Citizen Action Monitor

Despite his dire future prospects for humanity, in 2010 physicist Tim Garrett was taking things in stride

“We’re along for the ride. And we will see what happens. In the meantime, I guess we’re here to enjoy life while we can.”

No 2374 Posted by fw, September 21, 2018

NOTE — To access my other posts related to Dr. Garrett’s research on a global economic/civilization collapse by the end of this century, click on the Tab in the top left margin, titled Civilization/Economic Collapse ~ Links to All Posts By or About Dr. Tim Garrett’s Research

Towards the end of a February 2010 radio interview, Radio Ecoshock host Alex Smith asked “a little known professor from the University of Utah, Dr. Tim Garrett” a very personal question. The question followed up on Garrett’s alarming disclosure that global collapse was likely inevitable by the end of this century. Here’s the question —

You know, Tim, I’m personally very resistant to recommending collapse as a solution. Billions of people would be hurt, and likely many would die. I’m enjoying our civilization, including talking to you right now long distance. So how do you personally handle the ugly possibility that we may be at peak wealth right now with a downhill ride ahead of us?”

And here’s Tim Garrett’s answer:

Yeah, well I have two young children, so it’s on my mind. I mean, we’re along for the ride. And we will see what happens. In the meantime, I guess I figure we’re here to enjoy life while we can.”

Reposted below is my embedded audio of Alex Smith’s July 16, 2014 repeat broadcast of his initial 2010 Garrett interview. Included in my repost is my slightly edited chronologically-indexed transcript of the event, and my added subheadings and text highlighting. The transcript appear below the audio, giving visitors the option of listening to the interview while scrolling down to follow the transcript.

The conversation between Smith and Garrett was wide-ranging, touching on important matters such as:

+ the fact that You Tube appears to have censored the 2010 interview;
+ Garrett’s use of the analogy of a growing child to explain his theory of the collapse of civilization;
+ the relationship between the rate of energy consumption by civilization and its economic value;
+ the mathematical expression of the relationship between the rate of energy consumption and money;
+ Garrett’s assertion that it would take building a nuclear power plant a day to stabilize CO2 emissions;
+ why you don’t need to know our standard of living or population size to know how fast civilization will grow;
+ how a feedback loop causes civilization to behave like a “heat engine”;
+ by perpetuating GDP growth, humans are accelerating the rate of growth of CO2 emissions;
+ even when scientists report dire economic forecasts, CO2 emissions rates continue to accelerate;
+ to stabilize emissions, the economy would have to be ZERO adjusted for inflation;
+ Garrett declares that striving to remain below 450 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere “would mean virtual complete economic collapse within my lifetime”;
+ moreover, to get down to 350 ppm “seems implausible”;
+ increasing energy efficiency will NOT reduce energy consumption – it’s unprecedented in our experience;
+ efforts to control clouds, including cloud seeding, have been largely discredited; and
+ we all live and die by the first and second laws of thermodynamics so these principles should be quite general.

As mentioned above, the interview was initially recorded by Radio Ecoshock on February 5, 2010 and replayed July 16, 2014, [which is reposted below with my transcript]. Although Alex Smith submitted the 2010 interview to You Tube, it remains unavailable. According to Smith, “You Tube claimed that the copyright holder did not authorize it. I am the copyright holder, I did authorize it, and I have complained to You Tube” – apparently to no avail. Given the shocking science-based predictions that Garrett disclosed during the interview, You Tube appears to have censored it.

Notes about audio and transcript: 1) the Garrett interview appears at the beginning of a one-hour talk-radio compilation, (which includes a second interview with Garrett), and concludes with an interview of another scientist; 2) the Garrett interview starts at 00:00, ends at 17:53; 3) to identify, in the transcript, who is speaking, I use the initials AS for Alex Smith and TG for Tim Garrett. And Smith’s words are in italics.

To watch the Radio Ecoshock interview on Soundcloud’s website, without a transcript, click on the following linked title.

**********

The Big Picture Like It or Not by Radio Ecoshock, posted on Soundcloud, July 16, 2014

[Press the red/white play button to start the audio. To pause the audio, press this same button again.]

TRANSCRIPT (Starts 00:00, Ends, 17:53)

00:00 — This is Radio Ecoshock with Alex Smith.

Only a complete collapse of civilization can save us from devastating global warming, says Tim Garrett

00:25You want the big picture. Here it comes. I’ve picked two of my favourite power interviews from years of interviewing scientists, authors and experts for you. You’ll hear a little known professor from the University of Utah, Dr. Tim Garrett. He’s a cloud specialist. But Garrett published a paper in America’s most prestigious scientific journal after being championed by the father of global warming, Wally Broecker. It still took two years to get out. Why? Because Garrett worked out that according to the laws of physics, only a complete collapse of civilization could save us now from devastating global warming. We’d rather keep driving around than hear about that, I guess.

01:06I’ve tried. I got help from a Pakistani filmmaker to put out a You Tube video version of our 2010 Garrett interview. I spent hours typing out a transcript of it. We did a second interview even more dynamite than the first – hardly anyone else heard about it. You will.

01:54 Last week I ran clips from the former US Treasury Secretaries who say climate change will ruin any future economy. It was one of the most important stories so far this year. Now we had some problems with the RadioEcoshock server, so if you missed the crashing climate news show be sure to grab it from our Soundcloud page.

02:23So let’s get to it. Here’s professor Tim Garrett with one of Radio Ecoshock’s greatest hits.

02:35Maybe energy conservation isn’t enough. What if global warming is already an unstoppable force? Is economic collapse one of our only hopes? These disturbing questions arise in a controversial study by Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah.

Tim, welcome to RadioEcoshock.

02:55 — TG – Hello.

AS – Hi. Can you give us the title of your new [2009] paper and where people can find it.

TG – The title* of the paper is Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?  [*Correction: 1) The title of the paper given by Garrett is inaccurate as it omitted the words “future anthropogenic emissions of ”; and 2) the websites mentioned by Tim no longer provide access to this paper. It can currently be found in the journal Climatic Change by clicking on the above-linked title.]

03:35 — AS – Okay. I’ll toss in a link to your webpage in my blog for this program. I understand you applied some basic physics to the way our civilization works. Can you explain your theory for us?

Garrett uses analogy of growing child to explain his theory

03:37 – TG — Sure. I think the concept is easily understood in the light of perhaps looking at a growing child. This is a familiar analogy, a good place to start because if we think about a growing child, a child consumes energy, as does an adult, in order to maintain daily operations of that child. What is a bit different with a child is that as the child uses the energy not only to maintain its current size but also uses some fraction of that energy in order to grow its current size. And if it does that efficiently, then it is able to grow faster and thereby consume more energy rather than less energy in the future.

“There’s a very simple relationship between the rate of energy consumption by civilization as a whole and its economic value”

It’s a very simple physical concept. It can be written down with basic thermodynamic arguments using equations. But as I show, it can also be applied to civilization as a whole, treating civilization as being an energy-consuming organism. If that is done, then it turns out that there’s a very simple relationship between the rate of energy consumption by civilization as a whole and its economic value.

This relationship is the key finding of the paper

It turns out that money is power – where power is the rate of energy consumption. There is a simple relationship of about 10 milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar. Actually, that’s the key result, I think, that leads to the other results that I found in the paper.

05:19 – AS – And one of those was a suggestion that alternative energy, like solar, may not actually help stop climate change. And I heard those doubts from other scientists, and from an economist, like Britain’s Tim Jackson. So growth, even green technology, could just mean more energy is consumed. Is that right?

Just to stabilize CO2 emissions, the switch to non-CO2-emitting power sources would have to be very rapid, equivalent to building one nuclear power plant a day

05:39 – TG – Yeah, sure. I mean the green technology I think is a slightly separate issue from the growth itself. The society will consume energy, and probably try to maximize its growth regardless, whether it’s green technology or not green technology. Perhaps the difference between green technologies and other types is that some of these green technologies aren’t associated with carbon dioxide emissions. But as I pointed out, in order just to stabilize carbon dioxide emissions, the switch to non-CO2-emitting power sources would have to be very rapid – about 2.2% per year. So, that works out to – just as an easy metric – one nuclear power plant per day.

06:26 – AS – Wow. Well I don’t think we’re about to build a nuclear power plant per day. So, we’ll get to, in just a few minutes, to what the other alternative could be. But, I wanted first to raise the question – to everyone’s surprise you’ve said that we don’t even need to calculate population growth or even the spread of higher living standards to know how things will go. That this energy is the key factor. That seems a bit hard to believe.

You don’t need to know our living standard or population to know how fast civilization will grow

06:51 – TG – Yeah, it might seem hard to believe. But it’s not that standards of living and population are part of the energy consumption, by civilization obviously. People consume energy, commensurate to the standard of living. But the point is that our standard of living, and how many people there are on the planet, is really just a consequence of past energy efficiency. To think about it in another way, coming back to the growing child, I don’t need to think about the cells, the number of cells in the child or how much energy each cell consumes to know that the child will grow. And I can look at how much energy the child is consuming to get an idea of how fast the child will continue to grow. I don’t need to know the details.

07:41 — AS – You’ve also described civilization as a “heat engine.” Could you enlarge on that.

Civilization as a “heat engine” — A feedback loop causes civilization to consume more energy in the future that leads to growth

07:46 – TG – I think that’s the basic idea. A heat engine is a familiar concept in thermodynamics or in physics. Everyone learns about it in their physics degree, if that’s the path they take. Normally a heat engine – well, the idea was first coined in the 1800s when people were thinking about digging up coal or whatever it was. And you pop coal into an engine and then it would do mechanical work to lift something or move something.

In the case of civilization, we aren’t trying to lift some external object. When we consume energy, we consume energy to do work for ourselves. So it’s a slightly different heat engine than is a normal conception. Here there’s a feedback loop. If we consume energy and do work with that energy that work is done to enable us to consume more energy in the future. So there’s a feedback that leads to growth in this situation, rather than just simply work being done on some external agency.

08:51 – AS – And meanwhile, our politicians continue to call us back to a growing GDP. It sounds like our carbon emissions will never really go down if that happens.

Super-exponential GDP growth leads to an accelerating rate of growth of CO2 emissions;

09:00 – TG – In fact, if it’s a growing GDP, that not only corresponds to accelerating growth of CO2 emissions, but actually an interesting mathematical form, which is SUPER-EXPONENTIAL growth. So it’s not just exponential* growth, but is the exponent of an exponent – so emissions are not only accelerating, but the RATE OF GROWTH is accelerating as well. That’s just an unavoidable consequence of a growing GDP. [*exponential def — growth whose rate becomes ever more rapid in proportion to the growing total number or size.]

09:32 – AS – And that’s pretty believable when we hear about what’s happening in China and India – and all around the world.

Even when scientists report dire economic forecasts, CO2 emissions rates continue to accelerate

09:36 – TG – Yeah, and it’s interesting because there’s always a constant surprise. You see reports where the people who are measuring the CO2 are constantly surprised that CO2 emissions rates have continued to accelerate even when the scientists are hearing dire economic forecasts.

09:55 – AS – This is Radio Ecoshock. I’m Alex Smith with scientist Tim Garrett from the University of Utah. And we’re about to explore whether economic collapse is the best way to save the biosphere because we’ve talked about nuclear power – we need a new atomic plant every day, and that doesn’t seem likely in time to avert catastrophic climate disruption, in my opinion. So that leaves economic collapse. And some deep Greens, as you know, Tim, have called for this. But you’re among the first academics that I know of to publish a peer-reviewed paper saying collapse may be necessary to save a habitable planet. Or am I putting words in your mouth? Maybe you didn’t say quite that.

To stabilize emissions, the economy would have to be ZERO adjusted for inflation

10:30 – TG – Well, not quite that. But what I did say is that if we are ever to stabilize emissions that necessitates rather “unpalatable” – let us say – economic implications. If we are just to stabilize emissions – and that’s a bit counterintuitive – but if we are just to stabilize emissions – not so they’re decreasing, but just to stabilize them – the economy would have to be ZERO adjusted for inflation. That doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be economic activities going on – simply that none of these economic activities would add to the value of civilization. They would always be compensated for by some inflationary pressure.

Zimbabwe is a recent example of a country that ended up with an economy out of control

I don’t know what that world would look like. I’ve never lived in a world like that. Perhaps we can imagine by looking at some recent situations in places like Zimbabwe*, where they ended up with hyperinflation. It was a very different sort of life than we are used to ourselves in North America. [*Or the current hyperinflation-based economic disaster in Venezuela]

11:34 – AS – And so you looked at the past development of civilization and applied your formula – Can you take the same formula and try and measure how deep and how bad this collapse would have to be? I guess you sort of expressed it right now. Could you enlarge on that in what it would take to bring our carbon back to, say, 350 ppm.? Can we figure that out?

To return carbon levels to 350 ppm seems “implausible”

11:54 – TG – Wow? That would – I mean offhand it would – I did run this once, and with some extremely drastic scenarios, I was able to see the models settle out at about 450 ppm. But that would mean virtual complete economic collapse within my lifetime. I cannot imagine how it would be possible to get down to 350 ppm. It’s just – it seems implausible.

12:22 – AS — I gather it was hard to get this paper published until it came out in late 2009. What has been the reaction so far?

12:28 — TG – The reaction I got has been – there’s been a fair bit of interest from people, interestingly enough who are proponents of the peak oil theory. For the peak oil fans – of course, finding some sort of basic link between the economy and rates of energy consumption is a very useful thing because then they can relate it to their own understanding of the size and depletion rates of geological reservoirs of oil. That’s heartening. It’s nice to have when someone’s interested in it.

Increasing energy efficiency will NOT reduce energy consumption – it’s unprecedented in our experience

Another colleague found some interest too in the basic thermodynamic framework. I think a lot people have long had a suspicion that statements that increasing energy efficiency will be to REDUCE energy consumption are — well, something is quite obviously wrong with that because it runs counter to our experience in increasing energy efficiency throughout history.

13:23 – AS – Yes, you mentioned Jevons Law, I believe it was.

Jevons Paradox – steam engine’s major efficiency gains led to INCREASED coal consumption 

13:27 – TG – Yeah, Jevons Paradox, that’s it. Jevons was an interesting guy. He was extremely insightful, a bit too serious for his own good. He died at an early age, I think because he stressed himself out worrying about things. But, yeah, he made a very insightful comment about the introduction of the steam engine – James Watt’s steam engine in the late 1800s. He [Jevons] was saying this is a major efficiency gain, and it led to increased coal consumption, rather than less coal consumption. And he made a very emphatic argument that any argument to the contrary was completely wrong.

14:04 – AS – And as I learned from your website, your real speciality is clouds. In my opinion, Tim, clouds are one of the last great frontiers of unknown science. Do you foresee a time when humans could control the clouds, and if so, should we?

14:21 – TG – There’s actually a history to trying to control clouds. Even today, people try to engage in something called “cloud seeding” where they try to add silver iodide pellets to clouds in the attempt to accelerate their production of rain. Of course this has agricultural benefits. Actually, the field started out of military interests.

Efforts to control clouds, including cloud seeding, have been largely discredited

It’s been largely discredited simply because the amount of energy in a cloud is immense, It’s something like many nuclear bombs going off at once. It’s huge amounts of energy. You could power all of civilization if you could harness the energy off a few big clouds. So to imagine that we can control clouds seems a bit fanciful to me. And I know there are people who’ve talked about it but I’m highly skeptical.

15:15 – AS – Well some have mentioned it as a form of geoengineering as an alternative way to control the heat that reaches to earth. But you don’t really see a future for that in the near term?

Making clouds brighter by adding aerosol would result in darkness elsewhere

15:25 – TG – A lot of my research is based on the ideas these people are proposing, which are that if we add aerosol to clouds that will make them brighter and reflect more sunlight. My belief is that we may make the clouds brighter here, but that would necessitate things becoming darker somewhere else and that it would all be awash once you consider the planet as a whole.

15:46 – AS – You know, Tim, I’m personally very resistant to recommending collapse as a solution. Billions of people would be hurt, and likely many would die. I’m enjoying our civilization, including talking to you right now long distance. So how do you personally handle the ugly possibility that we may be at peak wealth right now with a downhill ride ahead of us?

Despite dire future prospects for humanity this century, Garrett seems to be taking things in stride

16:10 – TG – Yeah, well I have two young children, so it’s on my mind. I mean, we’re along for the ride. And we will see what happens. In the meantime, I guess I figure we’re here to enjoy life while we can.

16:26 – AS – What are you working on now and what would you like to research in the future?

TG – Right now I’m about to submit a paper on how the Arctic becomes polluted and how clouds remove pollution from the Arctic. I’d like to see more of this research on the thermodynamics of complex systems and apply this to all of civilization. Right now I would like to use the same sort of framework to understand the development, growth and death of clouds. I think the same principles can be applied whether it’s to civilizations, to clouds, to child or whatever it is.

We all live and die by the first and second laws of thermodynamics so these principles should be quite general.

17:08 – AS – It might be interesting to apply it to cities as well since most of us are living in cities and there are huge thermodynamic flows happening in cities themselves.

17:17 – TG – It hasn’t been done quite from a thermodynamic standpoint but it has been from a mathematical standpoint. In fact, when I mentioned earlier the concept of super-exponential growth, there has been a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy – I guess it’s two or three years old now – that highlighted super-exponential growth being one of the defining characteristics of successful cities.

17:43 – AS – This is Radio Ecoshock. Our guest is Dr. Tim Garrett from the University of Utah. This interview is a free .mp3 download here The Big Picture Like It or Not at Ecoshock.org. I’m Alex Smith. Thanks for being with us.

17:53 — END OF INTERVIEW

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