but instead I see more fear-induced wall building, demagogues, and violence.

As scarcity increases, I expect to see more of it, not a “come let us love together” transformation, I’m sorry to say.

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