Citizen Action Monitor

Tim Garrett – Full text in one file of ALL articles posted on my website by Garrett or about Garrett by others

The purpose of this large file is to facilitate keyword searching in one place of all Garrett articles on my website.

No 2401 Posted by fw, December 6, 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

NOTE — To search the following 22 articles, press Ctrl F to bring up the search box in the upper left corner of the screen and enter your search term. You will be able to cycle through any matches found.

**********

How ignorance of the physics of climate science could compromise our very survival

Mainstream media and online environmental sources rarely explain the complicated science of climate change — They keep things simple.

No 2369 Posted by fw, September 7, 2018

“It would be easy to dwell on the severe impacts of extreme weather events of 2017 — droughts, wildfires, hurricanes. Or one could focus on the unprecedented thawing of the Arctic and the accelerating warming of the oceans. But on the flip side of this is the growing awareness by governments, world leaders and the public in general that we are in the fight of our lives. We now understand that we must solve climate change or perish. Fortunately, there are signs of climate change progress. The year 2017 held ups and downs in the fight for climate solutions. But as we look forward to 2018, we’ve collected some incredible climate wins to celebrate and inspire as we continue to work for a sustainable future.”Below2C

On January 10, 2018, an article, titled Ten Signs of Climate Change Progress, appeared in the online website Below2C. (It was originally published by the US-based website The Climate Reality Project.)

Following the opening paragraph, copied above, the article went on to identify ten positive signs of climate progress:

  1. Over 1 Million Americans Say #IAmStillIn
  2. Indonesia Unveils Plan For 1,000 Eco-Mosques by 2020
  3. More Than 200,000 Marched For Climate, Justice and Jobs
  4. More Cities Around The World Are Committed To Climate Action
  5. Google Reached 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  6. Nine US States Joined To Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  7. Hundreds of Thousands of Americans Said Leave Environmental Protection Alone
  8. The World Bank Group, ING, and Insurance Giant AXA Are Divesting From Fossil Fuels
  9. India and the UK Nixed Plans for New Coal-Fired Power Plants
  10. Climate Reality Trained 3,000 Climate Reality Leader Activists in 2017

In the Comments section below the article, a reader noted: “It’s good to read some good news on climate. Thanks for this”, to which Rolly Montpellier replied: “There is good news on climate. We just need the courage to believe that we can fight the future and win.”

Rolly is a dedicated climate advocate and blogger. He’s a member of 350.Org (Ottawa), Climate Reality Canada and Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Canada). Rolly’s primary goal is to raise awareness about climate change and influence our politicians to take pressing action on pricing carbon and kick-starting our transition to a clean energy platform by 2050. He has a BA in geography, political science and urban planning.

I’m a subscriber to Below2C’s newsletter and have found many good articles from his website. But to “fight the future and win” will require more than the unintentionally misleading “good news” content of Below2C’s Jan. 10, 2018 article on Climate Change Progress.  I was so disappointed with the piece that I posted the following response in Below2C’s Comments section —

*****

Anyone who believes, as Rolly apparently does, that “There is good news on climate” has not been reading recent posts by Tim Garrett, a distinguished professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah. His CV, as of 2016, lists 86 refereed publications and 44 invited presentations. Of note, Tim has a B.Sc. Honours, (1992) from the University of Waterloo.

Rob Mielcarski, the publisher and editor of the website un-Denial, often features Barrett’s physics-based contributions. Rob says this about Garrett: “Tim Garrett is the most important and least recognized physicist in the world, having explained and quantified the relationship between energy consumption and economic wealth.” High praise indeed. And Rob should know. He’s no academic slouch himself: a former high-tech exec. he has an honors M.A.Sc. Electrical Engineering degree from UBC.

After skimming a couple of Garrett’s papers, one reason he might be the “least recognized physicist in the world” (especially to us mere mortals) is that his writing style is typically populated with concepts and formulae from the field of physics, which poses a formidable cognitive challenge to the untutored.

More to the point, there is a risk that even Garrett’s more comprehensible conclusions may be “lost in translation”. Consider, for example, this passage:

“Right now, energy consumption is continuing to grow rapidly, sustaining an ever larger GWP [Gross World Product]. But it is not the rate of energy consumption that supports the GWP, but the rate of growth of energy consumption that supports the GWP. This important distinction is flat out frightening. The implication is that if we cease to grow energy and raw material consumption globally, then the global economy must collapse. But if we don’t cease to grow energy consumption and raw material consumption then we still collapse due to climate change and environmental destruction.” (Source: By Tim Garrett: The Global Economy, Heat Engines, and Economic Collapse.)

Or this one:

“Sure, maybe renewables do not leave behind carbon dioxide in quite the same way as fossil fuels, but the energy they do provide helps contribute to our seemingly unstoppable conversion of matter from the environment into the matter that composes civilization. So, even if sunlight and wind is seemingly infinite, our planet Earth is not. Any short-term material gain of ours is a loss for the world around us. Renewables only accelerate this process.” (Source: Are renewables our salvation? July 2, 2018.

Sorry if I rained on anyone’s parade. But environmental organizations, in particular, and news outlets, in general, must make more of an effort to grasp the scientifically-based evidence of climate change if we are to have any hope of holding our wilfully scientifically illiterate politicians to account for ill-informed decisions that could compromise our very survival.

So please, no more of this type of misleading “good news on climate.”

 

*****

Atmospheric scientist makes decisive case why renewables will NOT be our salvation

Tim Garrett sees two “really important” problems with a move into renewables.

No 2370 Posted by fw, September 9, 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

“With a renewable revolution, is our salvation at hand? There are two considerations in this discussion that are rarely acknowledged. First, new sources of energy tend to add to past sources. Second, any source of energy, whatever its source, enables civilization to further destroy its environment through the extraction of matter. … So even if sunlight and wind is seemingly infinite, our planet Earth is not. Any short-term material gain of ours is a loss for the world around us. Renewables only accelerate this process.”Tim Garrett, University of Utah, 2014

In my preceding post, How ignorance of the physics of climate science could compromise our very survival, I cited an article by Tim Garrett to make the point that mainstream media and online environmental sources rarely explain the complicated science of climate change.

The Garrett article that I referenced in that post is the one I am reposting today, in full. In this piece, Garrett, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah since 2002, makes a conclusive case that renewables will not save us from the climate crisis. And Garrett should know, for he has, he says, “been focused on the complex interplay between aerosols, clouds, precipitation, radiation and climate, key ingredients in the understanding of climate change.”

Judge for yourself. Below is a repost of his article Are renewables the answer? with my added subheadings and text highlighting.

To read Garrett’s article on his website, click on the following linked title.

**********

Are renewables the answer? By Tim Garrett, University of Utah, 2014

With a renewable revolution, is our salvation at hand?

It is argued that there are two fundamental challenges facing humanity over this century: running out of the easily accessible fossil fuels that support our civilization, and second, burning these fossil fuels will lead to a less hospitable climate. This would seem to pose the inescapable problem that, if civilization doesn’t collapse from running out of fuel, it will collapse from the environmental damages created by burning the fuel.

The obvious solution seems to be renewables. Solar and wind provide the energy that civilization requires to continue while not being based on combustion that leads to carbon dioxide emissions.

Sure, solar and wind has the issue of being either expensive or intermittent. But production prices keep falling, and with a continental sized electrical grid, it’s probably sufficiently windy or sunny somewhere. Remarkably, solar and wind seem to be succeeding.

With a renewable revolution, is our salvation at hand?

Garrett sees two “really important” problems with this move into renewables

There are a couple of considerations in this discussion that I don’t see frequently addressed and I think may be really important. First, new sources of energy have historically added to past sources rather than replaced them. Second, any source of energy, whatever its source, enables civilization to further destroy its environment through the extraction of matter.

Total energy consumption estimates by source in the US 1775-2010 has risen dramatically

Consider the figure above, which provides a broad brush view of energy consumption in the United States over the past couple of hundred years. Overall, total energy consumption has risen dramatically. With the establishment of European settlers, society was first powered off wood, adding coal to the mix around 1880, with non-solid fossil sources taking off around 1950. Nuclear and renewables have (so far) been smaller players. 

Two problems: each energy source levels off; dominant sources do not decline, they become part of the mix

There’s a couple of interesting things to notice about these curves. First is their shape: following an initial period of exponential growth, each source tends to plateau. Then, when new sources are added,  they are additive: previously dominant sources do not decline, or at least not by much — they simply become part of a larger mix.

Consumption of coal actually “increased” when oil and natural gas became part of the energy mix

The curve for coal is particularly interesting. While there was marginal decline between 1910 and 1950, since then consumption of coal appears to have been resuscitated by oil and natural gas. Fluid fuels didn’t replace coal. In fact it was quite the opposite!

Explanation: New energy sources grow civilization, thus increasing demand for ALL TYPES OF ENERGY

Why would this be? I think a case could be made that what is going on is that new energy sources grow civilization, thereby increasing all of its aspects, including population, vehicles, and homes, as well as their corresponding demand for all types of energy, irrespective of source. Energy supports the technological advances that make previously inaccessible sources of energy more accessible.  With oil, mechanized digging of coal is easier; with an explosion of human population aided by the fertilizer produced with oil, demand for electricity produced by coal increases too.

Using the language of physics, think of an energy type as a “degree of freedom”

There are many physical analogs for this sort of behavior. To use the language of physics, we could think of an energy type as a “degree of freedom”. In low energy systems, certain possible degrees of freedom may be “frozen out”, and be inactive. With increasing energy added to the system, these degrees of freedom become active, but not at the sacrifice of those degrees of freedom that were previously active at lower energies.

Renewables would only slow climate change if they actually REPLACED rather than ADDED to existing energy sources (which is unprecedented)

So renewables are great as a substitute fuel for the purposes of slowing climate change, provided they actually replace rather than add to existing sources of energy. Unfortunately, it is not clear that there is any precedent for this sort of thing happening.

Moreover, as civilization grows, waste products grow, increasing the rate of pollution

A second issue is that civilization is made of matter not energy. As civilization grows, it accelerates its rate of pollution as it goes. Acting as an open thermodynamic system, we use energy to extract raw materials from our environment in order to feed and grow our children, construct the stuff of civilization, and offset ever present decay. As we do so, resource extraction depletes the oceans of fish, the forests of trees, and the ground of minerals, leaving behind material waste products such as plastic, nitrogen, and exotic chemicals that pollute our land, water and air.

Given the above logic, how can renewables ever be a solution to our environmental/climate crisis?

How can it be that renewables are any sort of environmental panacea if they simply add to the energy mix that we use to extract raw materials from our environment and leave behind an ever growing pile of waste? 

Renewables may not emit CO2, but they are used to extract earth’s finite materials to build more of us, leave less of the environment

Whether the energy source is oil or solar doesn’t really matter. Energy of whatever stripe is used to acquire the raw materials from our environment, that are needed to make up all the stuff of humanity, building more of us while leaving less of the environment in its wake. Sure, maybe renewables do not leave behind carbon dioxide in quite the same way as fossil fuels, but the energy they do provide helps contribute to our seemingly unstoppable conversion of matter from the environment into the matter that composes civilization.

So, even if sunlight and wind is seemingly infinite, our planet Earth is not. Any short-term material gain of ours is a loss for the world around us. Renewables only accelerate this process.

*****

 

ALARMING — Only global economic collapse can stabilize rising CO2 emissions, says atmospheric scientist

Equally alarming – Conserving energy spurs economic growth and more energy use. Is global warming unstoppable?

No 2372 Posted by fw, September 16, 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

“In a provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions – the major cause of global warming – cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day. ‘It looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in carbon dioxide emission rates,’ says the new paper by Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences.”University of Utah, 2009

The article, reposted below, originally appeared in November 22, 2009 issue of Unews, the campus paper of the University of Utah.

2009! Yikes. And here it is September 2018 and I’m just now reading about Garrett’s “Unstoppable” research findings. What’s going on? I can understand why corporate-owned media would suppress Garrett’s work. But what about the many excellent investigative online news and information sources? What about the environmental and activist non-governmental organizations? I’ve been actively following these sources for at least ten years and not a peep about Garrett.

We’re talking here about the collapse of civilization as we know it!

My thanks to activist Rob Mielcarski, founder of the website un-Denial, where, recently, I first read about Tim Garrett.

Below is my repost of the University of Utah’s 2009 story Is Global Warming Unstoppable about Garrett’s “provocative new study.” As usual I have added subheadings, text highlighting, images, and hyperlinks. Alternatively, read the piece on Unews, the campus paper, by clicking on the following linked title.

**********

Is Global Warming Unstoppable? Unews, University of Utah, November 22, 2009

Theory also says energy conservation doesn’t help

Rising CO2 emissions cannot be stabilized unless the global economy collapses, says Tim Garrett

In a provocative new study*, a University of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions – the major cause of global warming – cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day. [*Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide? by Tim Garrett, Climatic Change, February 2011]

“It looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in carbon dioxide emission rates,” says the new paper by Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences.

Garrett’s study panned by some economists

Garrett’s study was panned by some economists and rejected by several journals before acceptance by Climatic Change, a journal edited by renowned Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider [died 2010]. The study will be published online this week.

Garrett’s 3 main findings

The study – which is based on the concept that physics can be used to characterize the evolution of civilization – indicates:

Energy conservation or efficiency doesn’t really save energy, but instead spurs economic growth and accelerated energy consumption.

Throughout history, a simple physical “constant” – an unchanging mathematical value – links global energy use to the world’s accumulated economic productivity, adjusted for inflation. So it isn’t necessary to consider population growth and standard of living in predicting society’s future energy consumption and resulting carbon dioxide emissions.

“Stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions at current rates will require approximately 300 gigawatts of new non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power production capacity annually – approximately one new nuclear power plant (or equivalent) per day,” Garrett says. “Physically, there are no other options without killing the economy.”

Getting Heat for Viewing Civilization as a “Heat Engine”

Garrett says colleagues generally support his theory, while some economists are critical. One economist, who reviewed the study, wrote: “I am afraid the author will need to study harder before he can contribute.”

Garrett approaches the economy as a physics problem

“I’m not an economist, and I am approaching the economy as a physics problem,” Garrett says. “I end up with a global economic growth model different than they have.”

Garrett treats civilization as a “heat engine” – which means what exactly?

Garrett treats civilization like a “heat engine” that “consumes energy and does ‘work’ in the form of economic production, which then spurs it to consume more energy,” he says.

“If society consumed no energy, civilization would be worthless,” he adds. “It is only by consuming energy that civilization is able to maintain the activities that give it economic value. This means that if we ever start to run out of energy, then the value of civilization is going to fall and even collapse absent discovery of new energy sources.”

Garrett’s key finding

Garrett says his study’s key finding “is that accumulated economic production over the course of history has been tied to the rate of energy consumption at a global level through a constant factor.”

That “constant” is 9.7 (plus or minus 0.3) milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar. So if you look at economic and energy production at any specific time in history, “each inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar would be supported by 9.7 milliwatts of primary energy consumption,” Garrett says.

Garrett tested and confirmed the constant relationship between energy use and economic production for any given time in human history  

Garrett tested his theory and found this constant relationship between energy use and economic production at any given time by using United Nations statistics for global GDP (gross domestic product), U.S. Department of Energy data on global energy consumption during1970-2005, and previous studies that estimated global economic production as long as 2,000 years ago.

“Economists think you need population and standard of living to estimate productivity,” he says. “In my model, all you need to know is how fast energy consumption is rising. The reason why is because there is this link between the economy and rates of energy consumption, and it’s just a constant factor.”

Garrett adds: “By finding this constant factor, the problem of [forecasting] global economic growth is dramatically simpler. There is no need to consider population growth and changes in standard of living because they are marching to the tune of the availability of energy supplies.”

This constant has ominous implications for CO2 emissions – the acceleration of emissions is unlikely to change

Then he investigated the implications for carbon dioxide emissions. To Garrett, that means the acceleration of carbon dioxide emissions is unlikely to change soon because our energy use today is tied to society’s past economic productivity.

To explain the acceleration of CO2 emissions, Garrett uses an analogy of a growing child

“Viewed from this perspective, civilization evolves in a spontaneous feedback loop maintained only by energy consumption and incorporation of environmental matter,” Garrett says. It is like a child that “grows by consuming food, and when the child grows, it is able to consume more food, which enables it to grow more.”

Is Meaningful Energy Conservation Impossible?

Even more startling – conserving energy spurs economic growth and more energy use

Perhaps the most provocative implication of Garrett’s theory is that conserving energy doesn’t reduce energy use, but spurs economic growth and more energy use.

“Making civilization more energy efficient simply allows it to grow faster and consume more energy,” says Garrett.

He says the idea that resource conservation accelerates resource consumption – known as Jevons paradox – was proposed in the 1865 book The Coal Question by William Stanley Jevons, who noted that coal prices fell and coal consumption soared after improvements in steam engine efficiency.

So is Garrett arguing that conserving energy doesn’t matter?

“I’m just saying it’s not really possible to conserve energy in a meaningful way because the current rate of energy consumption is determined by the unchangeable past of economic production. If it feels good to conserve energy, that is fine, but there shouldn’t be any pretense that it will make a difference.”

Yet, Garrett says his findings contradict his own previously held beliefs about conservation, and he continues to ride a bike or bus to work, line dry family clothing and use a push lawnmower.

An Inevitable Future for Carbon Dioxide Emissions?

Garrett explains why switching to zero-carbon energy sources cannot stabilize emissions

Garrett says often-discussed strategies for slowing carbon dioxide emissions and global warming include mention increased energy efficiency, reduced population growth and a switch to power sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide, including nuclear, wind and solar energy and underground storage of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. Another strategy is rarely mentioned: a decreased standard of living, which would occur if energy supplies ran short and the economy collapsed, he adds.

“Fundamentally, I believe the system is deterministic,” says Garrett. “Changes in population and standard of living are only a function of the current energy efficiency. That leaves only switching to a non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power source as an available option.”

“The problem is that, in order to stabilize emissions, not even reduce them, we have to switch to non-carbonized energy sources at a rate about 2.1 percent per year. That comes out to almost one new nuclear power plant per day.”

“If society invests sufficient resources into alternative and new, non-carbon energy supplies, then perhaps it can continue growing without increasing global warming,” Garrett says.

Does Garrett fear global warming deniers will use his work to justify inaction?

It’s not clear that policy decisions can change the future course of civilization – the system is deterministic

“No,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s not clear that policy decisions have the capacity to change the future course of civilization.”

 

*****

NO WAY OUT: Civilization caught in a double-bind between global collapse and CO2 levels of 1200 ppm

Absent collapsing the economy, with GDP at zero, emissions can be stabilized only by building the equivalent of one nuke plant per day globally.

No 2373 Posted by fw, September 18, 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

“Effectively, it appears that civilization may be in a double-bind. If civilization does not collapse quickly this century, then CO2 levels will likely end up exceeding 1000 ppmv; but, if CO2 levels rise by this much, then the risk is that civilization will gradually tend towards collapse. With business-as-usual, by 2100 the world GDP would be 10 times higher than today and the atmospheric CO2 would be around 1200 ppm. … While growth must initially be positive for civilization to emerge, positive growth cannot be sustained forever. Civilization networks are always falling apart, and presumably in a world with finite resources, we will eventually lose the capacity to keep fixing them. Future loss of useable Land and Water is already in the pipeline from all prior carbon emissions, and CO2 emissions continue to rise unabated. Whether collapse comes sooner or later depends on the quantity of energy reserves available to support continued growth and the accumulated magnitude of externally imposed decay… Theoretical and numerical arguments suggest that when growth rates approach zero, civilization becomes fragile to such externalities as natural disasters, and the risk is for an accelerating collapse.”Tim Garrett

To put atmospheric physicist Tim Garrett’s double-bind finding succinctly and impolitely, “WE’RE SCREWED!” After all, the methodology of physics is the surest path to robust, reliable, valid and replicable empirical knowledge. Economics, on the other hand, as Robert Shiller, Nobel prize-winner in Economics, put it: “One problem with economics is that it is necessarily focused on policy, rather than discovery of fundamentals. … once we focus on economic policy, much that is not science comes into play. Politics becomes involved…

In a 2008, 19-page paper titled Are there basic physical restraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?, physicist Tim Garrett presented a detailed analysis crammed with scientific jargon and mathematical expressions and formulae related to humankind’s existential predicament.

In 2014, social critic, political/cultural commentator, publishing under the pseudonym “xraymike79”, posted an excellent, comprehensible recapitulation of Garrett’s 2008 paper.

Below is my repost of Mike’s summary. For me, having no physics background, Mike’s abridgement presented five significant challenges: first, to comprehend its meaning, second to look for any obvious flaws in Garrett’s chain of reasoning; third, to understand the significant implications of Garrett’s findings; four, to figure out what, if anything, I could do to disseminate Garrett’s work to selected political and news decision- and policy-makers; and fifth, to identify and retain in long-term memory, key points in Garrett’s argument as condensed by Mike.

About xraymike79 – Mike writes: I’m a social critic, political/cultural commentator and artist. The modern industrial world is on the cusp of great changes to our current unsustainable way of life. Most people are oblivious to the paradigm shift that will occur, but some are starting to awaken to the fact that the future will not resemble the halcyon days of the last half century in America as evidenced by the OWS [Occupy Wall Street] movement. My objective is to highlight important news stories and find the truth that is hidden behind what [columnist] Joe Bageant [died 2011] called the American Hologram.

Note this about my repost below: content has been edited in places; some of Mike’s images have been omitted; hyperlinks have been added; bulleted formatting has been added to amplify chains of reasoning; many subheadings have been added to facilitate reading for information; and text highlighting has been added to bring ideas to the fore.

At the bottom of this post are the definitions of four key physics terms that appear in this article: energy, power, work, and biophysics.

To read xraymike79’s original article on his website, appropriately named “Collapse of Industrial Civilization,” click on the following linked title.

**********

The Biophysics of Civilization, Money = Energy, and the Inevitability of Collapse by xraymike79, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, March 2014

“Civilization must constantly consume in order to sustain itself against this constant loss of energy and matter…”

“…the Second Law [of Thermodynamics] also demands that nothing can do anything without consuming concentrated energy, or fuel, and then dissipating it as unusable waste heat. For example, the Earth “consumes” concentrated sunlight to power weather and the water cycle, and then radiates unusable thermal energy to the cold of space. Like the weather in our atmosphere, all economic actions and motions, even our thoughts, must also be propelled by a progression from concentrated fuel to useless waste heat. The economy would grind to a halt absent continued energetic input. Buildings crumble; people die; technology becomes obsolete; we forget. Civilization must constantly consume in order to sustain itself against this constant loss of energy and matter…” [Source: Tim Garrett, Can we predict long-run economic growth? The Retirement Management Journal, Vol 2, No. 2, Summer 2012]

To keep civilization running, 17 trillion watts of power are consumed daily to keep 7 billion bodies alive

On average the human brain experiences 70,000 thoughts daily and requires roughly 24 watts or roughly 500 Calories during that time to function. To keep modern civilization running, 17 trillion Watts of power are consumed, 4% of which goes to keeping humanity’s 7 billion bodies alive while the rest powers our buildings, machines, and agriculture.

+ The laws of thermodynamics require that all systems, whether natural or inorganic, evolve and grow through the conversion of environmental potential energy into a dissipated form known commonly as waste heat. 

+ Most of the energy we need to run industrial civilization still comes from fossil fuels with coal being the primary source, and projections are that this will remain so far into the future.

+ Since fossil fuels give off nasty greenhouse gasses that heat up the planet and destabilize the biosphere, the obvious question is whether our economic engine can be decoupled from CO2 emissions.

Atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett has a few papers on this subject and a new paper on collapse which I’ll mention at the end, but first let’s review and get an understanding of what he said in his censored* paper, ‘Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?  [*Garrett’s 19-page paper was submitted in 2008, and published online in 2009. Garrett writes about the biased criticism of his paper in a piece titled Criticisms from Climatic Change written in 2014].

Conclusions of the paper entitled ‘Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?’:

+ Improving energy efficiency accelerates CO2 emissions growth.

+ Absent collapsing the economy (In other words turning the inflation adjusted GDP to zero), emissions can be stabilized only by building the equivalent of one nuke plant per day globally (or some other non CO2-emitting power supply)

+ Emissions growth has inertia (due to the high probability of points one and two)

The present state and growth of civilization are determined by the past, and the past fundamentally cannot be changed. Thus we are set on a trajectory that can lead to simplified predictions of the future.

Where does the value of money come from?

From an economics perspective, the value of money is belief-based

An economist would say that its value is fundamentally belief-based. I believe it has value and you believe it has value; therefore, it has value.

From a physics perspective, what turns that piece of paper, money, into something of value is its physical relationship to our rate of energy consumption

From a physics perspective, this [economics] explanation is a bit unsatisfactory because it doesn’t really explain where that belief comes from. Why is that belief so resilient?

Presumably that belief has some physical representation because civilization certainly is part of the physical universe. It’s not separate from it. We are all part of the physical world.

Here’s the reasoning

+ Civilization is an organism that can be defined by how it consumes/transforms energy.

+ Physics can be used to describe civilization.

+ There are basic laws of thermodynamics and, fundamentally, physics is about the transformation of energy from one state to another or really the flow of energy downhill, or more strictly, the flow of material downhill from a high potential state to a low potential state. You can think of a ball rolling from a high gravitational potential to a low gravitational potential.

+ Money is a representation of some energetic flow [economic activity] from high potential to low potential. +

+ Economic wealth represents the rate of consumption of energy in civilization.

+ Human civilization represents a gradient between available energy supplies (coal, oil, uranium) and a point of low potential (depleted energy resources).

+ We consume energy, things happen in civilization due to the flow across that potential gradient (high to low) releasing waste heat which radiates to outer space at a cold temperature of about 255 Kelvin (-18ºC).

+ We can treat civilization as a single organism that interacts on a global scale with available energy reservoirs and through the transformation of that energy (stuff is done, economic activity occurs).

+ Money is a representation of that capacity to do stuff physically (or how fast it can consume that energy).

+ This is a testable hypothesis and it can be expressed mathematically which means we can look at this quantitatively.

Accumulated wealth enables us to produce more wealth, which enables civilization to grow

Wealth is the value of something that has accumulated over time. Based on what we currently have, we are able to produce more which gives us more power to produce even more in the future. It’s through this spontaneous feedback process that civilization is able to grow.

The question is, “How do you calculate this accumulated wealth?”

Economists use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure wealth

Economists use GDP as a wealth indicator. All the economic production added up from the beginning of history up to the present is the total accumulated wealth for civilization.

GDP is expressed as units of currency over a period of time

GDP has units of currency per time, so it’s a production per year.

Inflation-adjusted production is producing something new to be added to what we currently have and that added over time creates our wealth.

The hypothesis says that this process is related to our rate of energy consumption through a constant value λ (9.7, plus or minus 0.3, milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar].

The equation has been tested using historical data sources of GDP, world energy production, and CO2 emissions

+ This can be tested with various historical GDP statistics along with records of world total energy production and CO2 emissions. [Data sources include: World real GDP since 1970 (UN); Historical world GDP estimates since 1AD (Maddison, 2003); World total primary energy production since 1970 (DOE); and CO2 emissions (CDIAC)

+ This hypothesis is supported by the data to an extremely high degree of confidence.

What turns that piece of paper (currency) into a potential to do something is the milliwatts per dollar, as calculated in the chart below:

The next graph shows that money is power

The graph below shows statistics from the year 1700 onward for inflation-adjusted world GDP(P) Green line. The time integral of GDP, or wealth of civilization(C), is represented by the blue line which has increased by a factor of 6 or 7($300 trillion to $1700 trillion) since 1700. Bursts of growth are seen around 1880 and 1950 in the purple line(η) which is the annual percentage growth rate of world GDP, calculated by dividing the GDP(P) by the wealth of civilization(C). Today [2007] the world GDP is about 100 times larger than it was in 1970.

The growth of red line(a), primary energy consumption rate, is essentially moving in tandem with the wealth of civilization (blue line). This suggests that, fundamentally, money is power.

The black line represents the constant coefficient of the power of money λ (9.7, plus or minus 0.3, milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar).

How are emissions related to wealth?

+ It is the relation of energy consumption and the resultant emissions. Emission rates are fundamentally linked to the wealth of civilization:

+ You cannot reduce emission rates without reducing the “wealth” of civilization.

+ Wealth is energy consumption;

+ energy consumption is carbon dioxide emissions;

+ [Contrary to what Canadian PM Trudeau repeatedly says] Wealth cannot be decoupled [separated from] CO2 emissions without abandoning a fossil-fuel economy;

+ There are no other options.

There are only two ways to stabilize CO2 levels, and both are highly improbable

In order to just stabilize CO2 levels, you would have to decarbonize as fast as the current growth rate in energy consumption which would work out to about one nuclear power plant per day (or some other comparable non CO2-emitting energy supply).

If you look at atmospheric CO2 concentrations in parts per million by volume [ppmv] (from various sources including ice cores) and compare that to the world GDP going back to 2 A.D., the values increase pretty much in tandem through history:

To reduce CO2 emissions, something has to collapse

“If we want to reduce CO2, something has to collapse.”

In more recent years, the world GDP plotted against atmospheric CO2 shows an even more tight relationship between the two:

“You could just go to the top of Mauna Loa with a CO2 monitor and measure the size of the global economy to a high degree of accuracy.”

The positive feedback of building wealth in civilization

GDP is really just an abstract ability to increase our capacity to consume more energy in the future

Wealth is a representation of energy consumption rates. Real GDP is a representation of the growth rate in energy consumption rates. This cycle is fundamentally linked to physics through the parameter lambda λ (9.7 milliwatts per inflation-adjusted dollar).

GDP is really just an abstract representation of an ability to increase our capacity to consume more energy in the future.  That’s what the production really represents.

Civilization is always trying to expand its energy consumption to accumulate more wealth

Civilization is always trying to expand its energy consumption to accumulate more wealth, or reduce the cost of maintenance by improving energy efficiency. More available energy translates into more accumulated wealth which in turn requires more energy for maintenance, creating a vicious circle of unending growth. Energy conservation essentially does not help. The fear of contraction permeates every corner of the economy.

Increasing efficiency just accelerates economic growth and more energy consumption – pure madness

We could apply this to civilization. If we increase efficiency, it leads to accelerated growth and more energy consumption. This phenomenon is known as Jevon’s paradox, first noted in 1865.

Increased energy efficiency = feedback loop of building wealth = super exponential growth = accelerated CO2 emissions

Increased energy efficiency increases the positive feedback of building wealth in civilization which can lead to super exponential growth, and that leads to an ever accelerated increase of CO2 emissions.

Feedback loop (rate of return) has gone from 0.1% in 1700 to 2.2% per year

This feedback loop (rate of return) for building wealth in civilization has increased from about 0.1% per year in 1700 to 2.2% per year, the highest it’s ever been in history.

Sudden turning points for rate of return likely correspond to new energy reservoirs

As mentioned before, there are a couple of inflection points [turning points] in history for this rate of return, one in 1880 and another in 1950 which likely correspond to new energy reservoirs coming online. This means the problem is fundamentally a geologic problem. 1950-1970 was a boom time for the wealth rate of return.

Causes associated with current stagnant rate of return

+ This rate of return has been stagnant in recent years for the first time since the 1930’s, probably related to the current economic crisis.

+ The sheer size of modern civilization has vastly overshot the Earth’s regenerative abilities.

+ Biophysical limits on resource extraction are likely a major contributor to this stagnant rate of return.

+ The extraction of low-grade, dirty fossil fuels is a sign of civilization’s energy desperation.

Emissions Impossible…

We‘re not really reducing CO2 emissions

We aren’t really decarbonizing. Perhaps we’re trying to, but not really.

Reducing carbon requires a rapid reduction in the size of maintained wealth

The model shows that reducing carbon requires a rapid reduction in the size of maintained wealth, as well as rapid abandonment of carbon-burning energy sources at the global rate of 300 GW of new non carbon-emitting power capacity—approximately one new nuclear power plant per day.

International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SPES) underestimates CO2 emission rates for given level of economic prosperity

“Extending the model to the future, the model suggests that the well-known IPCC SRES scenarios substantially underestimate how much CO2 levels will rise for a given level of future economic prosperity.

+ For one, global CO2 emission rates cannot be decoupled from wealth through efficiency gains.

+ For another, like a long-term natural disaster, future greenhouse warming can be expected to act as an inflationary drag on the real growth of global wealth.

+ For atmospheric CO2 concentrations to remain below a “dangerous” level of 450 ppmv, model forecasts suggest that there will have to be some combination of an unrealistically rapid rate of energy decarbonization and nearly immediate reductions in global civilization wealth.

+ Effectively, it appears that civilization may be in a double-bind. If civilization does not collapse quickly this century, then CO2 levels will likely end up exceeding 1000 ppmv; but, if CO2 levels rise by this much, then the risk is that civilization will gradually tend towards collapse.”

With business as usual (BAU) we’re headed for atmospheric CO2 level of about 1,200 parts per million

With business-as-usual, by 2100 the world GDP would be 10 times higher than today and the atmospheric CO2 would be around 1200 ppm

The developed countries like the U.S., Britain, and Europe have simply offshored their manufacturing base to China and elsewhere for the most part.

Summation – [There’s no way out]

“Theoretical and numerical arguments suggest that when growth rates approach zero, civilization becomes fragile to such externalities as natural disasters, and the risk is for an accelerating collapse”

Garrett’s latest paper “Long-run evolution of the global economy: 1. Physical basis” explains key components determining whether civilization can “innovate” itself toward faster economic growth through new energy reserve discovery, improvements to human and infrastructure longevity, and more energy efficient resource extraction technology.

+ Growth slows due to a combination of prior growth, energy reserve depletion, and a “fraying” of civilization networks due to natural disasters…

+ While growth must initially be positive for civilization to emerge, positive growth cannot be sustained forever.

+ Civilization networks are always falling apart, and presumably in a world with finite resources, we will eventually lose the capacity to keep fixing them.”

+ Future loss of useable Land and Water is already in the pipeline from all prior carbon emissions, and CO2 emissions continue to rise unabated.

+ “Whether collapse comes sooner or later depends on the quantity of energy reserves available to support continued growth and the accumulated magnitude of externally imposed decay…

+ Theoretical and numerical arguments suggest that when growth rates approach zero, civilization becomes fragile to such externalities as natural disasters, and the risk is for an accelerating collapse.”

END OF MIKE’S SUMMATION OF TIM GARRETT’S 2008 GROUNDBREAKING PAPER *****

Definitions of four key physics terms

energy – The property of matter and radiation which is manifest as a capacity to perform work (such as causing motion or the interaction of molecules).

power – The rate of doing work, measured in watts.

work – The exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change.

biophysics — The science of the application of the laws of physics to biological phenomena.

 

*****

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.]

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

 

*****

“For CO2 to decline, the global economy will have to collapse” – An explanation for ordinary folks

“It’s hard to imagine how civilization CANNOT be in dire straights during this century,” says physicist Tim Garrett.

No 2375 Posted by fw, September 23, 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

“Now, decarbonizing civilization — presumably it would cost money. And we would only do it with the expectation that it would help alleviate the worst damages of global warming. … But remember, anything that benefits us in the long run is effectively measurable as an increase in our wealth. And an increase in our wealth will translate to an increase in our energy consumption. In essence what happens is decarbonizing promotes our wealth, and our energy consumption, in the future. But increasing our energy consumption, as long as we are partly a fossil fuel economy, will correspond to increasing fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. So, this doesn’t completely offset the decarbonization gains, but because it promotes society’s health, we actually do not gain as much from decarbonizing, as one might initially expect. Because it’s a dynamic system, and we would actually continue to grow faster than we would otherwise.”Tim Garrett, Radio Ecoshock interview

Today’s repost of part two of Radio Ecoshock’s two conversations with University of Utah Physics Professor Dr. Tim Garrett, follows up on the first part of a previous discussion reposted on my website on September 23, under my title: Despite his dire future prospects for humanity, in 2010 physicist Tim Garrett was taking things in stride. (The original broadcast of this interview occurred on February 5, 2010).

In this repost, Radio Ecoshock’s host, Alex Smith, questions Garrett about his 2010 paper titled No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change. (The original broadcast of this interview occurred on November 19, 2010. Both interviews were re-broadcast together on Radio Ecoshock, on July 16, 2014 under the title The Big Picture Like It or Not)

Before getting into Smith’s November 19, 2010 discussion with Tim Garrett, take a look at the following telling exchange between Smith and Garrett, which, although erased from the audio file, was (inadvertently?) left in Alex’s transcript:

Smith — Tim, people seem really enthusiastic about your work – even though it shows us playing into some kind of End Game. Isn’t that strange?

Garrett — You know, I don’t know how much enthusiasm there really is, but I think, in a lot of ways, people have some sort of hunch that things like energy efficiency actually leads to more energy consumption. [Yet] we hear this repeated mantra that it leads to less energy consumption. And we think that energy efficiency increases our ability to lead wealthy, happy lives. [But] I know that healthy, happy lives tends to correspond to increased energy consumption. I think some people are just more receptive to really fairly intuitive obvious ideas. And perhaps another perspective is, you know, maybe this is a really cynical statement, but if things really truly are hopeless, well then we don’t have to worry as much. We can just enjoy the present.

On a personal note, although Garrett’s explanation in this second interview helps to clarify his thinking, I still find it a challenge to wrap my non-scientist’s brain around his explanation. Consequently, some small, quiet voice within resists conceding that there is no way out of this existential nightmare we have created for ourselves. Are we truly doomed? In Garrett’s words, is the best we can hope for is to “just enjoy the present?

Getting back to today’s repost, I have added six main headings to Alex’s transcript to assist readers to follow the flow of Garrett’s reasoning process:

+Towards an understanding of the relationship between energy and the wealth of civilization
+ What does this relationship have to do with CO2 emissions?
+ What does inflation have to do with climate change?
+ What are the future implications of the intrinsic coupling of CO2 emissions and wealth?
+ Why does it make little sense to keep CO2 levels low in the long run?
+ Why is geoengineering clouds unlikely to stave off a climate disaster?

In addition to these six main heading, I have also made some correction to errors in Smith’s transcript, and added subheadings and text highlighting to the content to facilitate selective reading for information and to bring Garrett’s big ideas to the fore.

Reposted below is my embedded audio of Alex Smith’s interview of Tim Garrett – the Soundcloud version –along with Smith’s accompanying transcript. The audio starts at the 18:17 point and ends at 38:45. To listen to Radio Ecoshock interview on Soundcloud’s website, which does not include Smith’s transcript, click on the following linked title. To watch the interview, and access Radio Ecoshock’s version of Smith’s interview, click on The Big Picture Like It or Not. To access Smith’s transcript of the interview, click on this link: https://www.ecoshock.org/transcripts/ES_Garrett_Transcript.htm

**********

The big picture like it or not by Radio Ecoshock, posted on Soundcloud, July 16, 2014

TRANSCRIPT (Start 18:17, End 38:45)

18:17 — Ecoshock Host Alex Smith: Hello. I’m Alex Smith – with a serious question for you. What if the past determines our future?  Are we humans headed for success? Or a lasting economic Depression, perhaps on an overheated planet?

Dr. Timothy Garrett is Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, at the University of Utah. In February 2010, Tim joined us on Radio Ecoshock, to discuss his disturbing new scientific paper. It outlined a direct relationship, between the energy we burn, the wealth we create, and the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Now he’s gone a step further, with some new work. [No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change.] So Dr. Tim Garrett, welcome back to Radio Ecoshock.

Tim Garrett: Thanks for having me.

[Towards an understanding of the relationship between energy and the wealth of civilization]

Alex: I think we should start with your original formula for energy and wealth. Can you take a shot at explaining that for the intelligent listener?

Garrett’s assumption: the wealth of civilization has a direct link to how much energy we consume

Garrett: Yeah, sure. I mean it really started as just a simple query, as to where the economic value comes from. Coming from a physics background, and being totally naive in economics, I thought well maybe it has something to do with the rate of energy consumption by civilization. In other words, perhaps that our wealth, the wealth of civilization, has a direct link to how much energy we can consume. To me, that seemed like a reasonable assumption, because in order for us to do anything, which I suppose is perhaps a measure of our wealth, we need to consume energy.

Basic law of physics: It’s through energy transformations that anything happens

That’s a basic law of the physical universe — It is through energy transformations that anything happens.

Every dollar of economic value created by global civilization is linked to how much energy we consume because we can’t create wealth without doing something that uses energy

And so what I tried to do was just simply look at this, using some available data. And it turned out that this relationship is in fact fixed — There is a constant relationship of about 10 milliwatts that is required to support every inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar of economic value. That was the core result of the first paper I did into this [subject].

[What does this relationship have to do with CO2 emissions?]

Garrett next looked at the implication of this relationship for global warming

And what I tried to do is go from there, to see what this implied for subjects such as global warming, which are closer to my primary field of research in atmospheric sciences.

20:29 — Alex: Based on everything we know so far, if we grow the economy, as every politician promises, we’ll put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But what if the economy crashes? Will we put we put less up there? Will we reach safe levels if we have a severe downturn?

For Garrett, wealth is defined as the accumulation of our past production of economic value

Garrett: Well, this is where my work differed slightly from what other people were thinking. Now the way I defined wealth is that it is the accumulation of our past production of economic value. So what we have today is an accumulation of what we’ve been able to do in the past.

Surprisingly, if GDP declines over time, CO2 emissions would NOT decline, they would grow

Now, when you talk about the economy declining, usually what people think about it they think about GDP [Gross Domestic Product] going down – the Gross World Product declining with time. And what I showed was that if the GDP declines with time, which is ordinarily what we would think of as being a Depression, this would not in fact correspond to lower carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, carbon dioxide emissions would need to grow.

For carbon emissions to decline, the Gross World Product (GWP) would have to collapse, i.e. be offset by inflation

Instead, in order for carbon dioxide emissions to go down, what would be required is effectively a complete collapse of the economyA collapse in the sense that the Gross World Product would have to be almost completely offset by inflation.

In other words, we would have to be in a situation of “net consumption” rather than “net production”

So that in some sense – it would seem strange to an economist to think about this – but in some sense the global product would have to be negative, rather than positive. In other words, would have to be in a situation of net consumption, rather than net production. We are consuming more of what we have produced in the past, rather than producing new, increasing wealth. So that’s a rather extreme situation, but this is what the data bears out as being required to have lower carbon dioxide emissions.

22:34 — Alex: So, if I understand you correctly, your definition of wealth does not include the sort of fantasy money, like the Quantitative Easing from the U.S. Federal Reserve – but it includes everything that humans have produced that’s still here from the beginning of time. I mean even the Pantheon in Rome would be part of our accumulated wealth at this point…

Garrett: Yes. That’s a very good point. Part of my wealth is my house. But the house was produced back in 1926.

[What does inflation have to do with climate change?]

Alex: And you have a new paper in the journal “Climate Change”*, and the title is “On the coupled evolution of inflation, wealth, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.”* And you go a step further here, predicting, it seems to me, almost the worst of all worlds: high levels of greenhouse gases – AND inflation. I still don’t really get what has inflation got to do with climate change. [*Correction – I could not find a paper with this title Alex cites in the journal Climate Change or in any other journal: however, I did find what I believe may be the paper Alex is referring, now entitled, No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change and available in arXiv.org at Cornell University Library. To access just click on the preceding linked title].

Garrett: I was actually just down in New Orleans, for a scientific meeting. And I spent some time after that with my family. We went to some local museums – and of course in New Orleans there’s the lasting legacy of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Natural disasters are inflationary because they destroy “past production”, thereby driving up the cost of having to replace what was lost with new costlier stuff

And with Katrina, as it was with perhaps all natural disasters, natural disasters historically they have been inflationary. What they do is they destroy past production, while people perhaps still have the dollars in their pockets, but there are fewer things available for their dollars to be matched to. So the cost of what is present goes up in cost.

Now this isn’t how I approached it in the paper, but I think this is how an economist would normally approach the topic.

The way that I approached it in the paper was that I showed that environmental destruction – whether is it by disease, or by weather, or whatever it is – is effectively a decay on our past production, that devalues what we have. And that is effectively an inflationary pressure.

Global warming is like a long-term natural disaster, which happens not just locally but globally

Now what you can think about global warming being is, in some sense it’s like a long-term natural disaster. It is not only a long-term natural disaster that happens continuously, unlike Katrina which was momentary, but it also happens globally.

Localized disasters like Katrina cause short-term, manageable inflation 

So with Katrina, it was instantaneous, effectively instantaneous, and it caused short-term inflation. But then people were able to come in from outside and provide new resources that stabilized the New Orleans economy. [When] I was in New Orleans, things were expensive still, but it wasn’t out of this world.

In the future, ever-increasing environmental pressures, acting globally, will affect everybody 

But in a future world, you can imagine … now this is slightly speculative, but it is consistent with what you would expect from the Physics… you could imagine that there is an ever-increasing environmental pressure on civilization that continually acts as an ever-stronger force that eats away at what we have produced in the past.

And this will be an inflationary pressure, that cannot be supplanted by outside resources, from outside because it is acting globally, it will be affecting everybody.

25:46 — Alex: Right. If we have rising seas, for example, eating up some of our best farmland, or salinating it, you can’t make some more land like that. It’s gone.

Garrett: Exactly.

Alex: So that pushes up the price of all the remaining land, and that’s how climate change can create inflation, for example.

Garrett: Yes.

Alex: This is Radio Ecoshock. I’m Alex Smith with Dr. Timothy Garrett, an atmospheric scientist, from the University of Utah.

[What are the future implications of the intrinsic coupling of CO2 emissions and wealth?]

I’d like to get to the conclusions of your new paper. Based on our past records of energy use and wealth, what does your model show as possible futures?

The fact that CO2 emissions and wealth are coupled has implications for the future

Garrett: Well, in fact, this was actually stimulated by our past conversation. In my first study [Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide? ], I showed that carbon dioxide emissions and wealth were intrinsically coupled. Without actually decarbonizing the economy by switching to renewables, or nuclear power, at an extraordinarily fast rate, you cannot have wealth without having carbon dioxide emissions. The two go together. And in fact, since 1970, the relationship between the two has been very, very tightly fixed. Now, that would seem to have implications for the future, because carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere.

As carbon emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, civilization’s wealth will be eroded

As carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, some fraction goes into what we call “sinks” in the oceans and the land, but about half of what we emit accumulates in the atmosphere. That is going to create an ever increasing pressure on civilization.

By eating away at civilization’s wealth, global warming will actually reduce our capacity to emit carbon dioxide. So there’s actually what you would call in Physics a “negative feedback.”

Our wealth “emits’ CO2, which accumulates, undermining our capacity to produce new wealth

So our wealth is emitting CO2, CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, and then feeds back on our capacity to produce new wealth.

Eventually, carbon levels get so high that civilization enters into a phase of collapse

Eventually one could imagine that civilization would enter into a phase of collapse because the carbon dioxide levels are so high, that we are simply unable to produce new goods, without them being destroyed by global warming.

Unable to produce new goods, CO2 emissions would drop and eventually stabilize

And at that point, perhaps, emissions would go down. Eventually, if civilization collapsed fast enough, then perhaps carbon dioxide concentrations [in the atmosphere] would be stabilized.

[Why does it make little sense to keep CO2 levels low in the long run?] 

To keep CO2 emissions at 450 ppm would require “flat out civilization collapse”

Now you asked me last time, what would be required to keep carbon dioxide concentrations at 450 parts per million. And that’s normally what’s considered at a dangerous level, let’s say during the Copenhagen Accord. And I made a guess that it would require actually flat out civilization collapse. Based on some preliminary work that I did, and I decided to look into this more deeply. I actually wrote a second paper, where it turns out that is true.

Not only would we have to have civilization collapse starting very, very soon, like within the next decade or so. But we would also have to have extremely rapid decarbonization, in order to keep carbon dioxide levels below let’s say 500 parts per million – twice pre-industrial levels.

If emissions increased to 1000 ppm, global warming would be at least 5°C, causing catastrophic scenarios

In order to keep them below 1,000… Well, without civilization collapse — let’s say we have continuing health, let’s say the civilization is very resilient to global warming — then carbon dioxide levels are going to go extremely high by the end of this century, probably above 1,000 parts per million.

You think about 1,000 parts per million, that’s probably – it depends on what the climate sensitivity really is – but that’s something along the lines of 5°C warming at least. And when we think about 5 degrees Celsius warming, people who are familiar with this, usually start bringing up highly catastrophic scenarios.

In some sense, it’s hard to imagine how civilization cannot be in pretty dire straights during this century.

29:46 — Alex: I hear people suggesting we could make a big cut in carbon emissions just with energy efficiency. We’ll all get electric cars, and we’ll put in the light bulbs… I’ve heard that you don’t think so much about energy efficiency as a way to save ourselves.

Energy efficiency leads to more energy consumption, which grows civilization and its wealth, which increases CO2 emissions

Garrett: Actually, it’s almost counter-intuitive. But no, in fact it’s the other way around. The whole reason that civilization has been so successful, and has grown so quickly is that we are energy efficient. It is our efficiency of taking material goods and energy, and converting them into production and net growth, that actually leads to us producing carbon dioxide.

Given this harmful sequence of events, why do we continue to measure our general wellbeing in terms of economic wealth

The increasingly efficient we become, the more efficient we become at growing civilization and it’s wealth. I think this is just common sense. We always strive for efficiency because we have some underlying sense that efficiency is good for our general well being. But our general wellbeing is generally measured in terms of economic wealth. And as I showed, economic wealth has a direct correspondence to carbon dioxide emissions.

So increasing energy efficiency leads to more energy consumption, and more energy consumption leads to more carbon dioxide emissions. And I’m not the first person to say this. This has actually been pointed out by energy economists ever since the late 1800’s. So I’m not sure why it’s not more generally accepted today.

31:16 Alex: The study of economy has been called “The Dismal Science”. Your new paper might qualify for that title. The Abstract reads “There are no plausible, thermodynamically supported solutions that avoid inflation rates less than 100%, and lead to stabilized atmospheric CO2 concentrations, within this century.” To me that says we either get worthless money, or a dangerous atmosphere, or both? Are these our choices?

Our choices come down to worthless, inflationary money or a dangerous atmosphere or both

Garrett: I don’t see any other optionsI suppose what you could argue is that civilization could decarbonize — switch to renewable and nuclear power – at such an extraordinarily fast rate that, in some sense we decouple ourselves from the atmosphere. In other words, we are able to keep consuming energy without affecting atmospheric composition.

So, decarbonizing civilization makes little sense in the long run because we will continue to grow faster

But even there, – in some sense it’s rather amusing — well it’s intellectually amusing at least – that decarbonizing civilization will actually not be as effective as one might expect.

Now, decarbonizing civilization — let’s say we were to approach this proactively — presumably it would cost money. And we would only do it with the expectation that it would help alleviate the worst damages of global warming. And that makes sense. I mean, why would we do it otherwise? We would put in the effort because it will benefit us in the long run.

But remember, anything that benefits us in the long run is effectively measurable as an increase in our wealth. And an increase in our wealth will translate to an increase in our energy consumption. In essence what happens is decarbonizing promotes our wealth, and our energy consumption, in the future.

But increasing our energy consumption, as long as we are partly a fossil fuel economy, will correspond to increasing fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. So, this doesn’t completely offset the decarbonization gains, but because it promotes society’s health, we actually do not gain as much from decarbonizing, as one might initially expect. Because it’s a dynamic system, and we would actually continue to grow faster than we would otherwise.

33:39– Alex: I can see it. I mean if we build a lot of nuclear power plants, it’s gonna take some carbon shovels to get all that cement going, and all the materials still have to be brought out. We’re going to use oil to do it, and so there might actually be a burst of new emissions trying to do that.

Garrett: Oh yeah, there’s that too.

[Why is geoengineering clouds unlikely to stave off a climate disaster?]

Alex: Recently, I recorded a speech by the former Whole Earth Catalog guru, Stewart Brand. He calls for an all-out effort to geo-engineer the planet, to stave off a climate disaster. He likes the idea of making clouds brighter by shooting sea water into them. That’s supposed to reflect more sunlight, hoping to cool the Earth. You are a scientist with expertise in clouds. What do you think about that?

Garrett: I’m quite skeptical that that would work. With geoengineering, the main question is not whether we should do it, but perhaps when we will do it. Because one can imagine that civilization will always try to do whatever it can, to optimize its capacity to grow.

But with regards to brightening clouds, that’s been suggested as perhaps a viable way of doing it. One popular way that’s been suggested is to produce lot’s of sea spray from some fancy ships. This sea spray goes up into the clouds, and that makes them brighter, because if there are lots of small aerosol particles, these sea salt particles, then there will be more droplets in the clouds, and also smaller droplets.

That has two effects. One is that, for some reasons I won’t describe, it makes the clouds brighter, just by having a large number of small droplets, you have brighter clouds, than clouds that have a small number of large droplets.

But it also tends to shut off precipitation of the clouds. And because precipitation is a sink, a means of losing water from clouds, – it has been argued that the clouds will have longer lifetimes, and therefore reflect more sunlight to space for a longer period of time, and because they are brighter, they will reflect more.

These ideas have been around since the 1970’s and 1980’s. It has since become apparent to a lot of researchers in this area that the effect is not nearly as strong as one might initially expect. There are all sorts of, again, negative feedbacks. These negative feedbacks often act to entirely erase the brightening effect that you might expect from these aerosols going into the clouds.

I mean, just think of one example. The clouds that would be targeted would these large sheets of Stratus clouds. And Stratus Cumulus clouds that are off the Western coasts of continents.

So where you are, I guess you are in Vancouver, are you, they are probably very familiar with low level clouds. I used to live in Seattle and you know in Seattle the entire winter was covered with this large deck of low level clouds.

Now these clouds, if we brighten them, then they tend to be over the ocean – if we brighten them, then less solar radiation comes in to heat up the surface. And it is warming at the surface that enables these fluxes of moisture and heat from the oceans, and from the surface, upwards into the atmosphere that enable the clouds to form in the first place.

So let’s say the clouds become brighter. They cool the surface. And there’s less flux of heat and moisture to form the clouds, and then the clouds dissipate. It could be that adding aerosols to clouds does not make them brighter and more long lived, but actually shorter lived, and darker.

[Garrett the troublemaker — in a way]

37:22 — Alex: You know… you’re kind of a troublemaker, in a way. Because we’ve got a lot of people who are looking for a realistic way out of this awful dilemma. And you’ve got a really sharp mind that seems to me, you can stick some pins in the balloon, and away it goes. But I guess that really is what science is about. I mean, we’re looking for what is real, and what works, and what doesn’t.

Thinking about these problems is part of “the joys of trying to figure something out”

Garrett: Of course. You know, these are interesting physics problems. I mean one of the privileges of being a university scientist is of course, you get to think about these problems for the simple joy of thinking about them. And if the answers end up one way, rather than the other, well so be it. That’s the joys of trying to figure something out.

For me, that was the fun of doing the economics problem. I have no background in economics, but I am as much a player as anybody else in the economic system. Wouldn’t it be fun, if it is possible, to understand the economic system using the tools that I as a physicist understand from my research in doing clouds.

Alex: Thank you so much for sharing you time with us.

Garrett: Thank you very much.

38:45 — END OF INTERVIEW

 

*****

It’s inevitable civilization will collapse — The more important question is What will this collapse look like?

Since things are already happening rapidly, we are talking about timescales of the next few decades.

No 2376 Posted by fw, September 30, 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

“I believe that the universe is determinate, that things will unfold as they will unfold, and in the same way that they have always been determined to unfold. And I see this as a direct result of the laws of physics, specifically thermodynamics. I appreciate that others will not share that point of view and appeal more to human agency. The one thing I do believe is that if there is a solution out there, we should be very critical of those who advertise things that may be fairy tales – that are things that are as they might wish them to be. There may not be clear solutions that are the most obvious ones. It turns out from the work I’ve done for example that pursuing increased energy efficiency probably makes things worse rather than better because it aids to help the civilization and the healthier civilization is, the more it consumes. … Because it is only by understanding how civilization works that we can then start to think about how the future might change if there were certain adjustments that might be made. That’s where I, as a scientist, I would prefer to see the focus, not on the politics, rather on the science.”Tim Garrett, 2016 Radio interview

Note: This post replaces a similar one posted on September 27, 2018, which has now been deleted.

Below is an abridged transcript of a fascinating 2016 radio interview with physics professor Tim Garrett of the University of Utah. I say ‘fascinating’ because the program host and interviewer, Doug Bennett, asserts that “climate change and solutions to the problems we are facing has been a focus of mine for quite awhile.” He adamantly believes there are solutions to the economic growth- and climate-driven existential crisis humanity faces. However, when Doug is confronted by Tim Garrett’s lengthy, tight, physics-based reasoning, which blows huge holes in his (Doug’s) suggested “solutions”, he stubbornly clings to his disconfirmation biases. Or is it that he simply does not grasp Garrett’s information-rich thinking, even when Garrett does his utmost to simplify his explanations. And, in fairness to Doug, Garrett’s use of familiar terms like ‘wealth’ in an unfamiliar way can be confounding to the untutored. As well, Garrett’s introduction of analogies into the conversation can be disorienting, and the counter-intuitiveness of some of his arguments can be perplexing to ordinary folks.

Despite some bumps in the conversation, of the several Garrett posts on my blog, this one is the one that I found to offer the most helpful explanation of the professor’s thinking about the collapse of civilization.  

Regarding my transcript of the interview, posted below, because Bennett’s rambling comments take up almost half of the one-hour interview, I have omitted all but his introduction. These omissions in the transcript are indicated by ***** DB OMITTED *****

When listening to the audio, the only way to skip through Doug’s remarks is to fast-forward the playback. Since the audio of the interview is set to play in another Tab, it is possible to listen to the audio while following the transcript in an adjacent Tab.

To access the radio program click on the following linked title, which opens the program in another Tab. To read the transcript, simply scroll down. The transcript includes a chronological index to the audio, added subheadings, and highlighted text. The subheadings provide an excellent summary of Garrett’s thinking.

**********

We Talk the Thermodynamics of Civilization with Professor Tim Garrett, Radio Broadcast by KKRN.org, on Unspun: An Experiment in Truth-Telling, February 13, 2016

Host Doug Bennett (DB) / Guest Tim Garrett (TG)

TRANSCRIPT

DB 01:55 – 3:30 — Today our guest is Professor Tim Garrett. He’s currently the head of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah. After getting his doctorate in atmospheric science from the University of Washington in 2000, he spent two years as a Huber fellow at Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University, 2000-2002. He has been a visiting professor Université de Lille I, Lille, France, 2016-2017, and at Université Blaise Pascal II, Clermont-Ferrand, France, Summer, 2013.

He is a co-founder and president of two start-up companies: Fallgatter Technologies 2012-2015, and Particle Flux Analytics 2015 – present.

His research focus is the physics of clouds. He has developed “simple physical models for describing civilization’s growth. While clouds and economics may seem disconnected, both are complex systems that evolve according to non-equilibrium thermodynamic rules.”

When not doing research, he teaches graduate and undergraduate classes — cloud physics, atmospheric radiation, and thermodynamics. He also serves as a co-editor for the Copernicus open access journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Though our guest is mostly focused on physics, I have asked him to be on the air today to talk about his models of civilization and economics and their implications for our future. As regular listeners know, climate change and solutions to the problems we are facing has been a focus of mine for quite awhile.

Now, let’s welcome our guest, Professor Tim Garrett. Welcome to Unspun, An Experiment in Truth-Telling.

***** DB OMITTED *****

Think about civilization as being like an organism that consumes energy to survive

TG 04:26 – 12:02 – Civilization — when we think about everything in our world, I think we often think about things at a very local, personal level. We think about our own lives, the lives of the people around us. And our work. We go to work. We go shopping. And it’s sort of a small-scale perspective that we often have. Even when we think about environmental problems, we might think about – thinking globally, acting locally.

The perspective as a physicist, that is preferable to take, is sometimes just to try to stand back as far as possible. To try to see if all this complexity of our individual lives can somehow be simplified by looking at civilization as a whole. That’s the approach I try to take, which was to say: Well, okay, let’s forget about even countries or people – rather try to think about civilization as being like an organism, like maybe even an amoeba in a Petrie dish – or it could be any other organism that consumes energy in order to survive and maintain its existing operations – its circulations, everything that it does.

Civilization’s billions of people take potential energy and use it to do whatever it is they do

So if we think about civilization as a whole, we have all the countries and all the seven plus billion people in it, and we all interact in very complex ways. We do things ranging from international trade to just going to the grocery store, to going to and from work, to shopping on the Internet, making Google searches – whatever it is. And all these activities, as a consequence of a very basic rule in physics – the Second Law of Thermodynamics – must require a consumption of energy. This is unavoidable. So, in order for us to do anything, we must take [what physicists would call] high potential energy and dissipate it. We must take some energy that’s potentially useful and then use it in order to do whatever it is we do. We can’t escape this. We cannot do anything without consuming energy.

At the global level of civilization, energy comes from “primary energy supplies”

And then the question becomes well where does this energy come from? At the very local level this becomes a rather difficult question because we have energy from many different sources in many different forms. But at the global level – at the level of civilization – it becomes a much simpler problem. The only energy that’s really available to us is the energy that comes from what economists would call primary energy supplies. So these are things that we’re all familiar with like oil, gas, coal, nuclear power, wind power, solar power – all these things combined are what provide that potential energy that we can dissipate in order to do whatever it is we do.

After using energy, it gets dissipated as heat (e.g., CO2 emissions that cause global warming)

So, at one end we consume this energy, and then, somewhere much further down the road, after being used in many different ways, this energy gets dissipated as what we might call heat. So, that’s where the idea of a “heat engine” comes in. We consume high potential energy, we dissipate low potential energy, heat, which gets radiated into space eventually, and in the middle do what an engine does, which is we do all our circulations – these things I mentioned – could even be a Goggle search. Information goes out, information comes back. It’s like a piston in an engine – it goes up and then it comes down. These are the circulations that are powered by consumption of energy.

Civilization isn’t fixed, it grows – But how does it grow?

So what I did was to try to think about this concept of – well, maybe civilization is like this. And then I tried to ask – Well, how does this relate to economic quantities, like something that could be expressed in terms of say dollars?  And there, what I did was I tried to think about, well, how does civilization grow? Civilization isn’t fixed. We are growing. We’ve been growing for thousands of years.

Civilization grows because it is made of material resources from mines and forests

And there, thermodynamics turns out to be really helpful, because civilization isn’t actually made of energy. We’re made of matter, or stuff that comes out of mines or out of forests, whether it’s wood or copper or steel – whatever it is. And what this energy, this available energy does is not only does it enable us to keep doing what we’re doing, but also it allows us to extract stuff from the forests and from the mines so that we can build ourselves, so that we can grow. And it is by growing that ultimately we get bigger.

The bigger civilization gets, the more energy it consumes to sustain itself

And bigger things require more energy. So there is a positive feedback loop that happens – what I mean by a positive feedback loop is that as we consume energy, we can incorporate more matter, and as we incorporate more matter that makes all the buildings and us even – more people, roads, whatever it is – we are able to access these reserves of matter – wood and copper ore – whatever, even more efficiently than we were before, and that enables us to consume more energy, and then grow even further into more sources of energy. And as we get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, the more energy we require to maintain ourselves.

The Gross World Product, at the level of civilization, is an expression of this growth

And it turns out this can be expressed economically. It turns out that the GDP, the Gross Domestic Product – or the Gross World Product at the level of civilization — is an expression of this growth. And because there’s a clear link to energy consumption, we can also make a clear link to things that are more closely related to my interest in atmospheric sciences. Because energy largely comes from fossil fuels, we can also relate global economic quantities now to things like carbon dioxide emissions.

Physicist Garrett thinks about the economic problem as a physics problem, which allows him to make predictions about the economy and how much CO2 civilization will emit in the future

And that’s where things get interesting, where you start to be able to think about the economic problem as a physics problem. Can we predict economic growth? Well, sure. I mean, physics is really hard. I struggle with it. But it is physics, it is something that we can sort of work through and understand. Now we can start making predictions about the economy. And we can also start making predictions, too, about things like how much carbon dioxide civilization will continue to emit in the future.

***** DB OMITTED *****

The conventional economical view of ‘wealth’ is antithetical to thinking about how the universe actually works

TG 13:17 – 18:22 – There are many criticisms of the GDP. It doesn’t encompass much of what we do in our lives. I mean a common criticism of the formulas in the GDP is it doesn’t encompass things like, for example, work at home, which doesn’t get tallied as — in the GDP is some sort of a financial quantity. And I would totally agree with that criticism except I don’t think that’s a flaw of the GDP.

What the GDP expresses is the growth of wealth. It expresses the growth of civilization. It is not actually tied to the energy consumption itself, but it’s an expression of how the system, how civilization as a whole gets hungrier.

Let’s just take an example here. Let’s take you or I or anybody else, let’s say we produce. GDP means Gross Domestic Product. Let’s say we have somehow, through consuming more food, rather more than we have dissipated through exercise and just living, then we’ll get fatter. We’ve produced more of our body. And what happens when we get fatter? As a general rule, as we get bigger, or we grow through childhood to adulthood, we get hungrier. We must consume more energy in order to maintain our body mass.

If we’re going to draw and analogy here, the GDP is an expression of the increase in our requirement of energy. And then our wealth is a bit more like our body mass; it’s more closely linked to how much energy we currently consume.

Now, you think about “What is our wealth?” Traditionally in economics, wealth is thought about as one thing, plus another thing, plus another thing, plus another thing. This house is worth however much. And then if we had five houses there’s going to be five times as much in terms of wealth.

It’s more important to think about wealth as connections among things, relationships among aspects of civilization

I find that to be antithetical to how I would think about how the universe works. When we think about wealth, I think it’s more important to think about connections between things, about relationships among aspects of civilization – whether it’s us, or between anything in civilization, rather than the things themselves.

So let’s say we take a bar of gold. I think we’d all agree that a bar of gold is worth something. It’s worth quite a lot. But if it’s lost in the middle of the desert and nobody know about it anymore, it’s worth nothing. That bar of gold is only worth something, it only contributes to our wealth if it’s part of a larger system where it has connections to other aspects of the system.

Wealth is a measure of our connections to civilization, which facilitates dissipation of energy along those connections

So the way I think about wealth is that wealth is a measure of our connections to the civilization. It’s a measure of connections where connections are important because they represent our ability to dissipate energy. You cannot dissipate energy without there being one thing that’s connected to another thing. There has to be a flow from high to low in order to dissipate energy. That dissipation is along connections.

So that’s how I think about wealth. It’s about our connections. It’s about how we relate to one another. It’s about – I think we all feel that we are more wealthy personally if we have more social contacts, for example. So it’s connections that give us wealth.

Garrett calculates wealth as “the accumulation of production over the entire course of history”

But then the trick becomes — How do we calculate the wealth? And that requires a bit of extra thinking. And there what I did was I calculated wealth as the accumulation of inflation-adjusted GDP over the entire course of history. It’s the accumulation of production, like the accumulation of body mass, over time that leads to our current body mass or our current wealth.

Wealth has an invariable constant relationship to civilization’s rate of energy consumption

And there it turns out to be a rather wonderful result, the  result that’s at the core of my work, which is that our wealth, calculated this way, from year, to year, to year has the exact same relationship to civilization’s rate of energy consumption. It works out that every thousand dollars of wealth, in every single year is tied to seven watts of energy consumption globally. And that is an invariable constant for the past 40 plus years of data for which we actually have data.

***** DB OMITTED *****

At the basic core, there’s a relationship between how big civilization gets and how much energy it consumes

TG 21:04 – 21:54 — You can’t be fatter and stay fatter and eat much less. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re fatter and you want to stay fatter, you have to keep eating more because your body’s going to keep doing more and more stuff. You’ve got more blood cells, You’ve got more of everything in your body. And you’re going to radiate more heat and you have to sustain that with more food.

And civilization is the same way. I mean, our bodies are complex organisms, civilization is a complex organism. Sure they’re complex, but at the basic core level there’s this central relationship between how big something is and how much energy it has to consume. If we want to get more wealthy, it is unavoidable that we consume more energy and also more matter.

***** DB OMITTED *****

The notion that civilization’s economic system can achieve and maintain a “steady state” is a fiction because everything is always changing

TG 23:33 – 28:00 — So, maybe a couple of points here. Actually this is where it gets totally fascinating, for me at least. Because now we’re talking about how systems evolve through time. You brought up the “steady state” question. Steady states are useful idealizations of reality but they are fictions. Nothing can ever be in a steady state because things grow in response to their environment. As a thing grows it consumes more energy from its environment. So the environment’s always changing. So the relationship between the system and its environment is constantly changing over time. And for that reason, it is impossible for the system to achieve any sort of steady state where it is either growing or staying a fixed size. Things constantly evolve over time. Things may look to be somewhat steady over some short period of time but the reality is that everything is always evolving.

Nothing can continue growing for forever, everything must eventually collapse

And that leads to a second point, which is that nothing can continue growing for forever. Everything must eventually collapse. We look at a wave and a wave might rise and then ultimately it will run out of energy that caused it to rise in the ocean and then it must eventually fall. Sometimes the question then is whether the wave will decay gradually or whether it will break and collapse. So there’s two possible options there, which is what gets interesting.

What’s frightening is that civilization is now growing faster than it ever has before – 2.3% annually

One aspect of this with relation to civilization — and this is both amazing and I think somewhat frightening – it is that right now civilization is growing faster than it ever has before. Typically throughout most of history civilization grew at about a couple of tenths of a percent per year, so it was always growing between, let’s say, [the year] zero and a thousand AD or something like that. It was growing, but just rather slowly. And then, beginning around the Industrial Revolution we discovered these incredibly tasty sources of fuel like coal and then later oil that enabled us to accelerate our growth faster, and faster, and faster until, at this point, today, we are now growing at a rate of about 2.3% per year.

At an annual growth rate of 2.3%, in 30 years civilization would double its energy and material consumption

Now that may not sound like such a big number if we talk about, say, GDP growth, or even growth of wealth – they are different things – but economists might say that 2.3 % per year, they might use a word like ‘anemic’. This is actually a fairly small rate of growth. But let’s put this into context. A rate of growth of 2.3% per year means that things double in a course of about 30 years. So let’s think about that. That means that civilization will put on as much fat in the next 30 years as it has in all of its prior history. It will go from one basically to two. That is extraordinary because you think, 30 years, well that’s in many of our lifetimes. Thirty years. That means that civilization would – based on this anemic, people might call it, growth rate – would be at a stage where it is consuming twice as much energy and twice as much matter as it is currently.

The world’s environment is already struggling under the current growth rate

And we already talked about the world’s environment struggling under our current rate of growth. So, this is the point where myself and many other people start to think well, at some point something has to give. Either we run out of resources or, alternatively perhaps we pollute the environment enough that we can’t continue to grow. At some point I don’t see that growth can be continued. Eventually, it must switch towards decay.

***** DB OMITTED *****

It’s inevitable that civilization will collapse, the more important question is what will this collapse look like

TG 31:28 – 33:37 — Part of this is that you could say we’ve always been on a path towards wiping ourselves out. I think this comes back to this basic principle, which is that all systems have birth, they grow, their growth eventually saturates, and then they decay. Personally, I think more of the fatalistic perspective on this, which is that, you know, this is not just inevitable but it has always been inevitable. I think the question in my mind is not whether or not civilization will collapse, because it will, all things eventually collapse, eventually, ultimately the universe will probably collapse – that’s a given – I think more the question is — What’s this [collapse] going to look like?

Since things are already happening rapidly, we are talking about timescales of the next few decades

Can we make a prediction of how things will unfold? And we’re not necessarily talking about the distant future here. Since things are happening so rapidly, currently, we are talking about timescales of the next few decades. These are things that are happening right now. And if we can use basic physics to understand how something as seemingly complex as civilization works, then maybe we can have a deeper understanding of how our world will unfold over the next ten, twenty, thirty years,

That is where – as depressing as some of the conclusions might be — that’s where I think some of the pursuit of understanding this phenomenon can ultimately be rather fascinating.

Now I do have kids and I worry about their future. But then there’s of course the academic interest of trying to understand where we’re all headed.

***** DB OMITTED *****

Individual actions will end up being awash in the larger constraints on civilization as a whole

TG 37:17 – 41:12 — I used to take that perspective. I live a fairly frugal lifestyle: my house is small — I rely on dry-air clothes; a push-mower – those sorts of things. And I continue to do those things largely out of habit. But I no longer believe that they contribute. That’s not because I think the contribution is small. But rather I think that whatever we do it ends up being awash in the context of the larger constraints on civilization as a whole, due to things like the availability of energy.

Individual reductions in fossil fuel use will enable others to consume more

This is a bit discouraging I must realize, but the situation here is that, let’s say I consume less energy. Let’s say I switch to solar power. On the face of it that sounds terrific, But by consuming solar power I would be consuming, say, less fossil fuels. And I would be reducing the demand on fossil fuels due to my small contribution. By reducing the demand on fossil fuels for myself, fossil fuels then become more available, essentially cheaper and more attractive to others. And so what that means is that because fossil fuels are useful – they’re most certainly useful – my reduction of consumption may simply enable somebody else to consume more, so that at the end of the day it hasn’t actually made any difference at all.

The correct perspective is to look at problems at a planetary scale

The correct perspective, I think, or at least the simplest most accurate perspective by looking at problems that are really at a planetary scale, such as climate change, is to treat the problem and consider the problem on these sorts of planetary, global scales. And there it looks like individual actions are entirely invisible to the behaviour of the larger scale organism.

Ultimately, I can model how civilization has evolved over the past say sixty years knowing really only about the discovery of energy reserves that is sufficient to create very accurate what we call ‘hindcasts’ – they’re like forecasts starting in the past – starting in 1950 that are able to predict current rates of energy consumption and GDP growth as a precedent.

Really only knowing things like the fact that we discovered massive reserves of fossil fuels in the 1950s, and that civilization has evolved just as an organic response to this sudden availability of food.

Civilization evolves in response to the availability of reserves of energy and matter

In this work, I do not see individuals. I would like to think that individual actions have the power to make a substantial difference to how things progress in the future. But ultimately it looks more like civilization evolved as a response to things like the availability of reserves of fuel and matter, like steel, iron and copper.

***** DB OMITTED *****

“The intent of the approach I’m taking is to try to figure things out the way they are”

TG 44:03 – 47:54 – [Garrett responds to Bennett’s accusation of being ‘pessimistic’] There may be a couple of responses here. I don’t want to sound pessimistic because it’s not really the intent of what I’m doing. The intent of the approach I’m taking is to try to figure things out the way they are. It’s not about providing recipes for, or goals as, for example, Mark Jacobson, your prior interviewee had been giving.

Let’s say that switching entirely to renewables by 2050 is possible. To me that seems surprising given that all our current infrastructure – not all but a large fraction of our current infrastructure is based around the consumption of fossil fuels. We would be talking about getting rid of our current wealth in order to pursue  different wealth. Let’s say we talk about our body, we carry our current body with us into the future. To somehow get rid of one body and then replace it with another that consumes energy in an entirely different way is not something we really think of as being all that possible.

Even if we did switch to renewables, we would still not be out of the frying pan

But let’s say we did switch to renewables. We are talking about a situation where the fossil fuels are still out there, the fossil fuels are still just as useful as they ever were, but somehow there is some global – and it would have to be global to matter for climate change – accord that says nobody can consume these fossil fuels even though they are useful. I think politically that might prove to be a little bit difficult. But let’s say it is possible.

Even with renewables, we would still be extracting material from the environment

We are not out of the frying pan. Because what happens then is that yes, we may be consuming a different type of energy that does not lead to CO2 emissions, but, remember, civilization is still made of matter. What that energy enables us to do is to extract material resources from our environment.

Since 1970, civilization has doubled its energy consumption and halved its biomass

It is no accident, I don’t think, that over a period since 1970, during which civilization has doubled its energy consumption, the biosphere has halved its biomass. The fish in the sea are largely gone, as are the animals on the land. If we double our consumption yet again, as would happen by 2050, if we continue along the current path, whether it is from fossil fuels or from solar power, we are still talking about sustaining civilization through the consumption of matter. And that matter has to come from somewhere. And that has its own set of environmental issues.

Ultimately we will end up where continued growth is no longer possible

And then we go on for another thirty years – doubles again and again and again. Ultimately we end up in a similar predicament, whether it is from global warming and climate change or whether it is from just taking everything out of the environment, we end up in a situation where continued growth may no longer be sustainable.   

***** DB OMITTED *****

Change does not happen overnight; the force of inertia tells us what’s growing now will likely continue to grow

TG 53:10 – 54:20 — The thing is, we are growing extremely quickly right now. Civilization currently is extremely robust. Things do not change overnight. The most powerful force in the universe is inertia: things that are growing now are most likely going to continue to grow. And they will grow for as long they can based on past favourable forces until they can’t. Because there may be an accumulation of negative forces that eventually slow things down and perhaps switch things over. But that’s not going to be the ten years [that Jared Diamond talked about]. I don’t see that as being even remotely possible.

And growth creates the seeds for collapse; it’s winning now and will continue to win

It could however be relatively soon. I mean we lie along a continuum of both growth and collapse at the same time. Growth creates the seeds for collapse and as we are growing the forces for collapse become stronger and stronger. But right now, growth is winning and it will continue to win for the next few decades. I do not see a way around that.

***** DB OMITTED *****

Environmental degradation will eventually take over in a timescale of decades

TG 54:45 – 57:29 — I don’t see that [collapse happening in the US] because the United States is still a very rich country. The globe is still very rich in material resources and energy resources, and, of course, the biosphere will continue to increasingly suffer but those resources are still out there, for awhile. But things do have to start kicking in as what economists might call ‘negative externalities.’ There are things like environmental degradation that will eventually start to take over and that’s where I foresee that – in the timescale of decades, not years. Yeah, things will happen. We lie along a continuum of growth and collapse.

The universe is determinate – things will unfold as they will unfold

One thing I think I will say with regards to your prior comments, with regards to solutions. Myself, I believe that the universe is determinate, that things will unfold as they will unfold. And the same way that they have always been determined to unfold. And I see this as a direct result of the laws of physics, specifically thermodynamics.

We must be critical of those who tell us fairy tales, wishful thinking of how they would like things to turn out

I appreciate that others will not share that point of view and appeal more to human agency. The one thing I do believe is that if there is a solution out there, we should be very critical of those who advertise things that may be fairy tales – that are things that are as they might wish them to be. There may not be clear solutions that are the most obvious ones. It turns out from the work I’ve done for example that pursuing increased energy efficiency probably makes things worse rather than better because it aids to help the civilization and the  healthier civilization is, the more it consumes.

What seems like the obvious solution may not be the right one

So the obvious solution may not in fact be the right one. And I think if we are to find solutions, we should not be pursuing goals or plans or fairy tales, whatever they are, we should be trying to understand how the system really works.

It is only by understanding how civilization works that we can think about what adjustments might be made

Because it is only by understanding how civilization works that we can then start to think about how the future might change if there were certain adjustments that might be made. That’s where I, as a scientist, I would prefer to see the focus, not on the politics, rather on the science.

For more information about Tim Garrett, check out these two links:

https://faculty.utah.edu/u0294462-TIM_GARRETT/research/index.hml

https://faculty.utah.edu/bytes/curriculumVitae.hml?id=u0294462

 

*****

To alter the climate would demand action by a majority of the world’s population

Prof. questions whether humanity can summon the will to voluntarily induce civilization “decay” in the face of daunting obstacles.

No 2377 Posted by fw, October 2, 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

Dr. Richard Nolthenius

“Can such deep fundamental change in human behavior globally happen? It must be achieved by the large majority of global population in order to change climate, such that we would voluntarily inflict on ourselves a substantial negative growth of civilization, affecting the decay/inflation term in [Garrett’s Climate and Thermodynamics Economic Response Model] and while still decarbonizing and allowing atmospheric CO2 to not rise beyond ~500 ppm? Garrett is quite skeptical and so am I, although I still hope that education may make some difference. My frustration is in discovering how stubbornly resistant people are to this evidence.”Richard Nolthenius, Cabrillo College

This repost is taken from a 319-page PDF presentation by Dr. Richard Nolthenius, Astronomy instructor at Cabrillo College, California. The account, entitled Civilization as a Thermodynamic System – Connecting Energy and Economics: Implications for What’s Possible, appears to have been prepared as a teaching aid for his students. The above passage, is part of a section titled Can Human Nature Change? which appears on pages 154 to 165. Nolthenius’ presentation is primarily a critical review of “the insightful discoveries of cloud physicist Prof. Tim Garrett.”

Below is a repost of the section Can Human Nature Change? with my added subheadings and text highlighting. Alternatively, to read the piece in Nolthenius’ PDF account, click on the linked title in the preceding paragraph.

**********

Can Human Nature Change? by Dr. Richard Nolthenius, Cabrillo College, September 13, 2018

Can such deep fundamental change in human behavior globally happen?

To change climate requires the large majority of global population

It must be achieved by the large majority of global population in order to change climate, such that we would voluntarily inflict on ourselves a substantial negative growth of civilization, affecting the decay/inflation term in CThERM* and while still decarbonizing and allowing atmospheric CO2 to not rise beyond ~500 ppm? [*CThERM = Climate and Thermodynamics Economic Response Model]

Frustrated by how stubbornly resistant people are to scientific evidence

Garrett is quite skeptical and so am I, although I still hope that education may make some difference. My frustration is in discovering how stubbornly resistant people are to this evidence.

Inanimate Systems Have No Choice but to Obey the Laws of Thermodynamics PERFECTLY

But humans are credited with having “free will” – we hope

But humans have free will (…we hope. There’s some question among researchers). We can voluntarily create legal, enforced barriers to acting on our impulses and desires for immediate gratification, for the sake of a better future.

It’s hard to get people to voluntarily create legal, enforced barriers to acting on our impulses and desires

It’s going “uphill” in a thermodynamic system sense, against the grain, doing the hard thing… but it’s not physically impossible.

It Requires Voluntary “Decay”

In Tim Garrett’s model, it would mean voluntarily inducing civilization “decay”

In the CThERM model, what that would mean is voluntarily inducing civilization “decay” in the form of hard work which did NOT lead to expanding civilization.

The choice is ours – voluntary decay or crippling of civilization by ravages of climate change

Decay that arose not by the involuntary crippling of society by the ravages of climate change and low resiliency, but was chosen voluntarily as a path (see my K44-Policy Presentation), hopefully more gracefully than Nature will choose for us, if we choose not.

Genetic Inheritance is Destiny?

Our brain is only 2% of our body mass but uses 20% of our energy

Remember from Chapter 0 – our brain is only ~2% of our body mass, but uses 20% of our energy (which must come from food grown by our agricultural industry)

To override our biological urges using our will power demands constant biological energy consumption

If you’ve ever tried to over-rule your biological desires (going on a diet, say), you know how hard it is. It demands additional constant energy consumption.

Will power, requires the constant input of biological ENERGY. Will power will go only so far, because it takes real ongoing biological ENERGY to fight against desires. It’s like holding up an Olympic barbell. No matter how strong you are, eventually that barbell is coming down.

If instead, somehow, we could personally evolve…

…to ENJOY a new “less is more”, “small is beautiful” way of being, perhaps this consideration would not hold quite as much sway.

Is it possible to rouse the will power of people on a massive global scale?

But experience says that this will take such intensive individual human psychological maturing on a massively global scale, and so quickly, that it would seem impossibly unrealistic.

To change, would the masses first have to “hit bottom”?

People CAN change, but for the vast majority, only after their dysfunctional habitual way of life forces them to “hit bottom”

If we wait for climate chaos to motivate us to change, it will be far too late

Only truly deep pain felt by each of us individually might induce such a commitment for such deep personal growth, and even then, only if the person “hitting bottom” has in their awareness a different and better way. By the time climate chaos delivers us there, physics says it’ll be far too late to halt dire permanent climate change.

We risk facing bare survival as civilizational complexity breaks down into simplicity

Rather than rise to the massive organizational and technological challenges required, we’ll likely be struggling with bare survival as societal complexity breaks down into simplicity (Strumsky, Lobo, and Tainter, 2010).

Nolthenius’ First Law: “People Learn the Hard Way”

It usually takes long-standing pain to motivate just one person to change.

I know from experience and that of others, that it usually takes long-standing pain to motivate a person to change. And even then, it takes real work, real commitment, to overcome ingrained patterns of thought and achieve emotional maturity.

How can we expect this of the entire global population?

A few do learn…

Currently, the voices calling for change are a tiny minority

We hear their voices from the science community, and at least some from the Green community. But they are a tiny minority – the far tail of the distribution of people.

Despite the harm of economic growth, most of Earth is peopled by those who desperately want MORE not LESS

Despite what economic growth is doing to this planet, most of the Earth is peopled by those desperate for MORE, not LESS. And not a single leader will dare talk of limiting population, or reversing growth in wealth, for fear of losing power.

Worse, our global political/economic power systems are designed to reward short-term greed

And worse, our global political/economic power systems are designed to reward short-term greed, not nurture long term planetary health (K44-Policy Presentation and especially the importance of Gilens and Page 2014).

This attitude is incredibly pervasive both in and out of politics, as science writer George Monbiot observes.

To Show How Hard it Has Been To Change…

 

 

In 42 years, fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) as a % of the total, has not dropped at all; remaining at 87% of (Total Primary Energy), while total consumption of all energy has more than doubled (BP Statistical review)

Merely Halting the Further Rise of CO2 Emission RATES is a Very Difficult Task

In 2016, the global primary energy consumption rate was 17 trillion watts (TW), growing at about 1.5% per year (down from 2% for most of the 21st Century).

That’s 255 GW [GigaWatts] of additional power needed per year, or 700 MW of additional power generation installation per day.

To keep CO2 emission rates constant, this additional 700 MW per day must be carbon-free power

Considering Solar Photovoltaics as the Carbon-Free Power Source…

…700 MW per day is equivalent to 3.5 gigawatts of “boiler plate” rating capacity per day (given the standard 20% capacity factor between peak output and actual average continuous output). Multiply by 365 days per year to get…

= 1,277 GW (rated) additional solar PV power to deploy every year

= 4,100 square miles of solar PV active panel area, every year. Or, 11.23 square miles of solar panels every day.

That’s equivalent to a square 64 miles on a side, of solid PV panel, every year. Realize that is what’s required not to reduce CO2 emissions, that’s just to keep the human CO2 emissions rate merely constant, and not rising further.

That’s 11.23 square miles of PV panels or about 20 square miles including supporting structure and land… taken away from other species and other human uses… every single day.

To put 700 Megawatts/Day of carbon-free power into a Nuclear Power Plant Conte

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant – the entire generating facility takes up only 12 acres – produces the equivalent of 2,055 MW of continuous power averaged over the year.

Diablo Canyon is the equivalent of 33 square miles of modern solar PV panel area (or very roughly 50 square miles of utility-scale solar power plant facility area, by today’s standards).

Are you beginning to see the challenge of trying to transition from exploiting the concentrated ACCUMULATED energy of 50 million years of banked solar energy in the form of energy-dense fossil hydro-carbons, and instead running the same existing Civilization only on the dilute currently arriving solar energy?

Let’s assume a 30% capacity factor for the mix of solar (20%), and wind (~40%), which dominates renewables. New renewable power capacity was 161 GW in 2016. (but includes substantial biofuels which are not even carbon neutral). Still, using 161 GW, we have 161×0.3 = 48 GW actual power output. This is only 20% of the needed 255 GW needed to keep CO2 emission rates constant.

That’s based on 1.5% global wealth growth rates and therefore global energy consumption growth rates. Below, note that for the past 5 years, solar deployment in the U.S. has risen only linearly, not exponentially. Most of the gain is in utility-scale projects)

SEE ALSO

Richard Nolthenius’ home page http://www.cabrillo.edu/~rnolthenius/

PowerPoint Presentations for Astro 7: Planetary Climate Science

 

*****

 

A fellow physicist finds Tim Garrett’s discoveries “surprising”, “impressive”, “insightful”, and “fascinating”

Garrett’s thesis is “elegant”, his hypothesis testable, and it succeeds! Alas, his work has been misunderstood by many.

No 2378 Posted by fw, October 3, 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

Dr. Richard Nolthenius

“Garrett has nothing to say about human extinction. Instead, he’s interpreted civilization as a manifestation of thermodynamic principles, inferred a close and simple relationship between the summed historical spending of civilization and its current required energy consumption rate, and verified it with real data. He’s derived a quantitative climate/economic model, identifying its key variables – which differ from those of traditional economic and IPCC modelling. He then shows such traditional models are missing key connections which impose important constraints on our possible climate actions. It is unfortunate that Garrett’s work has not gotten the wider reading it deserves.”Richard Nolthenius, Cabrillo College

Today’s repost, which appears below, was taken from a 319-page PDF report by Astrophysicist Dr. Richard Nolthenius, as was yesterday’s piece. The content and layout of Nolthenius’ PDF presentation is identical to his accompanying PowerPoint document, presumably used in his lectures. Don’t be fooled by the 319-page length of the file; it’s long because the content is in a 30-point font, and the headings are in a much larger, bold font. My repost, composed with Microsoft Word, covers, in 6 pages, the first 23 pages of Nolthenius’ PDF account.

It is clear from my title / subtitle of this repost that Dr. Nolthenius came away from his review of the work of University of Utah’s Atmospheric physicist Dr. Tim Garrett with both thumbs up. Dr. Nolthenius has the physics expertise that I lack — I am unable to conduct my own informed and critical assessment of Garrett’s cognitively challenging, peer-reviewed published papers. I have had to settle for popular articles by Garrett himself and by other popular writers and radio interviewers.

While I found Dr. Nolthenius’ glowing review of Garrett’s work challenging in places – particularly the calculus,  unfamiliar concepts of physics, dense text, and long chains of reasoning – I came away confident that I could place my trust in Garrett’s scholarship. At this point, the best I can aim for is a general understanding of Garrett’s big ideas.

I offer today’s repost as a partial sample of Nolthenius’ lengthy review of Garrett’s thinking on civilization as a thermodynamic system. Don’t be intimidated by the calculus; catch what you can and move along.

Below is the repost with my added subheadings, text highlighting, and some reformatting. Alternatively, to read the opening 23 pages in the original PDF format, click on the following linked title.

**********

Civilization as a Thermodynamic System – Connecting Energy and Economics: Implications for What’s Possible by Richard Nolthenius, Cabrillo College, September 13, 2018 (Pages 1-23)

Nolthenius’ agenda for this report — Given the existential crisis we face

  • How drastic must policy actions be?
  • Is our goal to merely slow the descent into chaos, or is it rather to truly halt climate change?
  • What is physically possible?
  • Enter – the insightful discoveries of cloud physicist Prof. Tim Garrett

My Introduction to Tim Garrett

Was Garrett another one of these characters from the twisted “Near-Term Human Extinction” crowd?

I first heard of Garrett from arch-apocalypse believer of Near-Term Human Extinction Guy McPherson in 2014 when he came out to join, with me, a public panel discussion on climate change and the future, and who implied Garrett supported the idea that humans would go extinct because civilization was a “heat engine” and our own waste heat would cook us all.

That’s just crazy; the waste heat of industrial civilization is less than 1% of the heat we TRAP via our CO2 (Flanner 2009). In fact, too many of McPherson’s apocalypse claims are just twisted science, junk science or otherwise plain wrong.

So who WAS this Garrett fellow? Another from the human-extinction fringe? I told McPherson that I’d look into Garrett’s work, but this introduction didn’t motivate me to get right on it. It took a few months before I did.

When I finally began reading Garrett’s papers…

Garrett’s modelling revealed gaps in the modelling products of economists and IPCC scientists

… I was surprised and impressed. He’s not an advocate of the Near Term Human Extinction meme, nor of McPherson, and the “heat engine” reference was clearly misunderstood by McPherson (who is not a climate scientist and has no apparent background in thermodynamics).

Garrett has nothing to say about human extinction. Instead, he’s interpreted civilization as a manifestation of thermodynamic principles, inferred a close and simple relationship between the summed historical spending of civilization and its current required energy consumption rate, and verified it with real data. He’s derived a quantitative climate/economic model, identifying its key variables – which differ from those of traditional economic and IPCC modelling. He then shows such traditional models are missing key connections which impose important constraints on our possible climate actions.

It is unfortunate that Garrett’s work has not gotten the wider reading it deserves.

Let’s explore these discoveries…

Policymakers dealing with climate and energy issues appear not to understand the crucial importance of thermodynamics in their decision-making

“Learning about thermodynamics is a critical part of being an informed decision-maker in a democracy in dealing with our energy problems” — Dr. Thomas Homer Dixon, video of 2011 Waterloo Global Science Initiative’s Energy 2030 Summit lecture. (Quote begins at 1:10:40 point into the lecture)

Civilization as a Thermodynamic System

Garrett’s theoretical link to thermodynamics offers an insightful new synthesis with sobering implications

Garrett (2012) (and references therein) has developed a model of the relation between the global economy, primary energy consumption, and carbon emissions. The underlying approach has proven to have wide application across dynamical systems.

He applies thermodynamic thinking to the ordered system which is Civilization, and predicted a simple relation which is verified in real-world data.

His discovery of a simple global relation between energy consumption rates and the accumulated inflation-adjusted Gross World Product (GDP summed all countries summed over all time) and its theoretical link to thermodynamics is a unique and insightful new synthesis and has sobering implications.

Here’s my own framing of the logic in applying Thermodynamics to Civilization…

And this is where calculus comes in (catch as catch can and skip the rest)

In physical thermodynamics (remember your physics textbooks?)…

…In a “closed system”, the incremental change of energy dE, which includes internal energy, external energy being input, and including the Gibbs energy dW of useful energy (“work” W) which can be extracted from the system by the production of entropy S (“disorder”) at constant temperature T is related to entropy by dE = TdS

Taking the derivative with respect to time, we see that the rate of energy consumption is ~proportional to the rate of entropy change.

Now for Civilization…

The analog of “total energy” is called “Primary Energy Supply” in the databases: the raw energy provided by Nature.

Useful work accomplishes innate human values – powering the networks of our relationships to each other and to material things, and enhancement and growth of civilization.

The analog [correlate] for physical entropy S, is the amount of disorder Sc in the civilization + environment.

Growth in Civilization must correspond to a reduction in Civilization’s portion of Sc at the expense of greater Sc in the total environment system, powered by the expenditure of physical ENERGY).

Transforming Dis-Order towards Order takes ENERGY

It takes energy to reduce the natural tendency to decay and disorder and towards the order we seek   

Any economic spending to reduce disorder Sc is taking things from the way that they would have been in the natural tendency towards decay and disorder, towards the way we want them.

This means, from relative dis-order, towards increased order:

Order – in the form of new and stronger networks linking people, energy, systems, and materials. Order – in the form of enhanced relationships, flow of materials, information, and energy in supporting enhanced growth, and hence larger energy consumption rates.

Garrett’s Key Observation

Conventional economics’ big mistake – the role of energy was overlooked

Conventional economics divides Civilization’s value into Capital (“things” and money) and Labor.

But “capital” per se is static, dead, and valueless without energy to power its USE.

Life is Motion. Stillness, is death, and valueless. And Motion requires ENERGY. Value in any human meaningful sense, must then be intimately linked to energy consumption rates.

No energy? Then no action, and no accomplishing the essentials of life. And so – no value

Energy is LIFE. And yet it is given no central role in conventional economics.

In Civilization’s Market Economy…

Spending in general, has a close relationship to Cost, given competition and hence finite profit margins. We infer, then, that cost is proportional to the amount of change needing to be effected upon our physical and mental states to achieve our civilized “ordering” goals.

Laborious, time-consuming effort to make a high reduction in Civilization’s entropy Sc therefore incurs high cost, and requires proportional high physical ENERGY consumption to power it.

Looked at this way …

Humanity’s biological, psychological, and material desires drive personal and civilization’s growth

… it would seem quite natural and even inevitable that, within the human desires for enhanced networks and personal as well as civilization growth, that…

Therefore, spending will be proportional to the physical energy consumption rates to support growth today

Total inflation-adjusted past spending (meaning, corrected for mis-pricing due to non-commensurate money supply growth or wealth destruction) should be proportional to the physical ENERGY consumption rates required to support it today.

That’s my re-framing of Garrett’s insightful work.

Alas, His Work has been Misunderstood by Many.

Economists are rarely adept in dealing with thermodynamics

Perhaps not surprising because he straddles economics and thermodynamics, and economists are rarely adept in dealing with thermodynamics, nor adeptly fair-minded (apparently)* at reading objectively an economics-outsider’s work in this cross-disciplinary area. [*Garrett’s response to criticism].

And “turf-guarding” is not uncommon in academia

Worse; petty turf-guarding unfortunately has too many precedents (e.g. Alfred Wegner stepping on geologists’ toes with “Continental Drift”, astronomers discovering what paleontologists did not – the K-Pg extinction caused by asteroid impact), and smaller examples from people I know, and also being the victim of such myself).

I have more than a passing interest in economic / political theory, and with human nature’s boundaries, and I find his [Garrett’s] work fascinating…

What, really, is possible? And what, really, is necessary to halt our climate decline? Let’s take a quantitative look…

The Garrett Relation (my term; because it badly needs a short-hand):

The Sum Total of all Past Inflation-Adjusted Gross World Product (GWP), (Garrett calls this sum “Wealth”) is directly proportional to the Current Rate of Primary Energy Consumption Required to Maintain its Value Today.

This is raw primary energy from any source.

Now, the CO2 production per unit energy consumed (the “carbonization” c) can, of course, change by human decision and efforts, so let this be a variable in the quantitative relationships.

“We must recognize the FULL costs of our energy to power Civilization”

The relevant energy in this relation is PRIMARY Energy. Energy in raw form provided by Nature. Why? Nature only gives us PRIMARY energy. We must then invest money, effort and additional energy in converting it to useful energy. Graphs showing improving efficiency but don’t use PRIMARY energy are misleading. Only about 1/3 of primary energy ends up as useful energy. In other words, we must recognize the FULL costs of our energy to power Civilization.

Using “processed energy” in calculations can be cheery but unrealistic in terms of “true cost”

Looking at promotional graphs which only present our progress in terms of processed energy (e.g. electricity) will be cheery, but unrealistic in true cost.

 

It’s an Elegant Thesis

The theoretical basis for the equations he [Garrett] derives follow from thermodynamics – the principles and equations governing the flow of heat, entropy, and energy, and their relation to generating useful work (see Garrett 2014)

Maintaining Civilization requires a battle against the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

Maintaining Civilization requires a battle against the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (the decay of ordered (i.e. low entropy) energy into disordered (high entropy) energy. The ultimate in disordered energy is heat – the energy of the random motion of atoms and molecules in a substance.

Energy must be taken from a low-entropy “ordered” state, and “disordered” in the act of getting useful work from that energy. Useful work meaning… make things, repair things, grow food, write a symphony … anything useful at all)

Garrett’s Climate and Thermodynamics Economic Response Model (CThERM ), a computational model which results from this, has been successfully back-tested against a history of past data, and shows high skill scores when given past data, significantly better than scores using extrapolations of trends.

This hypothesis is testable, and it succeeds…

Historical energy consumption rate (power) and total accumulated Wealth, plotted on top of each other for clarity. Result? They’re directly proportional; i.e. the ratio (black curve) is flat. λ=7.1 mW of power is required to support every dollar (inflation-adjusted to 2005) of GWP ever spent.

The Garrett Relation Simplified: “Power is Proportional to Wealth”

“The ratio of these two quantities remained essentially unchanged in each year between 1970 and today (2010), with a standard deviation of just 3% over a time period when wealth increased by 111% and GWP increased by 238%” (Garrett 2014).

Let’s look in more detail why should this hold…

But first: There’s a very DIFFERENT ratio – the current primary energy consumed per unit of CURRENT GDP. Now THAT ratio HAS been improving, decreasing fully 32% (but using PPP accounting, more on that later) since 1990. Some economists accidentally or deliberately conflate these two, then wrongly dismiss the Garrett Relation.

Why does the Garrett Relation hold? First, the larger an economy, the more energy required merely to maintain its current state against natural decay.

Wealth is not merely in existing goods – it is total accumulated spending over all time.

Obvious, yes. But even the goods and services long gone in the distant past were essential in order to grow into what we are today. So, properly appreciated, relevant “Wealth” is not merely in existing goods – it is total accumulated spending over all time.

More important, it’s not in things themselves, which require maintenance (repair, etc.), but rather it is the continuing relationship networks which are enhanced between things and people which constitute the “wealth”. Enhanced relationships, is the value of that spending, and constitutes the real Wealth. And it is along networks where frictional energy is consumed.

Wealth: It is to be found in the Enhanced Relationship Networks Created

Garrett uses the example of a road. Its value is in the efficiency with which it provides so many opportunities to expand countless relationships through its existence. Less tangibly, a symphony can inspire, energize, and promote enhanced relationships if it touches our core spiritual values and enhances our desire to live fully.

Big Mistake — Conventional economic models ignore energy and consider “capital” as holding social value

Unlike traditional economic models, which ignore energy and consider “capital” as holding the value, Garrett realized that static objects (capital) actually have no inherent value.

“Capital”’ has value only when it is in USE…

In motion. In action. In relationship, to human beings and to other objects along networks of connection.

And all MOTION requires ENERGY.

Take away the ENERGY, and therefore all VALUE disappears.

And all MOTION, whether resulting in useful work or not, will entail frictional losses, and so a continuous supply of new energy is required to maintain the value. And additional energy beyond that, is needed to grow that value.

Electrons through wires, fluid through pipes, blood through arteries, people in cars, trains and ships. Only in the dissipation of that energy is value made manifest, even in the construction of information out of randomness, energy is dissipated.

Energy Dissipation Happens Along Civilization’s Networks

Garrett’s relationships are subtle, often non-physical, not obvious, emergent – and not easy for ordinary folks to grasp

Because these relationships are subtle, often non-physical, and extend in countless directions not obvious at first, there is a quality of “emergence” to them which enhances their value beyond the most obvious initial physical connections one might consider.

Thus, the global rate of primary energy consumption should be proportional not to current GWP (GWP = Gross World Product), but to the total inflation-adjusted ACCUMULATED spending of the world over all time. There is a “ghost” remaining for every dollar spent, even on things long since decayed and gone. That “ghost” exists in having enabled current Civilization through past efforts.

The GOAL of human action is to expand human life, in all the many ways that word can be interpreted. Seen this way, the Garrett Relation appears quite natural.

SEE ALSO

Richard Nolthenius’ home page http://www.cabrillo.edu/~rnolthenius/

PowerPoint Presentations for Astro 7: Planetary Climate Science

 

*****

No chance of slowing global CO2 levels without incurring collapse of global economy, says Tim Garrett

Yet Canada’s PM Trudeau insists we can grow the economy and protect the environment. Is he wrong?

No 2379 Posted by fw, October 10, 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

“There is general appreciation that the driving force behind carbon dioxide emissions is the consumption of fossil fuels as a component of global economic activity. Our fearless leaders often aim to slow emissions by ‘decoupling’ the economy from fossil energy consumption, either by making the economy more energy efficient or by switching to renewable sources of energy. This approach seems very sensible and reasonable, at least at first glance. It offers policy makers the wonderful possibility of being able to have the cake and eat it too; to stimulate the economy while saving the planet. But as always, it helps to look at the data, and to keep in mind that very often ‘it ain’t necessarily so’”.Tim Garrett, University of Utah

Oil refinery blows up in New Brunswick; Hurricane Michael lashes Florida; Gas line explosion in BC. Bad enough. But the following doesn’t help:

On the CBC’s National News of October 8, TV journalist Ian Humanising asked UK climate expert, Bob Ward* to “give us an example of a country that’s getting it right when it comes to trying to deal with climate change.” [*Video clip of exchange — fast forward to 10:15 minute mark].

Ward responded, in part: “… if you look at the United Kingdom, for example, since 1990 it’s reduced its annual emissions of greenhouse gases by more than 40% and its economy has expanded by more than 70%. So it shows you can expand economic growth and reduce greenhouse gases.

The problem is, Ward’s answer is misleading. You see, as Garrett has pointed out elsewhere: “Nations do not exist in economic isolation. Through international trade the world shares and competes for collective resources. Quite plausibly, the only reason the UK appears to consume less energy is that it has outsourced the more energy intensive aspects of its economy to countries like China.” Moreover, says Garrett, “For the purpose of relating the economy to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the only thing that matters is global scale emissions by civilization as a whole” — not the emissions of individual countries or regions.

Since Ian doesn’t know this, he accepts as true what Ward tells him. More to the point, Canadians watching this news item are likely to come away thinking that our PM is right when he keeps repeating that we can grow the economy and protect the environment. But have you noticed that he has never produced any quantitative evidence to support his fallacious claim — which raises the question, is he truly or wilfully ignorant? The same can be said of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

In a 2016 article, atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett, department head at the University of Utah, explains what’s wrong with claims like Bob Ward’s and Justin Trudeau’s. Here’s my brief summary of Garrett’s article, which is reposted below.

Climate change dangers impel change agents to push for moderating CO2 emissions. But international accords continue to fall on deaf ears. Why does humanity seem unable to alter behaviors that will lead to our demise? Some leaders claim we can “decouple” the global economy from fossil energy consumption by improving energy efficiency of the economy or by switching to renewables. However, the historical data affirm that absolute decoupling has never occurred on a global scale and probably never will. For at least 2000 years GDP increases have always corresponded with CO2 emission increases. There is no chance of reducing global CO2 levels without incurring a total collapse of the global economy. Humanity’s global infrastructure is designed to consume energy and this will continue unless we destroy the infrastructure. Without fossil fuel energy, the global economy as we know it would stop; our economy is wedded to CO2 emissions. Analogously, the exhalation of CO2 by civilization’s consumption of fossil fuels is not unlike humans exhaling CO2 from consuming carbon compounds in food.

My only minor complaint with Garrett’s article is that he does not always make clear to readers when he’s writing about a country’s economy and emissions and when he writing about events at a global level. Nevertheless, in the case of climate change, what happens at a country level feeds into what transpires at the global level. Garrett would not let Trudeau off the hook for Canada’s contribution to the rising level of global emissions,.

My repost, below, of Garrett’s article includes his three graphs, my added subheadings and text highlighting. Alternatively, read the piece on the University’s website by clicking on the following linked title.

**********

Economic growth and climate change by Tim Garrett, University of Utah, 2016

Climate change dangers impel change agents to push for moderating CO2 emissions

As the world becomes increasingly aware of the present and future dangers of climate change, and policy makers and scientists make ever more urgent claims of the necessity for moderating emissions of carbon dioxide, international accords are put into place that offer to push civilization’s trajectory along a more favorable course, slowing the worst that is otherwise sure to come.

But international accords continue to fall on deaf ears

Yet, with each passing decade, the figure above shows that these accords seem to fall on deaf ears. A naive person might even argue (this is tongue-in-cheek of course) that international accords are the cause of rising CO2 levels: each accord seems to shorten the time it takes to pass each successive increment of 10 ppm.

It’s very depressing to realize that we seem so powerless. Perhaps, even,  it begs the question of why we continue to bother sending herds of scientists, policy makers, and social activists to exotic and/or expensive locations, each doing their part to add to atmospheric CO2 concentrations by burning jet fuel, in the vain hopes of stalling the inevitable.

Why does humanity seem unable to alter behaviors that will lead to our demise?

At a deeper level, there is a more important question to consider. We must ask whether a more fundamental, underlying reason exists for why humanity seems unable to moderate behaviors that could very well lead to its own ultimate demise.  We can’t really be that crazy, can we?

Some claim we can “decouple” the global economy from fossil energy consumption

It’s not as if we are ignorant. There is general appreciation that the driving force behind carbon dioxide emissions is the consumption of fossil fuels as a component of global economic activity. Our fearless leaders often aim to slow emissions by “decoupling” the economy from fossil energy consumption, either by making the economy more energy efficient or by switching to renewable sources of energy. This approach seems very sensible and reasonable, at least at first glance. It offers policy makers the wonderful possibility of being able to have the cake and eat it too; to stimulate the economy while saving the planet.  What’s not to like?

Problem is, the historical data show a tight relationship between global CO2 levels and world’s total GDP for at least 2000 years

But as always, it helps to look at the data, and to keep in mind that very often “it ain’t necessarily so”. Consider the above plot, which shows the relationship between the atmospheric concentration of CO2 above a baseline of 275 ppm and the world’s total GDP, adjusted for inflation to 1990 dollars (see Garrett, 2012 for details). Data is taken from a mixture of ice cores for older dates and gas samples for newer dates.

What is immediately evident is that, on a log-log plot, there has been an extraordinarily tight relationship between GDP and CO2 concentrations for at least 2000 years. As long as we look at global scales, each ten-fold increase in GDP has always corresponded with an approximate four-fold increase in excess CO2.

If you prefer a linear plot, it works out to 2.6 ppm extra per trillion dollars of world economy since 1950. In fact, the relationship is so tight, that one could imagine (just for fun) switching the axes and concluding that one could measure the size of the global economy just using simple a CO2 sensor stationed in Hawaii.

There is no chance of reducing global CO2 levels without incurring a total collapse of the global economy

The point here is that there is nothing in the data to suggest that there is any potential for reducing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, at least not without a total collapse of the economy.

Just to be clear, the tight relationship between global CO2 levels and world’s total GDP is not a direct causal link

One does have to be careful, because finding a correlation between two things can often be a misleading. CO2 concentrations accumulate over time due to past actions whereas GDP represents our current actions. The two are inevitably linked, but it would not be correct to attribute direct causality.

What would have to happen in the future — that would be totally different from the past — for decoupling to happen?

Nonetheless, at the very least, we should be asking what would have to happen in the future that is fundamentally different from the past if decoupling is to happen. 

To get an appreciation of the more detailed dynamics of the problem, how the past is linked to the present, along with forecasts for where civilization might be heading subject to fundamental physical constraints, the following two papers might be of interest:

No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change, Earth System Dynamics

Long run evolution of the global economy: 2. Hindcasts of Innovation and GrowthEarth System Dynamics

Humanity’s global infrastructure is designed to consume energy and this will continue unless we destroy the infrastructure

Reducing CO2 emissions may be a bit like asking an adult to once again become a child. Over millennia, we have collectively built an enormous global infrastructure designed to consume energy. Without destroying this infrastructure, energy will continue to be consumed.

Without fossil fuel energy, the global economy as we know it would stop; our economy is wedded to CO2 emissions

Without energy, the circulations defining the global economy stop. And because so much of this infrastructure is tied to fossil fuel consumption, our economy is wedded to CO2 emissions.

The exhalation of CO2 by civilization’s consumption of fossil fuels is not unlike humans exhaling CO2 from consuming carbon compounds in food

We as humans breath oxygen to access the energy that lies in carbon compounds within food, and exhale CO2 as a result. Not exhaling leads to death. Other than the detail that our primary source of energy is the carbon compounds within fossil fuels, is the exhalation of CO2 by civilization any different?

 

*****

Tim Garrett explains why civilization is caught in a double-bind, ending with its collapse this century

Perhaps there is a way out but it will not be by way of increasing energy efficiency. Quite the opposite.

No 2380 Posted by fw, October 11, 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

“Nations do not exist in economic isolation. Through international trade the world shares and competes for collective resources. Quite plausibly, the only reason the USA appears to consume less energy is that it has outsourced the more energy intensive aspects of its economy to countries like China. … For the purpose of relating the economy to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the only thing that matters is global scale emissions by civilization as a whole. … CO2 emissions can be stabilized despite efficiency gains. But this is possible only if decarbonization occurs as quickly as energy consumption grows. At today’s consumption growth rates, this would require roughly one new nuclear power plant, or equivalent in renewables, to be deployed each day. … since wealth and energy consumption rates are linked, it can only be through an economic collapse that CO2 emissions rates will decline. If the size of civilization enters a long and profound decline then wealth, energy consumption and CO2 emissions will all decrease at roughly the same rate. Only if the collapse is sufficiently rapid will it be possible to maintain atmospheric CO2 concentrations below levels that are normally considered dangerous.”Tim Garrett, University of Utah

In a 2014 article, atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett, department head at the University of Utah, explains why civilization is caught in a double-bind, ending with its collapse this century. Here’s my brief summary of Garrett’s article, which is reposted below.

Contrary to what most people believe, increasing energy efficiency actually drives up global energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Economists acknowledge that increasing energy efficiency does spur a “weak rebound effect”, a “direct rebound effect”, and a “backfire effect” that increases CO2 growth. However, calculating the total impact of rebound or backfire knock-on effects is difficult to calculate. There may be quantitative measures, but they’re uncertain. It occurred to Garrett that by applying a standard approach used in Physics to how all of civilization increases its energy efficiency might simplify the computational complexity. When civilization expands it increases its ability to access reserves of primary energy and raw materials, thereby increasing its efficiency. And the higher its efficiency, the faster is its expansion rate. During civilization’s growth phase, efficient conversion of energy into work drives consumption and prosperity. Economists counter Garrett’s “all of civilization” methodology with examples of countries whose energy efficiency gains have led to less energy use. These counter-examples may be true, but can be very misleading unless climate change is introduced into the analysis. For example, the emergence of the “global economy” via international trade allows countries to outsource energy intensive aspects of its economy. And for the purpose of relating the economy to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the only thing that matters is global scale emissions by civilization as a whole. If global energy productivity or energy efficiency increase, civilization will grow faster, which grows the global economy, thus accelerating energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Otherwise, since wealth and energy consumption are linked, it would take a global economic collapse to get CO2 emission rates to decline. Bottom line, there may be a way out of this double-bind but it won’t be by increasing energy efficiency.

As an aside, for the past several weeks I have been submitting comments to various environmental NGOs and online news and information websites that publish articles by climate activists. My aim is to promote the brilliant, admittedly frightening research findings of atmospheric physicist Dr. Tim Garrett. I was hoping that these sites might pick up the ball and publish their own accounts of Garrett’s work. Alas, so far nothing. In fact, some of these sites appear to be censoring my pro-Garrett comments. Which leads me to wonder if Garrett’s “collapse of civilization” message has scared them off. After all, how can they attract donations from subscribers and advertising dollars from sponsors who think: “What’s the point? We’re all doomed.” People prefer to cling to IPCC’s SRES scenarios of hope, which, according to Garrett, have a track record of substantially underestimating how much CO2 levels will rise for a given level of future economic prosperity.

My repost, below, of Garrett’s article includes my added subheadings, text highlighting and, at the very bottom, a copy of Garrett’s abstract to his 2012, 36-page paper suggestively titled “No Way Out”. And don’t miss the cartoon below the abstract, which lampoons the IPCC.

Alternatively, read his article on the University’s website by clicking on the following linked title.

**********

Rebound, Backfire, and the Jevons Paradox by Tim Garrett, University of Utah, 2014

Increasing energy efficiency actually drives up global energy consumption and CO2 emissions

Increasing energy efficiency is the driving force for growing global energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions — this sounds like nonsense.

Most people would guess the opposite, that the world would consume less energy and emit less CO2

Most people would guess the opposite: technological advances enable us to increase energy efficiency and less energy is required to accomplish the same economic task. We don’t need to consume as much oil, gas, and coal in order to maintain the same lifestyle. Practiced globally, the world consumes less and emits less.

Economists acknowledge that increasing energy efficiency does spur a “weak rebound effect” in CO2 growth

However, the issue is generally acknowledged to be a little more subtle. Many economists argue for a weak “rebound effect”. The argument goes that increasing energy productivity spurs fractionally greater emissions further down the road — not enough to offset the original efficiency gains but enough that the reduction in energy needs isn’t as much as anticipated.

There are also “direct rebound” effects – e.g., people drive energy efficient cars more

One form of rebound is the “direct” rebound effect. People may choose to drive more often if a vehicle is fuel efficient because driving is useful or pleasurable and now more affordable.

And “indirect rebound effects” – money saved on gas for efficient cars is spent on other energy-consuming devices

There are also “indirect rebound effects”, which extend the response to differing economic sectors. Less money spent on fueling energy efficient vehicles enables more money to be spent on fuel for home air conditioning.

Then there’s the “backfire effect” — In 1865 William Jevons held that energy efficient steam engines actually increased coal consumption

A very few studies have even argued for an extreme form of rebound that is termed “backfire”: gains in energy efficiency ultimately lead to greater energy consumption. The idea is generally derided by economists today but first discussion of the principle came from William Stanley Jevons in 1865. Jevons was emphatic that energy efficient steam engines had accelerated Britain’s consumption of coal. The cost of steam-powered coal extraction became cheaper and, because coal was very useful, more attractive.

Calculating the total impact of rebound or backfire knock-on effects is difficult

Whether it is rebound or backfire, arguments about the magnitude persist because calculation of the total magnitude of rebound or backfire has proved both contentious and elusive. The problem for academics is that any given efficiency improvement has knock-on effects that can eventually propagate through the entire global economy. Calculating the ultimate impact is daunting if not impossible.

Take the hypothetical case of new fuel-efficient cars where the knock-on effects offset the gains  

To illustrate, imagine that a newly efficient car requires less fuel. An unequivocal good, right? But the associated savings in transportation costs then allows more money to be spent on (for argument’s sake) household heating and cooling. By raising home comfort, workers sleep better. They become more productive where they are employed. Employers then have higher profits, so they proceed to invest in factory expansion leading to greater energy consumption, or reward the workers with raises who then go out and buy a second car or goods produced overseas with coal-generated electricity.

Calculating the magnitude of rebound or backfire may be quantitative but uncertain

So, in this fashion, the ramifications of any given efficiency action might multiply indefinitely, spreading at a variety of rates throughout the global economy. Barring global analysis over long time scales, conclusions about the magnitude of rebound or backfire may be quantitative but highly uncertain since they are always dependent on the time and spatial scales considered.

Analyzing the global economy

The best way around this kind of computational complexity is to simply ignore it

There’s a way around this complexity – simply to ignore it.

Instead, by using a standard approach in Physics, computational complexity can be simplified

Rather than resolving the myriad economic flows within the global economy, a more general approach can be taken by treating the economy only as a whole.

Stepping back like this to simplify the picture is a standard approach in Physics

A nice analogy is to think of describing the growth of a child without being an expert in physiology. There is no question that the human body is incredibly complicated. There is also no question that it is fundamentally simple in that a child uses the material nutrients and potential energy in food not only to produce waste but also to grow its body mass. As the child grows, it needs to eat more food, accelerating its growth until it reaches adulthood and its growth stabilizes (hopefully!). An inefficient, diseased child who cannot successfully turn food to body mass may become sickly, lose weight, and even die. But a healthy, energy efficient child will continue to grow. Hopefully he will some day become a robust adult who consumes food energy at a much higher rate than he did as an infant. What could be treated as a tremendously complicated problem can also be approached in a fairly straight-forward manner, provided we look at the child as a complete person and not just a complex machine of component body parts.

Simplify by thinking of how all of civilization increases its energy efficiency

We can take the same perspective with civilization.  Without a doubt, consuming energy is what allows for all of civilization’s activities and circulations to continue — without potential energy dissipation nothing in the economy can happen; even our thoughts and choices require energy consumption for electrical signals to cross neural synapses. Like a child, when civilization is efficient it is able to use a fraction of this energy in order to incorporate new raw materials into its structure. Efficiency is what allows civilization’s total size to expand.

When civilization expands it increases its ability to access reserves of primary energy and raw materials

But when civilization expands it also increases its ability to access reserves of primary energy and raw materials, provided of course that they remain or are there to be discovered. Increased access to energy reserves allows civilization to sustain its newly added circulations. And, if this efficiency is sustained, it can also expand further. So, in a positive feedback loop, expansion work leads to greater energy inputs and therefore even more work and more rapid expansion.

If civilization’s efficiency is higher, then the expansion rate is faster

If civilization’s efficiency is higher, then the expansion rate is faster. For any given amount of energy consumption, civilization is able to accelerate even more rapidly into the reserves of energy and raw materials that it requires. Consumption continues to accelerate as before, but now even faster. As with the child, this is the feedback that is the recipe for emergent growth, not just of civilization but of any system. Doing expansion work efficiently ultimately allows for faster rather than slower rates of energy consumption growth.

During civilization’s growth phase, efficient conversion of energy into work drives consumption and prosperity

Ultimately there are constraints on efficiency and growth from reserve depletion and internal decay. But in the growth phase, efficient conversion of energy to work allows civilization to become both more prosperous and more consumptive.

Implications for climate change

Economists counter with examples of countries where energy efficiency gains have led to less energy use

It is easy to find economists willing to express disdain for the concept of backfire, or even rebound, by pointing to counter-examples in economic sectors or nations where energy efficiency gains have led to less energy consumption. For example, the USA has become more efficient and thereby stabilized its rate of energy consumption.

These counter-examples may be true but can be very misleading unless climate change is introduced

While these counter-examples may be true, they are also very misleading, especially if the subject is climate change.

The emergence of the “global economy” via international trade allows countries to outsource energy intensive aspects of its economy

Nations do not exist in economic isolation. Through international trade the world shares and competes for collective resources. Quite plausibly, the only reason the USA appears to consume less energy is that it has outsourced the more energy intensive aspects of its economy to countries like China. Should an economist argue that “There is nothing particularly magical about the macroeconomy, it is merely the sum of all the micro parts” we can be just as dismayed as we would upon hearing a medical practitioner state that “there is nothing particularly magical about the human body, it is merely the sum of all its internal organs”. Connections matter!

For the purpose of relating the economy to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the only thing that matters is global scale emissions by civilization as a whole

Fundamentally, through trade, civilization can be treated as being “well-mixed” over timescales relevant to economic growth. In other words, trade happens quickly compared to global economic growth rates of a couple of percent per year. Similarly, excess atmospheric concentrations of CO2 grow globally at a couple of percent per year. They too are well-mixed over timescales relevant to global warming forecasts because atmospheric circulations quickly connect one part of the atmosphere every other. For the purpose of relating the economy to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the only thing that matters is global scale emissions by civilization as a whole.

If global energy productivity or energy efficiency increase, civilization will grow faster, which grows the global economy, thus accelerating energy consumption and CO2 emissions

Taking this global perspective with respect to the economy, efficiency gains will do the exact opposite of what efficiency policy advocates claim it will do. If technological changes allow global energy productivity or energy efficiency to increase, then civilization will grow faster into the resources that sustain it. This grows the economy, but it also means that energy consumption and CO2 emissions accelerate.

The frightening kicker – To stabilize CO2 emissions, energy decarbonization would have to occur as fast as energy consumption grows  

CO2 emissions can be stabilized despite efficiency gains. But this is possible only if decarbonization occurs as quickly as energy consumption grows. At today’s consumption growth rates, this would require roughly one new nuclear power plant, or equivalent in renewables, to be deployed each day.

Otherwise, since wealth and energy consumption are linked, it would take a global economic collapse to get CO2 emission rates to decline

Barring this, since wealth and energy consumption rates are linked, it can only be through an economic collapse that CO2 emissions rates will decline. If the size of civilization enters a long and profound decline then wealth, energy consumption and CO2 emissions will all decrease at roughly the same rate. Only if the collapse is sufficiently rapid will it be possible to maintain atmospheric CO2 concentrations below levels that are normally considered dangerous.

There may be a way out of this double-bind but it won’t be by increasing energy efficiency

Perhaps there is a way out of this admittedly grim sounding double-bind. But Jevons’ Paradox tells us that it will not be by way of increasing energy efficiency. Quite the opposite.

For more details

Garrett, T. J., 2012: No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change, Earth System Dynamics, January 5, 2012 (36-pages) Below is Garrett’s abstract for the above-cited journal paper.

Abstract. In a prior study (Garrett, 2011), I introduced a simple economic growth model designed to be consistent with general thermodynamic laws. Unlike traditional economic models, civilization is viewed only as a well-mixed global whole with no distinction made between individual nations, economic sectors, labor, or capital investments. At the model core is a hypothesis that the global economy’s current rate of primary energy consumption is tied through a constant to a very general representation of its historically accumulated wealth. Observations support this hypothesis, and indicate that the constant’s value is λ = 9.7 ± 0.3 milliwatts per 1990 US dollar. It is this link that allows for treatment of seemingly complex economic systems as simple physical systems. Here, this growth model is coupled to a linear formulation for the evolution of globally well-mixed atmospheric CO2 concentrations. While very simple, the coupled model provides faithful multi-decadal hindcasts of trajectories in gross world product (GWP) and CO2. Extending the model to the future, the model suggests that the well-known IPCC SRES scenarios substantially underestimate how much CO2 levels will rise for a given level of future economic prosperity. For one, global CO2 emission rates cannot be decoupled from wealth through efficiency gains. For another, like a long-term natural disaster, future greenhouse warming can be expected to act as an inflationary drag on the real growth of global wealth. For atmospheric CO2 concentrations to remain below a “dangerous” level of 450 ppmv (Hansen et al., 2007), model forecasts suggest that there will have to be some combination of an unrealistically rapid rate of energy decarbonization and nearly immediate reductions in global civilization wealth. Effectively, it appears that civilization may be in a double-bind. If civilization does not collapse quickly this century, then CO2 levels will likely end up exceeding 1000 ppmv; but, if CO2 levels rise by this much, then the risk is that civilization will gradually tend towards collapse.

Lampooning IPCC

 

 

*****

Long-run global economic growth requires continual energy consumption for its sustenance

The problem with accelerating economic growth over time is that CO2 emissions, spiked by climate change, also accelerate, releasing negative feedbacks on economic growth. Round we go in a vicious cycle.

No 2381 Posted by fw, October 12, 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

“In the place of traditional macroeconomics, there is a new model for global economic growth that is based on physical principles. It looks at how energy and matter are transformed by the economy taken as a whole … The core finding is that economic wealth or capital is not a static quantity that simply exists, but rather it requires continual energy consumption for its sustenance. Like a living organism, energy is required not just to grow civilization but also to maintain its current size. … sustaining long-run global GDP growth will require constantly accelerating growth of global power capacity, i.e. that the rate of increase must itself increase. … Many have pointed to energy efficiency as an escape from resource constraints, arguing that we can get more economic output with less consumption. This is true, but only locally. … improving global energy efficiency benefits prosperity so that through a positive feedback, efficiency promotes faster global growth into the reserves that sustain us. With higher accessibility of these reserves, what follows is faster consumption of energy and raw materials. … The problem with accelerating economic growth is that carbon dioxide emissions also accelerate with their associated negative feedbacks on economic growth through climate change…unless the world switches away from fossil fuel power as fast as it grows, the equivalent of about one new nuclear reactor per day. Ultimately, the goal of this work is to develop a robust model for the trajectory of civilization that is based to the greatest extent possible on the fundamentals of thermodynamics rather than the just-so stories of economic opinion. Only with testable principles can we eventually understand where we are headed.”Tim Garrett, University of Utah

The above passage captures the essence of Dr. Garrett’s thinking from his article, reposted below, under the title: Long-run global economic growth.

My repost includes my added subheadings and text highlighting. Alternatively, read his piece on the University’s website by clicking on the following linked title.

**********

Long-run global economic growth by Tim Garrett, University of Utah, 2014

Can we separate global economic innovation and growth from climate change?

To what extent does our global economy rely on raw materials and energy? Can we decouple global economic innovation and growth from climate change?

Given current exponential growth rates, we will double our energy demands in just 30 years

The coming century is guaranteed to be one of immense change. Current exponential growth rates will see us double our energy demands in just 30 years, adding as much to our consumption capacity in our working lifetimes as we have in the entire history of civilization.

Garrett’s new physic’s-based model of global economic growth employs general thermodynamic constraints to look at how energy and matter will be transformed by the global economy

In the place of traditional macroeconomics, there is a new model for global economic growth that is based on physical principles. It looks at how energy and matter are transformed by the economy taken as a whole using a minimum of bells and whistles. Instead of focusing on what should be done in the future, it asks rather what will happen given the very general thermodynamic constraints that govern how systems of any stripe emerge, survive, and grow.

The core finding is that for global economic wealth to be sustained, continual energy consumption is required

The core finding is that economic wealth or capital is not a static quantity that simply exists, but rather it requires continual energy consumption for its sustenance. Like a living organism, energy is required not just to grow civilization but also to maintain its current size.

Civilization’s economic wealth is directly tied to its global rate of energy consumption, a.k.a. its “power”

All components of civilization, whether human or physical, have no innate value in and of themselves; instead economic value is acquired through mutual connections: connections enable the circulations of matter that define humanity, requiring consumption of energy. Viewed very generally, total civilization wealth is directly tied to a global rate of energy consumption, or civilization’s power.

Wealth and Energy Growth

7.1 Watts of energy is required to maintain every $1,000 of historically accumulated economic wealth

This is a testable hypothesis, one that is motivated by physics, and is supported by historical observations of the global economy. Summing wealth over all the world’s nations, 7.1 Watts is required to maintain every one thousand inflation-adjusted 2005 dollars of historically accumulated economic wealth.

To be clear, this relationship is not between energy and yearly economic output or GDP, nor is it to the more restrictive view of wealth as physical capital that can be found in traditional economic models. Instead, the constant relates current energy consumption to the summation of production not just over one year — the GDP — but over all of time. This quantity has a fixed relationship to current energy consumption that is independent of the year that is considered.

From 1970 to 2010 energy consumption and wealth grew in tandem but at variable rates that increased slowly from 1.4% per year to 2.2% per year. 

As of 2010, civilization was powered by about 17 trillion Watts of power which supported about 2352 trillion dollars of collective global wealth. In 1970, civilization was younger, and both quantities were smaller by more than half. In the interim, energy consumption and wealth grew in tandem, but at variable rates that increased slowly from 1.4% per year to 2.2% per year.

If one really wants to relate energy to GDP, then the correct relationship is between GDP and the annual increase in the global power capacity. This relationship is much noisier than between energy consumption and wealth, but on average, adding every extra exajoule of global consumption capacity in a year enables 89 billion of year 2005 trillion USD of GDP, independent of the year that is considered.

“Constants of proportionality” like the above provide a foundation for two seemingly independent quantities, .e.g. energy and mass

Constants of proportionality are what provide a foundation for linking what initially seem to be two independent quantities (e.g. energy and frequency in quantum mechanics or energy and mass in relativity). Constants form the basis for all that follows. All other physical results are just math.

In the case of the constant  of proportionality λ that relates civilization’s economic wealth to its rate of energy consumption, it tells us not just where we are today but it dramatically simplifies and constrains long-term estimates of where the global economy is headed. The constant ties economics to physics, so with physics, more robust economic forecasts become possible.

The implication of the constant of proportionality between energy consumption and wealth is that sustaining the GDP will require that the global rate of increase of energy consumption must itself increase

The most easily appreciated implication of the constant value λ is that sustaining the GDP will require that we constantly grow global power production capacity; or, sustaining long-run global GDP growth will require constantly accelerating growth of global power capacity, i.e. that the rate of increase must itself increase.

The question of how to increase wealth shifts to the matter of assessing the availability of fossil reserves

The question of growing wealth shifts from the traditional approach of looking to economic policy to one that is largely a matter of assessing the geological availability of fossil reserves: will we uncover new reserves faster than we deplete them or switch to renewables? If we can’t, what then? And if we can, what does growing fossil fuel consumption imply for our climate?

Many argue we can get more economic output with less energy consumption, which is true, but only locally

Many have pointed to energy efficiency as an escape from resource constraints, arguing that we can get more economic output with less consumption. This is true, but only locally.

However, improving global energy efficiency promotes even faster consumption of energy and raw materials

What arises from the constant λ is a seeming paradox: improving global energy efficiency benefits prosperity so that through a positive feedback, efficiency promotes faster global growth into the reserves that sustain us. With higher accessibility of these reserves, what follows is faster consumption of energy and raw materials.

Moreover, accelerating economic growth also accelerates CO2 emissions, which drives climate change, which has a negative impact on economic growth

The problem with accelerating economic growth is that carbon dioxide emissions also accelerate with their associated negative feedbacks on economic growth through climate change…unless the world switches away from fossil fuel power as fast as it grows: the equivalent of about one new nuclear reactor per day (approximately1 Gigawatt).

The purpose of Garrett’s research is to develop a physics-based model of civilization’s track so we can understand where we are headed

Ultimately, the goal of this work is to develop a robust model for the trajectory of civilization that is based to the greatest extent possible on the fundamentals of thermodynamics rather than the just-so stories of economic opinion. Only with testable principles can we eventually understand where we are headed.

What do you think an economic model should look like? Here’s my contact and a list of publications.

 

*****

Sustaining economic growth now means more potentially catastrophic global climate change later

And if we don’t quickly transition from carbon based fuels, we’re looking at a 4°C to 9°C temperature rise within the lifetimes of those born today.

No 2382 Posted by fw, October 13, 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

In prior articles, Tim Garrett categorically defined the collapse of civilization as “inevitable”. But in this article, intriguingly titled Will growth transition to collapse?, published in 2018, he seems to leave the fate of civilization more open-ended by concluding:

“Smaller civilizations have been through collapse before. Looking to history may provide lessons for what actions are required to avoid the worst of what is to come.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t provide any examples of “smaller civilizations.” Nor does he describe what’s to come along a spectrum from “least” to “worst” outcomes.

Here is my 479-word version of Garrett’s article, reposted below, based on the main ideas of most of his paragraphs.

Can a powerful dose of political and economic resolve maintain economic growth without triggering further environmental decline? Is there any reason to believe the human world could escape climate’s march to nature’s physical laws? To many, treating people as part of “physical systems” seems abhorrent – Surely we can emerge triumphant over nature? To answer these questions, it helps to understand how physical systems work, especially that of a thermodynamic heat engine. We must understand that organisms, like machines, can also act as heat engines, but with a selfish twist – unlike machines they use raw materials to grow and to continue to consume energy. People use energy and matter for sustenance and give off waste heat, matter, water and CO2. When we consume more than we need, we get bigger, and so do our appetites. Groups of organisms take this self-reinforcing cycle to the next level to increase their numbers. The global economy, functioning as a “superorganism”, is just a natural extension of this process. Human activity in a growing civilization requires a continual consumption of food and fuel. Garrett draws a connection between economic worth and energy, calling it civilization’s “net worth”. He derives a mathematical constant that ties economic wealth irrevocably to energy consumption. If we fail to fuel ourselves, our civilization will slowly grind to a halt. And our existing perceptions of what we hold to be of economic value will be supplanted by more primal needs. Economists say the global GDP has been rising faster than energy consumption – in a word, it’s “decoupling”. This comparison is misleading – Current energy consumption is tied to centuries of collective effort, not to an arbitrary period of a prior year. Nevertheless, inflation-adjusted GDP does provide a useful measure of how fast we are growing. The size of global civilization is a measure of its combined net worth AND energy consumption. Discovery and exploitation of newer, richer fuel resources enabled us to accomplish super-exponential growth. There’s a downside – The more energy and raw materials we require, the faster we deplete them. Today, we can’t keep up with demand for energy resources; as a result, GDP growth is stagnating. Inevitably, we will reach a point when we can’t access enough resources to continue growing, and our economic system becomes unsustainable. Today’s accelerating climate change and environmental degradation are a consequence of past growth. And when resource depletion makes degradation reparations a drag on the economy, there’s a risk of larger-scale collapse. We can predict that if civilization maintains current rates of economic growth over the next 30 years, we will need to double our current rate of energy consumption. Is this possible? The trade-off of sustaining economic growth now means more potentially catastrophic global climate change later. And if we don’t shift away from carbon based fuels, we’re looking at a 4°C to 9°C temperature rise within the lifetimes of those born today.

Below is a repost of Tim Garrett’s article, including my added subheadings and text highlighting. Alternatively, read his piece on the University’s website by clicked on the following linked title.

**********

Will growth transition to collapse? by Tim Garrett, University of Utah, 2018

Can a powerful dose of political and economic resolve maintain economic growth without triggering further environmental decline?

How will the future unfold? There is increasing alarm about severe resource depletion and environmental decline. Economists and environmental scientists work to develop sophisticated policy tools aimed at forestalling the worst while maintaining economic growth.

Can we really navigate our way out of the potential for a broad scale breakdown simply by applying a sufficiently powerful dose of political and economic will?

Is there any reason to believe the human world could escape climate’s march to nature’s physical laws?

It would be wonderful to think so. Yet we still have to acknowledge that there are physical limits to what is possible. The human world is as much part of the natural universe as anything else, and if we readily accept that the complex motions of climate march to physical laws, it may be unreasonable to imagine that society should be an exception.

To many, treating people as part of “physical systems” seems abhorrent – Surely we can emerge triumphant over nature?

Of course, to many of us, treating people as physical systems might seem a bit abhorrent, somehow an abnegation of the essence of what it means to be human. If we truly want to triumph against profound societal challenges, then surely we can.

To answer these questions, it helps to understand how physical systems work, especially that of a thermodynamic heat engine

But how? To get a sense of any physical limits, it helps to look at how physical systems function. A useful concept here is a thermodynamic “heat enginewhere available energy powers cyclical motions thereby enabling “work’’ to be done to move something else while giving off waste heat. This process is as familiar as burning gasoline in a car to power its pistons and propel it forward.

We must understand that organisms, like machines, can also act as heat engines, but with a selfish twist – unlike machines they use raw materials to grow and to continue to consume energy

What is less recognized is how this basic idea from physics can be extended to living systems. Organisms can also be seen to act as heat engines, although they use a selfish twist. Like a car, they take energy from their environment to power themselves. Unlike a car, they extract raw materials, and if the conditions are right, they use this matter to grow their size allowing them the opportunity to consume more energy in the future.

People use energy and matter for sustenance, giving off waste heat, matter, water and CO2

So, for example, people use the energy in fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, along with the matter in oxygen, water, vitamins and minerals, to sustain their daily motions and metabolic processes. In turn, they give off waste heat and matter, including water and carbon dioxide.

When we consume more than we need, we get bigger, and so do our appetites

Whenever we manage to consume more than our daily metabolic needs, we tend to get bigger, usually ending up with a larger appetite.

Groups of organisms take this self-reinforcing cycle to the next level — to increase their numbers

Groups of organisms are able to take this self-reinforcing cycle a step further. A lioness expends energy to hunt gazelles so that she can feed herself and her pride. With enough extra food, her fertility allows her to reproduce and support cubs, so increasing the pride’s predatory population.

The global economy, functioning as a “superorganism”, is just a natural extension of this process

The global economy is just a natural extension of these ideas, what we can call a “superorganism”. Collectively, we bootstrap ourselves to greater things by extracting energy and material resources from our environment in order to sustain the accumulated fruits of our prior labours and to use any remainder to perpetuate growth of our population and our collective stuff. 

Human activity in a growing civilization requires a continual consumption of food and fuel

Suppose for a moment that we were offered the opportunity to look down at our growing civilization from afar. We might see, for example, the back-and-forth of people and their vehicles as they move over the land, sea, and air. Looking even closer, we could measure the activities of human brains and notice that, as part of a larger whole, these brains use some combination of past experiences and new information to make estimates of economic and societal worth, acquired through Google searches, social gatherings, travel, and trade. We would notice that all these activities, of whatever sort, require a continual consumption of food and fuel.

Garrett draws a connection between economic worth and energy, calling it civilization’s “net worth”

These observations might allow us to draw a connection between economic worth and energy. Quantitative analysis reveals that in any given year, the historical accumulation of past global economic production – let’s call it civilization’s “net worth” – has had a fixed ratio to the current rate of global energy consumption, give or take a couple of percent. In each year between 1970 and 2015, each additional one thousand 2005 U.S. dollars of net worth that we collectively added to civilization through the global inflation-adjusted GDP has required an additional 7.1 Watts of continuous power production capacity.

Garrett’s mathematical constant ties economic wealth irrevocably to energy consumption

This mathematical “constant” ties society to physics and offers a critical piece for solving the human puzzle: economic wealth is inseparable from energy consumption; any diminished capacity to recover the energy necessary to maintain the steady hive of civilization must lead to a corresponding collapse of overall economic value.

If we fail to fuel ourselves, our civilization will slowly grind to a halt

If for whatever reason we fail to adequately fuel ourselves, we can expect the cyclic motions of our machines and ourselves to slowly grind to a halt.

And our existing perceptions of what we hold to be of economic value will be supplanted by more primal needs

Our interest in crypto-currency or the auction price of a Modigliani will be replaced by more primal needs. And in the logical extreme, with an absence of food, we will wither and die, with all our perceptions of economic worth buried along with us.

Economists say the global GDP has been rising faster than energy consumption – in a word, it’s “decoupling”

Many economists have pointed out that the global GDP has been rising comparatively faster than energy consumption. Optimistically, they argue that we are witnessing a steady “decoupling” of the economy from its basic environmental needs. 

This comparison is misleading – Current energy consumption is tied to centuries of collective effort, not to an arbitrary period of a prior year

Unfortunately, this comparison is deeply misleading: GDP represents the accumulated production of worth over an arbitrary period of just one year; meanwhile, energy is required to sustain the activities of a civilization that has been built up over all of history, over every year. Systems have inertia; big systems especially so: current energy consumption is far more tied to maintaining the fruits of centuries of collective effort than to the national vagaries of a single prior year. We cannot erase the past; it is always with us.

Nevertheless, inflation-adjusted GDP does provide a useful measure of how fast we are growing

That said, the inflation-adjusted GDP does provide a useful measure of how fast we are growing. Growth requires raw materials, stuff we can touch and make things with. And everything we have previously built, even our brains and bodies, is constantly falling apart. Maintaining growth means extracting and transforming wood, copper, iron, and crops fast enough to overcome this decay. Only when the balance is tipped in our favour is it possible for civilization to engage in the act of putting on weight, so to speak.

The size of global civilization is a measure of its combined net worth AND energy consumption

So far, global civilization has done astonishingly well. Recently, total net worth and energy consumption, the size of civilization, has been expanding by up to 2.3% each year and the GDP slightly faster. Ever since the end of the last ice age with the innovation of agriculture, we have collectively grown by leaps and bounds, from global populations of millions to billions, and from comparative poverty to extraordinary total wealth. In what we might call The Great Compression, it took 10,000 years to learn how to achieve 200 Quadrillion Btu’s of annual energy consumption. We doubled that rate just 30 years later, [from 1970 to 2000].

Discovery and exploitation of newer, richer fuel resources enabled us to accomplish super-exponential growth

Our feats of innovation have enabled us to accomplish not just exponential growth – e.g. growth at a fixed rate of 1% per year — but the incredible mathematical feat of super-exponential growth: a growth rate that has increased with time. Humanity has been uncovering and exploiting ever newer and richer fuel resources – from wood, to coal, to oil – and ever more exotic raw materials – from wood, to copper, to niobium – each doing its part to amplify the pace of expansion into the terrestrial buffet.

There’s a downside – The more energy and raw materials we require, the faster we deplete them

Unfortunately, we have become consumptive to the point that our future is starting to compete with the unchangeable past. The larger we get, the more energy and raw materials we require simply to sustain ourselves, and this is forcing us to deplete our resource larder faster than ever before.

Today, we can’t keep up with demand for energy resources; as a result GDP growth is stagnating

In the two decades following World War II, there was a remarkable period of rapid gas and oil discovery that created an epoch of super-exponential growth. More recently, new extraction technologies and discoveries of fossil fuel reserves have only barely kept up with previously created demand. GDP growth is stagnating and individuals, professions, and nations are increasingly competing for their share.

Inevitably, we will reach a point when we can’t access enough resources to continue growing, and our economic system becomes unsustainable

Inevitably, there will come a point where we collectively fail to access sufficient resources to continue existing expansion, when the current economic system becomes unsustainable. Perhaps the question we should ask is not whether civilization is ultimately in trouble, but instead whether we will gradually subside or crash like a wave on the beach.

Today’s accelerating climate change and environmental degradation are a consequence of past growth

Already we are seeing the negative impacts of past growth with accelerating climate change and environmental degradation.

When resource depletion makes reparations a drag on the economy, there’s a risk of larger-scale collapse

Their impacts will appear particularly pronounced when resource depletion makes it challenging to self-repair. In biological and physical systems, when growth stagnates, fragility sets in. Following even small crises, recovery times slow, and there arrives a tendency for larger-scale collapse.

We can predict that if civilization maintains current rates of economic growth over the next 30 years, we will need to double our current rate of energy consumption

Of course, predicting the future is hard. But there are always going to be basic physical limits on what can and cannot happen. We can say with confidence that if civilization maintains current rates of economic growth over the next 30 years, within just one generation we will need to double our current rate of energy consumption, extracting as much total energy from the environment as we have since the beginnings of the industrial revolution.

Is this possible? Sustaining economic growth now means more potentially catastrophic global climate change later

Can we really do this? We might hope so, that we continue to find the energy and raw materials on our finite planet to accomplish this extraordinary feat, but only with the trade-off that sustaining “economic health” now means more potentially catastrophic consequences of global climate change later.

And if we don’t shift away from carbon-based fuels, we’re looking at a 4°C to 9°C temperature rise within the lifetimes of those born today

Absent an extraordinarily rapid metabolic shift away from carbon based fuels, we face a likely 4 °C to 9 °C temperature rise within the lifetimes of those born today.

Smaller civilizations have been through collapse before. Looking to history may provide lessons for what actions are required to avoid the worst of what is to come. 

 

*****

Tim Garrett’s 2006 “aha” moment — How economic currency and energy might be fundamentally linked

“… it was clear that the economy was the root cause of rising CO2 concentrations.”

No 2383 Posted by fw, October 14, 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

“My professional career is as an atmospheric scientist, a field I entered as a means to apply a degree in physics to an area with more immediate societal relevance than chasing down the latest sub-atomic particle.  I have been a professor at the University of Utah since 2002. Most of my research has been focused on the complex interplay between aerosols, clouds, precipitation, radiation and climate, key ingredients in the of understanding climate change. … The pages on economics, energy, and climate described here [on my website] grew from a fairly ordinary inquiry into what possible solutions might exist for what appeared to be the most pressing issues of the time, resource depletion and climate change. From a totally naive beginning, I also started to wonder about the origins of money and wealth. The two questions seemed linked since it was clear that the economy was the root cause of rising CO2 concentrations.”Tim Garrett, University of Utah

In this brief “About” bio-sketch, reposted below, Tim Garrett relates why he chose a career as an atmospheric scientist – “it had more immediate societal relevance than chasing down sub-atomic particles” – and how an inquiry into what possible solutions might address the most pressing issues of the time – resource depletion and climate change. He speculated that all human activities had to be governed by the same thermodynamic laws as the climate system. His subsequent research “… has often been criticized as naive or wrong, disrespectful to the economic tradition, and even nihilistic…” Undeterred, his work has led to “a deeper understanding of the coupled human-climate system acknowledging that human systems must be physical systems.”

Below is a repost of Garrett’s short bio about himself. Alternatively, read it on his pages at the University of Utah’s website by clicking on the following linked title.

**********

About by Tim Garrett, University of Utah, 2016

My professional career is as an atmospheric scientist, a field I entered as a means to apply a degree in physics to an area with more immediate societal relevance than chasing down the latest sub-atomic particle.  I have been a professor at the University of Utah since 2002. Most of my research has been focused on the complex interplay between aerosols, clouds, precipitation, radiation and climate, key ingredients in the of understanding climate change.

The pages on economics, energy, and climate described here [on this website at — http://www.inscc.utah.edu/~tgarrett/Economics/Economics.html] grew from a fairly ordinary inquiry into what possible solutions might exist for what appeared to be the most pressing issues of the time, resource depletion and climate change. From a totally naive beginning, I also started to wonder about the origins of money and wealth. The two questions seemed linked since it was clear that the economy was the root cause of rising CO2 concentrations.

It seemed that all human activities had to be governed by the same fundamental thermodynamic laws as the climate system. In summer, 2006, there was a small “aha” moment for how economic currency and energy might be fundamentally linked.  Following some rather exciting moments putting the pieces together, eventually a little model was formed for global economic growth and carbon emissions. In February, 2007, the model was tested using real world data. These tests supported a hypothesis that global rates of energy consumption are tied through a constant value to the accumulation throughout history of a very general representation of global wealth: putting numbers to it, 7.1 Watts of primary energy consumption is required to support every one-thousand year-2005-dollars of a historical accumulation of global civilization wealth, independent of the year considered.

I fully expected that this must be a well-known result in economics and that the model development was only for my own amusement and understanding. But surprisingly it seemed to be original. Plenty had compared to energy consumption to GDP but none surprisingly to the time integral [calculus] of GDP. My later work applied the principles of non-equilibrium thermodynamics to economic forecasting, the relationship to environmental change, and possible negative impacts on future economic growth that might arise from current economic growth. 

The work has often been criticized as naive or wrong, disrespectful to the economic tradition, and even nihilistic (I’m actually fairly cheerful), largely missing that the approach is intentionally far more holistic and general than normally considered in traditional economics. The primary goal of the work has been to obtain a deeper understanding of the coupled human-climate system acknowledging that human systems must be physical systems. We like any other complex system, exist and grow through a net convergence of material flows powered by a dissipation of potential energy. This necessarily makes the equations for economic growth rather different than what economists typically consider. Of course, if traditional economists prefer models that are divorced from these rules, I can perhaps see why: we are all a bit trapped by our training, including myself. But I think that if we are ever going to find solutions to the pressing global problems of the coming century, it is not going to be by pretending we can beat the laws of thermodynamics.

 

*****

Tim Garrett responds to 17 questions and criticisms about his research on the consequences of climate change

Question is — Do we have the interest, critical thinking skill, and attention span to understand Garrett’s work?  

No 2384 Posted by fw, October 15, 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

Just 17 questions and criticisms? Garrett has been working on this research for at least 10 years: I would have thought that by now there would have been many more questions and criticisms. Could it be that his controversial, “frightening” findings are being censored or suppressed? I ask because I have found that my own efforts to interest online environmental NGOs and other activist outlets to publish their own accounts of Garrett’s work to have fallen on deaf ears – After all, who wants to read that “The End is Near”?

Moving right along — Tim Garrett’s thinking about the complex interactions among economics, energy and climate can pose considerable cognitive challenges and consternation to the rest of us who have been fed a steady diet over the years of consistently similar, and far simpler, physics-free explanations. Not to mention the misleading propagandized accounts coming from the fossil fuel industry and obsequious governments. Just yesterday, in a CBS 60-Minute interview, denier-in-chief Donald Trump – while accepting that the climate is changing – denied the change is human-caused, and pointed out that it will change again. Brilliant analysis. Yes, it will change again, but not for centuries because the CO2 seeds of destruction are already sown into the atmosphere. Yes, change will happen, but it will come long after our existing global civilization collapses this century, which, according to Tim Garrett, is “inevitable.”

Returning to Garrett’s challenging thinking, in today’s repost he shares with us 17 questions/criticisms he has received concerning his work. Regrettably, he doesn’t share any personal information about the respondents, such as name and occupation or about the title of the article that sparked the response.

Here’s a shortened version of their concerns. Garrett’s full account follows below in my repost —

coupling of energy consumption and global GDP; “steady state” economy; building one nuclear power plant a day; meeting 2°C warming target while maintaining healthy economy; Jevons’ paradox is wrong; GDP numbers are unreliable; population growth is driver of energy consumption; economic value tied to energy; any replication of constant λ [lamda] relating wealth to energy consumption?; what about effect of other variables besides energy; can’t compare GDP, a flow, to energy consumption, a stock; how GDP is measured; how energy consumption is measured; energy is not value; correlation is not causation; why isn’t debt included in your calculations; and why isn’t depreciation included in calculation of all past production

Below is my repost. Or read Garrett’s account by clicking on the following linked title.

**********

Frequently asked questions (and criticisms) by Tim Garrett, University of Utah, (no date)

“Do you conclude, that global energy consumption and global GDP has been practically perfectly coupled in the past? This would seem at odds with the data”

No they are not coupled. The relationship between energy consumption and GDP tends to change with time as civilization becomes more or less energy efficient. What is coupled is global energy consumption and the time integral (or summation) of GDP since the beginning of civilization.

Can we have a “steady-state” (non-growing) economy?

In general, no, as nothing in the universe is independent from its environment. Everything constantly evolves. Steady-states are only useful fictions that can be imagined to apply when things are evolving slowly compared to some other phenomenon of interest. With respect to our economy, we simultaneously discover and deplete energy resources. Maintaining steady-state wealth would require we discover and deplete these resources at precisely the same rate for a long period of time. Maintaining a steady-state GDP requires that net resources are never depleted.

From where comes the statement that we would need to build approximately 1 nuclear power plant (1 GW?) every day in order to (just) stabilize CO2 emissions?

The current annual rate of growth of global energy consumption is 2.3%, or a few hundred gigawatts (GW). In a fossil fuel economy, CO2 emissions rise with energy consumption. It is often advocated that increasing energy efficiency can stall energy consumption growth. What I have shown is that this is only true locally. Globally increasing energy efficiency accelerates growth through a generalized version of Jevon’s Paradox. This leaves switching to non-carbon fuel sources as the only option for meeting the goal of stabilizing emissions while growing the economy. Divide a few hundred GW annual growth by the number of days in a year and one obtains the figure of 1GW of non-carbon energy per day. That’s roughly one nuclear power plant per day.

Can we meet a 2°C warming target and maintain a healthy economy?

No. At least it is very hard to see how. Civilization health is predicated on consuming energy, and at least for the foreseeable future the energy source is primarily carbon based. Economic health is based on consuming energy at ever faster rates. Maintaining this energy growth would seem incompatible with achieving lower carbon dioxide emissions, especially to levels that would prevent the world from exceeding a 2°C warming target.

Evidence shows that Jevons’ Paradox is wrong. Rebound effects that counteract efficiency gains are small

Studies showing “rebound” rather than “backfire” have focused on particular technological sectors (e.g. lighting) without considering knock-on effects on the entirely of the rest of the global economy. Making such a calculation would be extremely difficult. If the economy is only considered as a whole, then the problem becomes tractable, and global efficiency gains lead ultimately to global acceleration of energy consumption.

GDP numbers are unreliable. They should not be used to calculate any relationship between wealth and energy

Yes, GDP numbers are uncertain, although this is true of any measurement. Unfortunately, the magnitude of the uncertainty is not stated by reporting agencies like the United Nations. However, there are two things that are in the statistic’s favor. First, the countries that contribute the most to global GDP are likely always those with the greatest interest in having something at least close to a truthful number. Second, the calculation of Wealth discussed in this work is a summation of GDP over all of history. Unless there is a constant bias in the global GDP statistics one way or another, errors from one year to the next will have a tendency to average out towards zero. Further, the most recent statistics, which contribute most to total wealth due to their comparative size, should be the most accurate. Admittedly there is some faith in this statement, but GDP statistics are probably the most robust macroeconomic statistic we have.

Isn’t population growth the fundamental driver of increasing energy consumption?

The physics (and perhaps history) suggests that a better perspective is that population growth is rather a symptom. When civilization consumes energy with sufficient efficiency that it is able to experience a net growth into new resources, then some combination of increasing standard of living and increasing population follows. It may sound odd to say it, but people are physical objects, and it takes massive amounts of energy consumption and matter to create and sustain an adult human. Without increasing access to reserves of energy and matter, population growth cannot be sustained.

GDP is only a measure of the part of human activity that is monetized. Even now,  GDP doesn’t include the work of self-sufficient farmers, or the work of unpaid housewives or retired people.

Yes, and that is entirely the point. At the moment of engagement, the vast majority of our activities do not require a financial transaction. We do not pay to have conversation, enjoy a meal, or clean the kitchen. We may pay to acquire access to conversation (e.g. by purchasing gasoline so we can drive to a friend’s house), to have a dish on the table (e.g. by buying food), or to live in a house (by buying real estate). But I believe that financial transactions themselves are instantaneous affairs whose value is a representation of their capacity to increase our ability to do things in the future. This is a subtle but very important distinction. The GDP is a tally of the instantaneous monetary exchanges that increase the right to access something in the future. Wealth is about what we can do now. GDP adds to our Wealth, but only Wealth can directly be linked to activities that consume energy. At any given instant, human activity and the GDP are two totally separate things.

Are you stating that value is tied to the amount of energy that goes into producing an item, what some call the “emergy”?

No, not at all. Consider that judgement of the current value is usually totally agnostic to its past. It’s pretty hard to know all what went into bringing a salmon all the way from a river in Alaska to the dinner table. And ultimately what drives the price is the usual mix of current market forces. Of course the present emerges from the past, so it’s not totally crazy to imagine that past energy consumption can be related to current prices — after all why would people consume energy without some expectation that it might eventually support a future financial exchange? Nonetheless, there is a much more direct link between current value and current rates of energy consumption than between current value and past rates. The universe at any given time only knows the present.

Has any one else tried to reproduce your result of the constant λ relating wealth to energy consumption?

The most detailed investigation I am aware of is by Carl Lumma. His independent examination obtains a similar result and is available from his web site.

Energy is just one factor of production among many, including labor and capital.

This argument ignores that the dissipation of potential energy is fundamental to any process in the universe. Energy is not just one factor among many. It is the motivating force that enables anything to happen. People cannot be sustained or do labor without energy. Physical capital has no meaning or value without energy to connect its elements through physical flows of, e.g. people, raw materials, and information. In an effort towards simplicity, one can focus on energy alone.

Wealth is a stock and GDP is a flow. You cannot compare energy consumption (a flow) to a stock.

That wealth is best characterized as a stock may be the standard perception. Certainly it is the most obvious. But I don’t believe it is necessarily the best. Civilization is an open thermodynamic system. What that means is that it dissipates energy and consumes matter, and it gives off waste heat and exhales CO2 and garbage. Thermodynamically, one could represent the size of this open system in two ways, both related. One is as the potential difference, or gradient, required to drive these flows. The other is the flows themselves. They are both two sides of the same coin. Wealth is an abstract financial representation of either. GDP on the other hand is a measure of the increase in the potential and associated flows due to a net convergence of matter in civilization. A measurable GDP occurs only when we consume more matter than we get rid of as waste.

It is inappropriate to the market exchange rate (MER) measures of GDP. Purchasing power parity (PPP) measures should be used instead.

PPP measures of GDP adjust MER measures to account for relative price differences of a basket of goods between nations. A well-known illustration of this is that the MER price for a Big Mac can vary widely from, say, Norway to India. From a personal perspective, making such adjustments makes sense. It helps us better compare relative standards of living. But from a thermodynamic standpoint that considers the world as an aggregate whole, with people mixed in with everything else that dissipates energy, PPP has less obvious utility. If the calculations are done right, positive and negative PPP adjustments from one nation to another should add up to zero. A basket of goods for the world as a whole can’t be compared to any other world.

Do your energy consumption estimations include the energy captured by photosynthesis of crops?

No they don’t, at least not directly. But my feeling is that they shouldn’t, although for reasons that are subtle. Sunlight is all around us, but  some other energy resource is required to make the sunlight accessible to civilization through crop production. Combustion energy is required to clear grassland and forests, either by burning them or mechanical extraction. Burning further fixes the nitrogen that is required as fertilizer, and where there is nothing left to burn we manufacture free nitrogen with fossil fuels. Deserts are bathed in sunlight but have little crop energy of value until we burn other fuels to irrigate and fertilize. Accessible energy and total energy are not the same.

Energy is not value. A country like Switzerland has no energy resources of its own at all, but its currency is strong

The relationship between energy consumption and wealth applies to the world as a whole. Unlike the global economy, which has no connection to any other world, Switzerland is not an isolated system. It maintains its wealth through energy consumption just as any other location, but much of the primary energy consumption is done elsewhere in places to which Switzerland is connected, through such things as its banking system. As long as the world as a whole has access to sufficient access to primary energy supplies, and Switzerland is deeply connected to the rest of the world, its economy will be fine.

The correlation between energy and wealth you find means nothing. Correlation does not mean causation.

Sure, except it is not a simple correlation, but rather a scalar transformation. Normally, where there is a linear correlation between two quantities, the ratio of the two quantities is variable unless the two quantities pass through the origin (0,0) instead of having an intercept. GDP and energy consumption are an example of two correlated quantities, where the ratio is changing with time even though the two quantities generally are linearly related for periods of a decade or two. I would agree that GDP and energy consumption are not causally related (at least not without considering a couple other things). Wealth and energy consumption are not the same. They have a fixed ratio within reasonable observational uncertainty. Terming this ratio λ as an eigenvalue describing the system may be more mathematically appropriate.

Your work omits consideration of the role of debt

When considering the global economy, where wealth includes all aspects of civilization, who is the debt to? It appears to be me, that when everything is properly accounted for, global debt must add to zero because any remainder cannot be to anyone or thing that is not already part of the global financial system. Perhaps some day we will have debts to our Alien Overlords. But until then, for answering global questions at least, debt seems like a red herring.

By considering wealth as an accumulation of all past production you fail to consider depreciation

It might at first seem so, but no, this is not the case. Depreciation (or more physically, decay) is very much a part of the model. A particularly elegant result (IMHO) that comes out of the framework is that inflation and decay are two sides of the same coin. Wealth is not the sum of past nominal GDP but instead the sum of real GDP. This difference is calculated through the standard economic quantity called the GDP deflator. There are some subtleties: for example in the very general framework I consider a closer measure of this depreciation or decay might include things like unemployment, as absent retooling we forget and our skills become less needed.

 

*****

I’m discovering that Garrett’s “civilization collapse” message is a tough sell, with no takers so far. How come?

Perhaps an answer of sorts can be found in an exchange of comments I had with two other readers on a popular website.

No 2385 Posted by fw, October 17, 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

In my October 15 post titled, Tim Garrett responds to 17 questions and criticisms about his research on the consequences of climate change, I reposted a sample of the difficulties people are having in understanding Garrett’s research findings. I wrote:

“Tim Garrett’s thinking about the complex interactions among economics, energy and climate can pose considerable cognitive challenges and consternation to the rest of us who have been fed a steady diet over the years of consistently similar, and far simpler, physics-free explanations.”

My subtitle to that post asks: “Do we have the interest, critical thinking skill, and attention span to understand Garrett’s work?”   

Picking up on the “tough sell” theme, below is a copy of an exchange I had just the other day with two respondents to my remark in the Comments section in response to an article about clean energy published in the highly popular online publication Popular Resistance.

Reposted below is a copy of the chain of comments. Alternatively, read the remarks in the Comments section of the Popular Resistance website by clicking on the following linked title of the article that sparked the exchange.

**********

That $3 Trillion-A-Year Clean Energy Transformation? It’s Already Underway, by Phil McKenna, Popular Resistance, October 15, 2018 — Originally published by Insideclimatenews.org

fjwhite my opening comment

I respectfully suggest Phil become familiar with the research findings of Tim Garrett, atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah, whose application of thermodynamics to global economics, concludes that civilization is caught in a double-bind between global economic collapse and CO2 levels rising to 1200 parts per million within decades. Garrett refers to his findings as “frightening”, claiming “there’s no way out.”

As Garrett explains in his article, “Are renewables the answer?“, clean energy is not the magic bullet for two reasons: 1) new sources of energy tend to add to past sources; 2) any source of energy, whatever its source, enables civilization to further destroy its environment through the extraction of matter. Clean energy will only accelerate this process.

For more information about Garrett, visit this ShortLink: https://tinyurl.com/ya5qj9pd

mwildfire replies to me

This doesn’t mean clean energy is not the answer. It just means that it alone is not the answer–that we can’t go on with capitalism, economic growth, and warfare and merely replace our electricity power sources and be good to go. We need to reduce our numbers, terminate economic growth, transition to ecological agriculture, revamp our city layout and economies so that commuting is a thing of the past, go back to circular arrangements like refilling bottles, and if we do all that, then renewable energy could supply enough power.

fjwhite reply to mwildfire

Hi mwilfdire. Thanks for your response. You’re not the first person to be skeptical about Garretts’ work, and there’s nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. I can only suggest you follow the ShortLink and read a few articles by Garrett, starting with this one where he deals with a skeptical host of a radio show:

It’s inevitable civilization will collapse — The more important question is What will this collapse look like?” : Since things are already happening rapidly, we are talking about timescales of the next few decades.” No 2376 Posted by fw, September 30, 2018 — https://citizenactionmonito…

kevinzeese Popular Resistance moderator replies to me

The problem I have with the “its inevitable” thinking is it leads to do nothingism. So, it it is inevitable civilization will collapse what do you think we should be doing? Not transition to clean energy? Keep polluting with carbon fuels? Not change agriculture so it pollutes less and is changed to absorb carbon? What is your approach?

fjwhite reply to kevinzeese

Hi Kevin – Sorry, I don’t have an “approach.” And I don’t have thoughts to share on what “we should be doing.”

But let me share with you an excerpt from my transcript of a 2016 radio interview that may shed some light on Tim Garrett’s approach. But first, the backdrop:

The program’s host, Doug adamantly believes there are solutions to the economic growth- and climate-driven existential crisis humanity faces. However, when he is confronted by Tim Garrett’s lengthy, physics-based reasoning, which blows huge holes in Doug’s suggested “solutions”, he (Doug) stubbornly clings to his disconfirmation biases. Or is it that he simply does not grasp Garrett’s information-rich thinking, even when Garrett does his utmost to simplify his explanations. In fairness to Doug, Garrett’s use of familiar terms like ‘wealth’ in an unfamiliar way can be confounding to the untutored. As well, Garrett’s introduction of analogies into the conversation can be disorienting, and the counter-intuitiveness of some of his arguments can be perplexing to ordinary folks. And the physics doesn’t help.

Towards the end of the interview, one could sense that Garrett was growing restive with Doug, which led to this response:

“I believe that the universe is determinate, that things will unfold as they will unfold, and in the same way that they have always been determined to unfold. And I see this as a direct result of the laws of physics, specifically thermodynamics. I appreciate that others will not share that point of view and appeal more to human agency. The one thing I do believe is that if there is a solution out there, we should be very critical of those who advertise things that may be fairy tales – that are things that are as they might wish them to be. There may not be clear solutions that are the most obvious ones. It turns out from the work I’ve done, for example, that pursuing increased energy efficiency probably makes things worse rather than better because it aids to help the civilization, and the healthier civilization is, the more it consumes…. it is only by understanding how civilization works that we can then start to think about how the future might change if there were certain adjustments that might be made. That’s where I, as a scientist, I would prefer to see the focus, not on the politics, rather on the science.” (Shortlink https://wp.me/pO0No-4v7 )”

Kevin, it is not inevitable that Garrett’s thinking leads to “nothingism.” On the contrary, if people bothered to try to understand his thinking – which is a formidable cognitive challenge – they might realize that doing more of the same in the hope that things might turn out differently is not the answer.

Garrett puts it this way:

“Can we really navigate our way out of the potential for a broad scale breakdown simply by applying a sufficiently powerful dose of political and economic will? It would be wonderful to think so. Yet we still have to acknowledge that there are physical limits to what is possible. The human world is as much part of the natural universe as anything else, and if we readily accept that the complex motions of climate march to physical laws, it may be unreasonable to imagine that society should be an exception.” (Source: Shortlink https://wp.me/pO0No-4vL )

As for me, a non-scientist, I’m doing the best I can to try to understand Garrett’s thinking – and it’s damn hard going. So far I have posted on my blog 7 articles by Garrett, 3 transcripts of radio interviews with him, and 5 pieces by others about Garrett’s work — with more to come.

And I’m doing the best I know how, to share with others, Garrett’s unique physics-based analysis of economics. It’s a tough sell, and so far, no takers — None of the sources I have contacted have followed up with their own articles about Garrett’s work.

 

*****

Tim Garrett’s thinking prompts science writer to ask: “Is it possible for us to reduce our carbon emissions?”

Writer Hannah Waters acknowledges the formidable challenges ahead, but insists “We cannot just give up.”

No 2386 Posted by fw, October 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

Hannah Waters

“You may have heard that we’ve been having a bit of a problem called “global warming” or “climate change.”  The debate is what to do about it — can individuals, day-by-day, affect the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere based on decisions involving diet, waste, and choices of consumption?  What types of alternative energy are the most efficient and effective?  How does industry need to change in order to yield or reduce carbon emissions?  Is this a problem that we can actually solve? The journal Climatic Change published an article online on February 2011 by Timothy Garrett entitled Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?  You could easily blow this off as just another doomsday scientist, but the way he structures his argument, stepping back from the issue and thinking about human civilization in relation to its environment in a new way, makes it stand out.”Hannah Waters, Culturing Science

In 2009, when Hannah wrote her article about Tim Garrett, she was a young, aspiring science writer with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. Today Hannah is the Senior Associate Editor of Audubon. Her science and environmental writing has been published by Audubon, Smithsonian, Hakai, Vice Motherboard, Nautilus, National Geographic, Grid Philly, and other publications. She has also done research on seabird ecology, leaf-cutter ant ecology, the epigenetic profiles of aging yeast, and has worked in conservation, marine tourism, and science education.

In her article, reposted below, Hannah jumps in at the deep end by attempting to explain how Garrett “boils down the human-planet system to physics,” including his cognitively, intimidating multi-variate calculations. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to understand Hannah’s explanation of Garrett’s reasoning. Instead, my added subheadings might help you to answer Hannah’s question: “Is it possible for us to reduce our carbon emissions?

Towards the end of her article, Hannah writes:

“As much as simplification can be helpful in understanding a system, we cannot just give up.  Other factors can help mitigate our carbon emissions — if we don’t believe this then we’re wasting our time — and work should still continue to figure out those methods.”

Would Garrett agree with Hannah? Garrett’s 2018 article titled, Will growth transition to collapse? seems to answer Hannah’s question – in the negative.

“Can we really navigate our way out of the potential for a broad scale breakdown simply by applying a sufficiently powerful dose of political and economic will? It would be wonderful to think so. Yet we still have to acknowledge that there are physical limits to what is possible. The human world is as much part of the natural universe as anything else, and if we readily accept that the complex motions of climate march to physical laws, it may be unreasonable to imagine that society should be an exception.”

To read Hannah’s article on her website, click on the following linked title,

**********

Is it possible for us to reduce our carbon emissions? by Hannah Waters, Culturing Science, [November 30, 2009?]

The debate on what to do about global warming continues

You may have heard that we’ve been having a bit of a problem called “global warming” or “climate change.”  The debate is what to do about it — can individuals, day-by-day, affect the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere based on decisions involving diet, waste, and choices of consumption?  What types of alternative energy are the most efficient and effective?  How does industry need to change in order to yield or reduce carbon emissions?  Is this a problem that we can actually solve?

Tim Garrett’s 2011 article points to a whole new way of thinking about civilization relative to the environment

The journal Climatic Change published an article online on February 2011 by Timothy Garrett entitled Are there basic physical constraints on future anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide?  You could easily blow this off as just another doomsday scientist, but the way he structures his argument, stepping back from the issue and thinking about human civilization in relation to its environment in a new way, makes it stand out.

Garrett creates a new economic model superior to IPCC’s standard model

Garrett creates a new economic model, essentially reducing civilization to production and energy consumption.  The standard model used in the International Panel on Climate Chance (IPCC) Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) includes the variables p (population) and g (standard of living), which are difficult to predict, causing difficulty in creating reliable models to calculate the climatic state even 50 or 100 years from now.

Garrett argues that these variables are unnecessary, as they are simply responses to energy consumption and efficiency; that we should instead think about civilization as a huge furnace, which needs more energy as productivity increases, but is also inextricably linked to past production.  “The present and future are influenced even by the most distant past, and the past cannot be erased.”

“Essentially, he boils down the human-planet system to physics” 

Essentially, he boils down the human-planet system to physics.  Carbon dioxide, the output of energy consumption, exits civilization at a constant rate, but accumulates over time.  This tradeoff is represented as the variable η (eta), which is the “rate of return” of energy to a system.  It essentially represents a feedback loop in which the greater the energy consumption and production, the greater is the potential for more consumption and production.  (Remember that carbon emissions are tied to this production and energy consumption.)  What is most important to note is that if η > 0, the system is growing, meaning energy consumption is increasing; when η < 0, it is shrinking; and when η=0, system growth is at a standstill.

Linking energy consumption to economic growth gives us another way to think about how humans, energy and the environment interact

It seems obvious that energy consumption would be tied to production in general.  But if energy consumption also is linked to economic growth, then we would have another way to think about how humans, energy and the environment interact.  Garrett based his calculations on the assumption that there is some constant value, λ (lamba), which links energy consumption to economic value through the equation:

= λC,  where a = global primary energy consumption and C = global economic value

Garrett’s key argument is that the ratio of global primary energy consumption to global economic value is constant with time

If his argument is true, λ has to be constant with time.  To show the existence of this constant, Garrett turned to data for world energy production (and thus consumption) a from the Annual Energy Review (2006) and global economic production P from United Nations data and looked at the whole 36-year timeframe for which he had data.  As you can see from his figure (below), the ratio of a/C for λ stayed constant at around 0.306 exajoules per trillion for the entire period.  (Also note the dramatic increase in η since the industrial revolution.)  (FYI: P is production rate in 1990 dollars/year.)

Garrett does admit that, since he has such a short length of data to work with, this constant could only apply to this 36-year period and not more.  However, I find his evidence sufficient to consider the model further.  As we accumulate more data on energy and economic production, it will be interesting to see if this constant λ is, in fact, constant.

The concept that economic growth and increased energy use are linked makes logical sense and is easy to grasp

This is a simple concept: that economic growth and increased energy use are linked.

But what it implies about how to reduce energy use is not so easy to grasp

However, what it [the concept] implies about how to reduce energy use is harder to grasp. This paper suggests that to bring η [the rate of return of energy of a system through a feedback loop in which the greater the energy consumption and production, the greater is the potential for more consumption and production — calculated as P (global economic production measured in 1990 $ per year) divided by C (global economic value)] below zero and thus lose our forward acceleration of energy use, we have to actually shrink our economy.

For some reason, saying “shrink our consumptionseems doable, but when it is tied to the economic success of countries, developing or stable, it seems like far more of an impossible task.  In this way, Garrett’s paper points out a flaw in current discussions about climate change: we want to reduce emissions, but at the same time keep living our lives the way we do, keeping production high and the economy growing.

Would switching to non-carbo-based energy sources lead to a reduction of η, the rate of return of energy consumption, to be less than zero?

The next question is: what if we change our energy to non-carbon-based sources, such as wind or solar power?

For η to equal or be less than zero, we would need to make a switch to non-carbon sources at the same rate as η itself, the rate of return

For η to equal or be less than zero, we would need to make a switch to non-carbon sources at the same rate as η itself, the rate of return.  The 2005 value for η is 2.1% growth per year.

To do this we would have to add 2.1% of current annual energy production, which corresponds to an annual addition of one new nuclear power plant per day

According to Garrett, “2.1% of current annual energy production corresponds to an annual addition of approximately 300 GW of new non-carbon emitting power capacity — approximately one new nuclear power plant per day.”

Garrett presents us with an impossible task: adding non-carbon-based energy sources while concurrently downgrading our economy

Garrett’s paper seems to present us with an impossible task: up the building of non-carbon-based energy sources while simultaneously downgrading our economy. It’s a hefty charge, and one that makes the future seem quite bleak. However, this work should be taken with a grain of salt.

This work should be taken with a grain of salt. “We cannot just give up.”

As much as simplification can be helpful in understanding a system, we cannot just give up.  Other factors can help mitigate our carbon emissions — if we don’t believe this then we’re wasting our time — and work should still continue to figure out those methods.

Garrett’s paper forces us to realize reducing emissions is a global issue — one country’s change isn’t going to save us

More than anything, I think that this is a really interesting way to think about humans and civilization on this planet.  When we’re talking and thinking about climate change, it’s easy to play the blame game and assign roles to different parts of the world or society, whether they be developing nations, industrialization and globalization, or rich people in mansions with enormous carbon footprints. This paper makes the reader step back and realize that it’s not one thing — it’s the entire planet.  One country’s change isn’t going to do it.  While biking to work makes me feel good, we need everyone to bike to work in order to reduce our consumption dramatically enough to reduce emissions, and hopefully get our η in the negative.

 

*****

The amount of energy our global civilization of 7.5 billion consumes daily is 18,000,000,000,000 Watts

18 TRILLION! That’s huge. Beyond comprehension. What’s more astonishing is that in just 30 years we’ll double that rate of energy consumption.

No 2387 Posted by fw, October 24, 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

“I think one thing I find really quite amazing is just how fast the changes may come upon us. If we think about where civilization has come from, it seems like something that’s developed over really quite a long time period. … perhaps close to 10,000 years ago. And since then we’ve built up cities and nations, a transportation and communication networks that enable us to engage in all our activities, today supporting all seven and a half billion of us. And all of this requires a huge [daily] consumption of energy. If I put a number on it, it would be 18 Terawatts. That’s just a number, but it’s a very large amount of energy that is consumed day after day after day continually in order to sustain all our activities. … Now what is astonishing is that we are not consuming energy just to maintain these activities, but some of this energy is going into enabling us to extract raw materials from our environment in order to enable us to grow. So we are constructing new aspects of civilization, new communication networks, new roads, planes, even people – which are made of matter – in order to continue to growing our humanity.”Tim Garrett, Foresight Analysis Nexus

In 2017 Tim Garrett gave a presentation for the Foresight Analysis Nexus workshop on Energy and the Economy in Crans, Switzerland. His contribution included a 4:16-minute video talk, embedded below, and a paper titled Growth leads to collapse? which he subsequently published in 2018 on his website at the University of Utah under a slightly different title, Will growth transition to collapse? I reposted this piece on my blog under the title: Sustaining economic growth now means more potentially catastrophic global climate change later.

Before getting to the video, a clarification and a couple of points of emphasis. Garrett uses the term ‘Terawatt’ in his talk. A Terawatt is a unit of power equivalent to a trillion Watts. ‘Power’ is defined as the rate of doing work, measured in Watts. Garrett claims that, in support of the daily activities of our global civilization’s 7.5 billion people, 18 Terawatts of energy is consumed. To be clear, that’s a rate of 18 trillion Watts per day. Expressed numerically, 18 trillion can be written as 18,000,000,000,000 Watts, or 18 x (1012 ) Watts. Absent a context, a number that large, and the units of measure, Watts and Terawatts, are, I suggest, meaningless to most of us. Garrett doesn’t explain how he arrived at the number 18 trillion Terawatts, but I will take him as his word that it is correct.

The other thing I want to emphasize is that the measure refers to the rate of energy consumption by our global civilization as a whole, in the performance of “activities”, such as “constructing new aspects of civilization, new communication networks, new roads, planes, even people – which are made of matter – in order to continue to growing our humanity.” Moreover, this is the rate of energy consumption day after day after day, continually.

At the end of his short talk, Garrett explains why this level of energy consumption, doubling every 30 years, has potentially catastrophic consequences.

To illustrate Garrett’s point about the amazing rate of growth of energy consumption, be sure to watch the short video at the end of this post about China’s trillion dollar plan to dominate global trade. (So far the video has had 3,124,046 views).

Below is an embedded video of Garrett’s short talk along with my transcript of the talk.

**********

In Simple Terms, Video talk by Timothy Garrett, Foresight Analysis Nexus, 2017 (4:16-minutes)

TRANSCRIPT

I think one thing I find really quite amazing is just how fast the changes may come upon us. If we think about where civilization has come from, it seems like something that’s developed over really quite a long time period. Maybe we would start at some time after the Last Ice age when we developed agriculture, perhaps close to 10,000 years ago. And since then we’ve built up cities and nations, a transportation and communication networks that enable us to engage in all our activities, today supporting all seven and a half billion of us.

And all of this requires a huge [daily] consumption of energy. If I put a number on it, it would be 18 Terawatts. That’s just a number, but it’s a very large amount of energy that is consumed day after day after day continually in order to sustain all our activities.

Now what is astonishing is that we are not consuming energy just to maintain these activities, but some of this energy is going into enabling us to extract raw materials from our environment in order to enable us to grow. So we are constructing new aspects of civilization, new communication networks, new roads, planes, even people – which are made of matter – in order to continue to growing our humanity.

And there it is surprising, because our current growth rate – it may seem small, just 2.3% per year thereabouts for our rates of energy consumption growth – but that translates to a doubling in our consumption rate in just 30 years. Now that’s incredible, because if you think that it took us 10,000 years to get to our current consumption rate, and that we will double this again in just 30 years, then we’re thinking about a change in civilization that in our very lifetimes will reproduce everything that has happened over centuries, millennia.

And that brings to us, I think, a very basic question – How will this happen? Can we sustain a doubling of our daily energy consumption rate, and all the raw materials that go along with it? Do those raw materials exist? Perhaps they do. Perhaps we can figure out ways to extract sufficient resources from our environment to maintain a doubling of our civilization in the next 30 years. And then in the next 30 years beyond that, which would be four times as large. Perhaps we can do that. Perhaps the resources are out there. Or perhaps they aren’t. And if they aren’t, then I think naturally we would think that all the activities of civilization will somehow have to slow.

And then we can start thinking about well, what does that mean for civilization to start slowing? What does it mean for the economy if we can no longer sustain all the activities with the energy that’s required? Or, if we can’t sustain the activities, what does it mean to have all the accumulating waste products, that are produced by the consumption, accumulating in, for example, our atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide?

A planet that is 5 degrees Celsius warmer than it is today will not be the same place. And we have to think seriously about what that implies for the ability of civilization to continue to grow. Somehow, something will have to give.   

*****

SEE ALSO

China’s trillion dollar plan to dominate global trade by Vox Atlas, April 5, 2018 (6 minutes)

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is the most ambitious infrastructure project in modern history. It spans over 60 countries and will cost over a trillion dollars. The plan is to make it easier for the world to trade with China, by funding roads, railways, pipelines, and other infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa. China is loaning trillions of dollars to any country that’s willing to participate and it’s been a big hit with the less democratic countries in the region. This makes the BRI a risky plan as well. But China is pushing forward because its goals are not strictly economic, they’re also geopolitical.

 

******

Tim Garrett — Affect of Arctic Clouds on Climate; Collapse of Civilization; and Picking Tim’s Brain

Transcript of a wide-ranging, 50-minute interview with this atmospheric physicist who says — among many other things — solar and wind enable us “to further rape the environment”.

No 2392 Posted by fw, November 8, 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

Presented below is my transcript of a wide-ranging interview with University of Utah’s atmospheric physicist Tim Garrett. The transcript appears below my embedded audio of the interview, which took place on Radio Ecoshock, October 3, 2018. Host Alex Smith interviewed Garrett.

I have organized the content of the interview transcript in three sections: A summary overview of each section is comprised of subheadings that I added to the transcript. The overview is intended to assist readers/listeners who may prefer to first review the content and then read/listen selectively.

Content Overview

[SECTION 1 – THE AFFECT OF ARCTIC CLOUDS ON CLIMATE] (about 18 minutes long)

Arctic clouds are more sensitive to pollution than clouds at lower latitudes. It is likely that Arctic clouds are being polluted by an increase in industrialization in the Arctic. On the other hand, the increase in rain in a warmer Arctic could be cleaning up pollution. Arctic clouds tend to be fragile, very shallow stratus clouds barely forming in a quiet atmosphere. Polluted air makes it more likely that Arctic clouds will switch from liquid to ice. When Arctic clouds form a delicate snow, the Arctic climate system is affected in very complicated ways. Other scientists argue that rapid Arctic warming is having profound impacts on climate at lower latitudes. The major finding is that pollution that is affecting Arctic clouds is human-made pollution. Local Arctic polluting sources have an “outsized impact on the Arctic.” How clouds will respond to climate change driven by CO2 emissions is our biggest unknown. ‘Forcings’ and ‘feedbacks’ play a role in driving climate change. CO2 is the climate change ‘trigger’; water vapour, the dominant greenhouse gas, is the ‘bullet’. Clouds are “ the hard thing to do” methodologically, in terms of representing their variability in climate models – Why is this? “We haven’t been very successful at constraining how much clouds will warm the climate.” A research breakthrough has simplified complex cloud field modelling. A primary takeaway from this research is this — As the planet warms, the prediction is that cloud cover will increase.

[SECTION 2 – COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION] (about 10 minutes long)

Civilization and clouds both consume lots of energy, grow explosively on energy and matter, and eventually die. Civilization is currently in an explosive growth phase, driven by global economic growth. “If we did not consume energy from our environment, all of civilization would grind to a halt.” “Right now we are discovering new energy resources at quite a rapid rate.” We will consume as much energy and raw materials in the next 30 years as we have since 1750. Civilization’s doubling is a consequence of “exponential growth.” At this rate of consumption, civilization is headed towards quadrupling its growth rate. We are increasingly swimming in waste products, including CO2 which drives climate change. If civilization does not start to collapse soon, it will be forced into decline due either to climate change, or to environmental degradation. This is probably going to happen rapidly, within decades. Think solar and wind might replace fossils? Think again. Total energy consumption continues to increase with each additional energy source. Additional energy sources just enable us to further rape the environment. Wars and inflation are consequences of civilizations that are resource constrained. Capitalist societies are predicated on economic growth – that means competition, and winners and losers.

[SECTION 3 – PICKING TIM’S BRAIN] (about 24 minutes long)

Why Tim named his blog ‘Nephologue’. Garrett sees parallels between his study of cloud growth and civilization growth – both are thermodynamically open systems. Garrett’s quest is to tie the global wealth of civilization to its rate of energy consumption. What does “scale invariance” mean and what does it have to do with understanding behaviour of large and small scale phenomena? Small scale components of civilization are connected to large scale components (or entireties) through energy transfers. Each individual on earth is connected to everybody else by perhaps six degrees of separation. What can this mean? This connection involves a transfer of energy and information back and forth between all of us. Alex Smith challenges Garrett’s rose-coloured, “physics-based formula to relate climate, energy and the economy.” Garrett concedes he sees things through the lens of physics because it lends itself to theoretically-based testable hypotheses. Einstein’s genius, unpredictable at an individual level, is an extreme manifestation of the upper limit of civilization’s normal probability distribution – as expected by the law of “scale invariance.” Eons of human evolution did not prepare our brains to plan for decades of extreme climate change – there is no collective memory of this existential threat. Planning for a cold winter did not prepare humans to plan for temperatures being a couple of degrees colder 100 years in the future. Expect wars and inflation to rear their head when global competition for resources heats up. Resource scarcities will happen in two ways – either resource depletion or infrastructure degradation caused by unrelenting economic growth. Expect more Syrias and Venezuelas in the future. The US and Canada should not expect their relative isolation to insulate them from global chaos. We are experiencing explosive systems growth, which tends to be followed by explosive collapse or decline. There are two modes of decline – gradual, fairly orderly, and an explosive, accelerated rate of decline. Think of civilization as a wave approaching a beach, collapsing and crashing when it runs out of water. Will civilization, behaving like a wave, rise again? We, as individuals, cannot change civilization’s inexorable trajectory towards collapse. Civilization is a superorganism that will grow until no further growth is possible. Everything in the universe is a consequence of an initial availability of energy and matter; and when it runs out, it dies. The cloud problem led to a breakthrough in statistical laws that have clarified regularities in many phenomena. There will always be more poor who have as much wealth collectively as the very few rich – [If that’s a statistical law, the implications are frightening]. As the world gets richer there will be the uber-rich and the poor, and there’s going to be a continued expansion of that separation for as long as the world gets wealthier. Contraction will inevitably follow expansion – And what impact might that have on political and economic systems? Watch for Garrett’s Nephologue blog post on scale invariance and economic systems

Reposted below is my link to Alex Smith’s thoughts on his interview with Tim Garrett, including a full audio of the event.

Immediately following Smith’s link is the link to the Soundcloud version of the audio of the full interview, which I have embedded in my post. And below the embedded audio, is my full transcript of the interview, with chronological markers to facilitate searching and matching the transcript with the audio. As well, I have added to the transcript subheadings, text highlights, and some additional hyperlinks.

To watch/pause the Soundcloud audio, click on the Play/Pause button.

**********

Tim Garrett: The Physics of Clouds and Collapse by Radio Ecoshock, October 3, 2018

The Physics of Clouds and Collapse, by Radio Ecoshock, posted on Soundcloud, October 3, 2018

TRANSCRIPT

00:13 — Alex Smith (AS) – Welcome to my third encounter with Dr. Tim Garrett, from the University of Utah. Tim is an atmospheric scientist. He’s studying one of the big unknowns of our future climate – the behaviour of clouds. Garrett also publishes papers on what I will call the physics of large scale economy. He says civilization is a heat engine – and believe me that is a rabbit hole where even confirmed preppers should shiver a bit.

Let’s explore the clouds, the climate and the Arctic with a side order of inevitable collapse. Tim Garrett, welcome back to the eclectic air space known as Radio Ecoshock.

Tim Garrett (TG) – Thanks very much for having me, Alex.

ASI like talking with you, Tim. I found a good index to your recent work linked in tweets at a place called “At Dissipative Sys”. Is that named because we inhabit a dissipative system?

“Dissipated system” – means by which any system exists, evolves, grows, and ultimately shrinks

01:08 – TG – Very much so. I actually changed the name to Nephologue, if anyone is interested. Yes, it is based on the idea that everything that we identify in the universe, in some way or another, is a “dissipated system”. And what I mean by that is that it consumes energy from its environment – high potential energy – and has internal circulations within it, and then it converts that energy into unavailable low potential energy. That energy may be available to something else, but that is really the means by which any system exists and evolves and grows and ultimately shrinks.

[SECTION 1 – THE AFFECT OF ARCTIC CLOUDS ON CLIMATE] (about 18 minutes long)

01:52 — ASSeptember 10 [2018] your tweet quote: “Arctic air pollution, already high, but it’s not super-clear whether it will increase or decrease.” And you reference new science published September 3, 2018 in the AGU [American Geophysical Union] journal, Earth’s Future. Tell us why the picture there is still unclear.

Arctic clouds are more sensitive to pollution than clouds at lower latitudes

02:12 – TG – The Arctic’s quite an interesting place. I’ve been working a lot, even since I was a graduate student on how pollution from mid-latitudes might be affecting clouds in the Arctic, clouds in particular. There’s something where we might think that the Arctic really should be a pristine place because so few people live up there. But the fact is, is that air from mid-latitudes, where most people live, tends to be polluted. There’s also forest fires, and there’s aerosol pollution blows northwards and has the capacity to affect the Arctic in many ways. One is to be deposited on snow and make it darker. And another is to change cloud properties in the Arctic. And it turns out the Arctic is unusually sensitive to this pollution. We found differences as much as a factor of seven times more sensitive to the pollution than clouds at lower latitudes.

It is likely that Arctic clouds are being polluted by an increase in industrialization in the Arctic

There’s two things that could go on here. As the climate warms, we are very concerned about how the Arctic will change, since the Arctic seems to be changing about twice as rapidly, measured by temperature, as the rest of the world taken as a whole. There’s two things that might happen here. One is that the aerosol pollution could increase due to increase in industrialization in the Arctic as shipping lanes open up – so, for example, then Arctic warms and becomes more habitable. And that might change clouds in a way that both warms and cools the Arctic depending on the season.

On the other hand, the increase in rain in a warmer Arctic could be cleaning up pollution

[Two] But also as the Arctic warms up it’s going to become wetter. If it becomes wetter there will probably be more rain. And if there is more rain that could act to clean up the Arctic by scavenging the pollution from the air. We know just from experience that often if the air is polluted, along comes a rainstorm and things clean up. Well the same thing could happen in the Arctic. It could go from quite a polluted place at times to something far cleaner. So it’s a big question in that way. It’s an interesting problem.

04:30 – ASYou co-authored another paper [titled High Sensitivity of Arctic Liquid Clouds to Long‐Range Anthropogenic Aerosol Transport] with Q. Coopman about this Arctic pollution – that was in November 2017 in Geophysical Research letters. To me, that paper’s a big deal, First, we know that Arctic ecosystems at ground level are sensitive – they’re even fragile. Why do you say in the Arctic clouds are also fragile. They’re right at the edge of their existence.

Arctic clouds tend to be fragile, very shallow, stratus clouds barely forming in a quiet atmosphere

04:53 – TG – That’s a nice way of putting it – “right at the edge of their existence.” They barely form. The atmosphere in the Arctic tends to be quite quiet. They do get storms, but for the most part, the atmosphere is what we would call stable. Which means you don’t tend to see big puffy cumulus clouds forming in the Arctic; it tends to be this very shallow stratus clouds, and they can be just maybe a few tenths of a metre thick. They’re just barely there. It could be clear, it could be cloudy.

Polluted air makes it more likely that Arctic clouds will switch from liquid to ice

And it turns out if the air is polluted due to pollution emissions, say from Europe, that can change the cloud property by quite a lot. The main way it changes them is to make the droplets in the clouds smaller. One surprising thing, even though the Arctic is well below the freezing point, clouds tend to be made of liquid, nonetheless, down to quite low temperatures – minus 20°C — and they do change to ice. We just had a paper accepted in Geophysical Research Letters which showed that the pollution seems to make it much more likely that the clouds will switch from liquid to ice in the Arctic.

When Arctic clouds form a delicate snow, the Arctic climate system is affected in very complicated ways

What happens is the pollution comes along – something about the pollution is enabling those liquid droplets to switch to ice crystals, and when they turn to ice crystals they tend to precipitate. They form a delicate snow. And that can change the lifetimes of the clouds. Now how that will affect the climate is uncertain because the Arctic climate system, like any climate system, is complicated, with many feedbacks, back and forth. But this is an important ingredient to the problem, we think. The pollution from the mid-latitudes is disturbing the Arctic environment in surprising ways.

06:58 – ASAre clouds in the Arctic important to the global climate system?

Other scientists argue that rapid Arctic warming is having profound affects on climate at lower latitudes

TG – That’s an excellent question. I don’t know. You can imagine ways that they would be. One area that I have been working hard on is trying to show how the clouds tend to cool the climate in the Arctic in the summer when they are perturbed by aerosols. This aerosol perturbation tends to warm the Arctic surface in the winter. Now how that translates to changes at mid-latitudes is not so well known, although there are scientists like Jennifer Francis who are arguing that the rapid Arctic warming is having profound affects on the temperatures in places like the United States. Now this is highly contentious. I’m not an expert on it myself, but there are many people who are arguing that the Arctic is not isolated from where most of us live. Rather, its changes can have substantial affects on the climate at latitudes.

08:22 – ASYou know we just went through a second or third summer of almost being burned down here, living in wildfire smoke. The September 2018 study that you referenced by J. Schmale found: “In the summer Boreal forest fires caused high levels of atmospheric pollution.” But if I read your work correctly you seemed to say that wildfire smoke did not contribute to the formation of Arctic clouds.

The major finding is that pollution that is affecting Arctic clouds is human-made pollution

TG – That was one of the surprising results. Yes, there is a lot of forest fire smoke in the Arctic. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I was aboard an airplane once in the Arctic for a field program. We were at the north slope of Alaska for six weeks and were flying through clouds in the atmosphere and sometimes it would look like we were in the smog of Los Angeles. I didn’t know at that time – this was back in the nineties – where that smog layer came from. But now I think there’s a realization that, at levels like say five kilometres above the surface, these smog layers are due to forest fires, and they just get up there and they hang around for a long time. These are quite common. However, what happens is that these aerosols from the forest fires tend not to be at the same levels that the clouds are at. One way of imagining it might be that, that air that is polluted was originally hot and dry. That’s why there are forest fires. The forest fires are convective; they create upward motions because they’re hot, and that takes the aerosols to places that aren’t favourable for forming clouds.

10:12 — TGSo, the major thing we found was that the pollution that is affecting clouds in the Arctic tends to be ‘anthropogenic’ pollution – human-made pollution.

10:26 – ASIs that human-made pollution that arrives in the Arctic – and we know it is, because Jason Box showed us gray glaciers in Greenland just from the landing of all those aerosol particles. But is it dealing with – what I would say is global pollution, a sort of widely dispersed level pollution — or do local sources matter more when we’re talking about clouds?

Local Arctic polluting sources have an “outsized impact on the Arctic”

TG – When we talk about local sources, I guess there are two ways you could refer to it. Local sources in the Arctic have an outsized impact on the Arctic. They’re just there; they’re in the right place at the right time. Local sources at mid-latitudes can also have a profound affect on the Arctic because there are atmospheric air motions that naturally takes plumes of aerosol pollution from places like Europe, and, increasingly, Asia to the Arctic along transport pathways that directly take the aerosols to the Arctic without a great deal of dilution. The global aerosol level is actually, on average, fairly uniform because of this reason that precipitation is everywhere and it tends to remove pollution from the atmosphere. So there is a background aerosol level in the globe as a whole. And it does go up and down a bit depending on the global pollution levels, but that is not the major driving force for change in the Arctic. It tends to be these narrowly focused plumes that come from specific pollution sources like factories or smelters or even just general people going back and forth to work.

12:10 – AS – We want to know how Arctic clouds function in a global climate model. You and your colleagues have new science to help answer that question more simply. Please tell us about your paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research in July 2018. [The paper is Thermodynamic Constraints on the Size Distributions of Tropical Clouds, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres on 23 July 2018. Find an easy to read explanation here: Researchers find an easier way to simulate cloud cover by Paul Gabrielsen, AGU Blogosphere, July 23, 2018.]

How clouds will respond to climate change driven by CO2 emissions is our biggest unknown

TG – This is the work that I’m particularly excited by right now. I think increasingly when we are thinking about forecasting future climate there’s growing recognition that the biggest unknown – and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here – in whether the degree of climate change that we will see for a given amount of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere is how clouds will respond to a change in climate.

The role of ‘forcings’ and ‘feedbacks’ driving climate change

So the issue here is that we have forcings and feedbacks. The forcings of climate change are the basic greenhouse gases. The dominate one here that’s driving the climate change is carbon dioxide, of course. But then there are feedbacks which are that, as the carbon dioxide concentrations go up, temperatures go up, and then the water vapour concentration will tend to increase, and water vapour is a very strong greenhouse gas – it’s the dominate greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

CO2 is the climate change ‘trigger’; water vapour, the dominant greenhouse gas, is the ‘bullet’

So, when we talk about climate change, it’s actually more about the water vapour than the CO2, even if CO2 is the trigger, the water vapour is the bullet. And that’s a positive feedback. And there are other feedbacks too related to how the atmospheric temperature structure will change. And also, just like the element on your stovetop, a hotter planet will emit more efficiently infrared radiation to the atmosphere. It will cool down more efficiently. So that’s negative feedback.

Why clouds are “ the hard thing to do” in representing their variability in climate models

14:06 – TG – Then there’s clouds. Clouds are the hard thing to do because they are incredibly complicated. In terms of complications, they are really the most complicated natural phenomenon on our planet, with the exception of perhaps volcanoes, which are more sporadic. Clouds are incredibly energy dense. They consume massive amounts of energy due to latent heat release from condensation. And that creates an extraordinary range of phenomena, ranging from every snowflake being different, created by a cloud, to the turbulent motions of the clouds spanning scales from millimetres to kilometres, and the clouds themselves can span hundreds of kilometres in stormtraps. And representing this variability in climate models is almost impossible, because the climate models have grid boxes that may be tens of kilometres on each side. They just don’t have the resolution to count the small scale cloud processes. People try to parameterize this, but the parameterizations are themselves very uncertain. It’s almost like a Pandora’s Box – every time we narrow down one process we reveal smaller scale processes that are themselves uncertain.

“We haven’t been very successful at constraining how much clouds will warm the climate.”

15:41 — TG – The climate models right now seem to suggest that clouds will amplify climate change by a considerable degree. So, expect water vapour to have one affect, then clouds will add to that and they will make the planet warmer. The challenge is constraining that [added warming], and we haven’t been very successful at constraining how much clouds will warm the climate. It’s really uncertain.

Research breakthrough simplifies complex cloud field modelling

So I thought, maybe there’s a totally different way to come at this problem. I tried to solve the problem of cloud sizes and distributions using basic thermodynamics. What I found, what’s described in this paper, is that we can actually describe the numbers and shapes and sizes of clouds in an incredibly complex tropical cloud field to an extremely high degree of accuracy using just a few lines of physics rather than using incredibly complicated cloud models. So there are cloud models that are very high resolution. And I found that I could reproduce the statistics for cloud sizes within a cloud model of one billion grid points run every two seconds in a massive super computer – I think it was three hundred thousand processor hours in this super computer simulation. It was possible to reproduce the representation of a cloud field in the simulation, accurately, to within 13% using just a little bit of physics. That’s important. It dramatically simplifies the problem. It shows that we can reduce the cloud problem effectively to a point. All we need to know is the stability of the atmosphere, and if we know the stability of the atmosphere – which is quite predictable – then we can unravel, statistically, an entire tropical cloud field. We can show – we don’t know which cloud where, it might look like Mickey Mouse – though we can say, statistically, we will have a certain number of big clouds, and a much larger number of small clouds. And that this obeys statistical properties that are simple to describe mathematically and are simple to predict.

18:10 — ASAlright. I want to get back to my original question: What will happen to Arctic clouds as the planet warms 1, 2, or 4°C.?

My takeaway of all this — As planet warms, the prediction is that cloud cover will increase

TGI think the prediction is that cloud cover will increase. So, as the sea ice melts in the Arctic, then the exposure to the ocean will increase, and the atmosphere will become more unstable because there is moisture and heat that’s coming from the ocean, and that will naturally lend itself to an increase in cloud cover. And these clouds will tend to act as a blanket, and the prediction is that these clouds will tend to, on average, warm the surface, and, in a way, lead to positive feedback that accelerates sea ice loss – because the clouds act as a blanket for the surface and war it, and lead to more clouds.

19:13 – 19:42 — PROGRAM BREAK

[SECTION 2 – COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION] (about 10 minutes long)

AS – 19:43Tim, let’s get our heads out of the clouds for a minute. You argue that our current civilization will collapse sooner or later. In a 4-minute video, you conclude “Something has to give.” What doesn’t add up for you?

Civilization and clouds both consume lots of energy, grow explosively on energy and matter, and eventually die

TG – It’s interesting you say “heads out of the clouds” because I think there are incredible parallels between civilization and clouds. These are [both] complex systems that consume a lot of energy that grow explosively by consuming energy and matter from their environment, and ultimately reach a point where they’ve consumed all that is available and die.

Civilization is in an explosive growth phase driven by global economic growth

For clouds, we can see this all the time. For civilization we are still in this explosive growth phase. So, the point I am trying to make is that this explosive growth phase that we are in currently, with our global economy, for civilization as a whole, is based upon consuming energy and matter from our environment. That is what keeps all the circulations going.

“If we did not consume energy from our environment, all of civilization would grind to a halt”

If we did not consume energy from our environment, all of civilization would grind to a halt. We would die out of starvation. And our concept of a global economy would die with us. That’s not what’s happening now.

“Right now we are discovering new energy resources at quite a rapid rate”

Right now we are discovering new energy resources at quite a rapid rate. And one way or another, whether it’s renewables or fossil fuels, or whatever it is, even shale oil – it’s a substantial source of energy – and that’s enabling civilization to grow extremely rapidly.

We will consume as much energy and raw materials in the next 30 years as we have since 1750

21:37 – But there is a consequence to this — Growth cannot be sustained forever. It’s simply impossible. Eventually the sources of energy will be depleted. Just to take as an example, it’s a simple calculation – We will consume as much energy and raw materials from our environment in the next 30 years as we have since 1750. That’s an incredible number.

Civilization’s doubling is a consequence of “exponential growth”

We are going to double civilization over again in the next 30 years over what we have in the past 250 [years]. And this is just a consequence of exponential growth. And in 30 years our energy and raw material demands will be twice what they are today at current rates of growth.

At this rate of consumption, civilization is headed towards quadrupling its growth rate

And then you think, well that’s just 30 years, what’s 30 years beyond that? That would be a quadrupling. Maybe we can do that. I don’t know. There’s lots of unpredictable things out there. It seems in some sense impossible our environment is already staring to groan under the burden of our consumption.

We are increasingly swimming in waste products, including CO2 which drives climate change

23:00 — Perhaps there’s a means to continue this growth, but growth necessitates an accelerating rate of production of waste products. And there’s a variety of waste products that we are increasingly swimming in. One of these is, of course, carbon dioxide, which leads to climate change. And there’s other things too like topsoil depletion and nitrification of our waterways, depletion of fish stocks in the ocean, The waste products of our consumption are going to accelerate.

If civilization does not start to collapse soon, it will be forced into decline due to climate change or to environmental degradation

So, when I say “something has to give” I think we are left in a very difficult position. If civilization does not start to collapse very soon, and the growth stalls and then not just stalls, but then civilization enters into a profound decline, if civilization does not do that, then it may be forced into that decline under either the burden of its consumption of resources or under the burden of the waste products it is producing, either due to climate change or the deteriorating environment.

This is probably going to happen rapidly, within decades

And this is probably going to happen quite rapidly because we’re not talking about centuries here, we are talking about decades.

24:22 – ASIn a tweet that you posted August 15, [2018], you linked to a New York Times article where even climate-aware Germany still depends on coal for up to 40% of its energy, and you say, historically, new energy sources add to the mix rather than replace their older foundation, that sounds pretty bleak for the future of green energy like solar and wind. That’s not what we’re all dreaming about.

Think solar and wind might replace fossils? Think again

TG – Yeah. I mean we would like to think that solar and wind might replace coal, but if you think about it – If nothing else, historically, that has not been the case. Our consumption of various energy sources, it does go up and down over time, but, in general, we have been introducing new energy sources, and these tend to be additive. You think at one point in the distant past we consumed much less energy, and then our primary source of energy would have been wood. And then we added coal, then we added oil, and then we added natural gas, and nuclear and now we’re adding renewables.

Total energy consumption continues to increase with each additional energy source

It’s not that the total energy consumption is stabilizing or going down, it is continuing to increase with each addition. It’s like we add a new degree of freedom in the system. Civilization’s not made of energy, it’s made of matter. We use energy from the renewables to build more of civilization. And then when you build more of civilization by consuming raw materials, using energy to consume raw materials from the environment and convert it into civilization, civilization grows. As civilization grows its demands for energy of all types increases – not just for renewables but of all types.

Additional energy sources just enable us to further rape the environment

So there is no obvious link between adding new energy sources in types of energy and our reduction of old energy sources. It just simply enables us to do more. I don’t think about wind and solar as being particularly green – THEY ARE SOURCES OF ENERGY! Our civilization is not made of energy – IT IS MADE OF MATTER. We use energy to extract raw materials from our environment. If we add new energy sources, that will just enable us to rape the environment further. That’s what we use the energy for – it is to extract raw materials in one way or another.

26:53 – ASWell, as part of your analysis I’m still burning wood. So, that hasn’t been replaced. We’re still using the old systems as you say. In several places you suggest we may revisit a system-wide depression like the 1930s, I’m not sure the 1930s is a good analysis or that we can reach any historical precedent from where we are now – I mean maybe the 1930s will seem good or mild compared to a climate-ravaged future or maybe humanity will squeeze into a brand new place. Your thoughts.

Wars and inflation are consequences of civilizations that are resource constrained

27:27 – TG – Who was it said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes? Of course, we can’t return to the 1930s. I wonder. I’m not a historian, but I think we can look back at various times in history and say when nations or regions, whole civilizations even, have been more resource constrained, and that competition for resources has increased, then the competition plays out in predictable ways. One of those ways, of course, is wars and other ways is inflation. I would not be surprised to see more of a fragmentation of civilization of the future as we have increased resource scarcity.

Capitalist societies are predicated on economic growth – that means competition, and winners and losers

Right now we’re at a point where we’re growing more rapidly than we ever have before. But that rate of growth has stagnated and that was something that happened in the 1930s. It wasn’t that the rate of growth was comparable to today, but it stagnated. I think what that means in a capitalist society that is predicated upon growth, there is competition for growth among countries, perhaps, so that if one country grows faster then that necessarily means that another country must grow more slowly. And that means winners and losers and nobody wants to be the loser.

29:04 – 29:36 — PROGRAM BREAK

[SECTION 3 – PICKING TIM’S BRAIN] (about 24 minutes long)

29:37 – ASI did discover that you have a blog called Nephologue, as you say. Does Nephologue mean something?

Why Tim named his blog ‘Nephologue’

TG – Nephology is a 19th century word for “the study of clouds.” I find it amusing that cloud physicists like myself almost uniformly have never heard of this word. It’s slightly ironic that those who practice a profession don’t know what their profession is called. I’m trying to resurrect the word ‘nephology’ and I just called it a ‘Nephologue’.

Garrett sees parallels between his study of cloud growth and civilization growth – both are thermodynamically open systems  

I think of clouds when I think of these problems related to civilization growth because I see commonalities between all thermodynamically open systems and how they behave and some sense of how clouds work and try to think about how that might relate to civilization growth and other thermodynamically open complex systems.

30:43 – ASWell one of your blogs this summer really stimulated my brain activity because you related brain activity to the global economy. Are you suggesting that we have a previously uncatalogued sensory system in human brains that know value and know how economic transactions must work?

The quest to tie the global wealth of civilization to its rate of energy consumption

TG – This is a fascinating question. There seems to be a collected perception of how much things are worth. And one thing I have tried to establish is that the global wealth of civilization – I guess total value – is fundamentally tied to its rate of energy consumption. And that sort of poses the question of – Well, how is it that we as humans, at a very individual level, can have some sort of conception of the value of things when we really – the entirety of civilization is far too large for us to comprehend in any meaningful way.

What does “scale invariance” have to do with understanding behaviour of large and small scale phenomena?

And here I think there is again some basic physics, the same physics that I would think of with respect to clouds. There’s a concept that is called “scale invariance” or “self-similarity”, which is the idea that for a great, great many systems – you see this everywhere in nature – whatever scale you look at, things look the same. So, in the clouds, one way that this shows up is that if you look at large turbulent motions or small turbulent motions in a cloud, they’ll look exactly the same. You don’t really know what scale you are looking at unless you are told ahead of time.

Small scale components of civilization are connected to large scale (or entireties) through energy transfers

32:39 – TG — In terms of us, in the context of the global civilization, I think of our brains being energy-consuming organisms much like the entirety of civilization. I think maybe one of your former guests, Nate Hagens, called a ‘superorganism’. The consumption of energy by the entirety, or by a small component [of civilization], exhibits similar behaviours physically. And the reason they exhibit similar behaviours – and the small scales as well as the large scales – is that the small scales are connected to the large scales through energy transfers.

Each individual on earth is connected to everybody else by perhaps six degrees of separation. What can this mean?

Now I know that sounds very abstract – but here’s the basic idea: When you think about your daily life, you are connected to everybody else on this planet by a very small degree of … a number of degrees of separation. I could connect you to a distant Papua New Guinea’s tribesman probably relatively quickly in, I would guess, perhaps six degrees of separation. Perhaps you know somebody who has been to Australia, who met somebody in Australia who travelled to Port Moresby for work, who met a tribesman who was coming to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea to get some luxury goods who then went back to his tribe in the distant highlands. And it wouldn’t be too far to make that connection.

This connection involves a transfer of energy and information back and forth between all of us

34:11 – TG – And all of this involves a transfer of energy and information back and forth between all of us. So I think of us as being a vibrating whole that consumes energy, where everybody’s connected at the whole and at the local level in fundamental ways. And it is through these connections that we collectively establish some sense of the worth of any given item.

Alex Smith challenges Garrett’s “physics-based formula to relate climate, energy and the economy”

34:40 – ASI do worry that this line of reasoning may be trapped within glasses made from physics and math, and see everything through that lens. I mean, for example, take a dream, do we care what energy the brain and the rest of the body may be burning during a dream? We can’t measure that energy in the sleeper and think we understand the dream. And I raise one second case: You’re talking about a physics-based formula to relate climate, energy and the economy, and your language suggests human civilization is almost like a cell, and we inject energy, like a sugar, and the cell grows. But there’s also things like ideas: I mean without Einstein we wouldn’t be where we are. So, there’s the role of innovation. There’s things other than energy and matter going on in this human system, is what I’m saying.

Garrett concedes he sees things through the lens of physics because it lends itself to theoretically-based testable hypotheses

35:34 – TG – Yeah, I think that’s a tempting perspective. Of course I’m seeing things through the lens of physics because I believe that physics does underlie everything in the universe, and does lend itself to testable hypotheses. And I do test these hypotheses to try to see if they can make meaningful predictions. So, I mean that’s one advantage of using physics, it’s theoretical base can lead to things that can potentially be disproved.

Einstein’s genius, unpredictable at an individual level, is an extreme manifestation of the upper limit of civilization’s normal probability distribution – as expected by the law of “scale invariance”

You mentioned Einstein and his ideas. Einstein’s ideas required energy consumption. The brain is a very energy-hungry organism. For most of us it consumes 20 or 25 Watts, about 20 to 25% of the consumption of the human as a whole. Neuronal oscillation – the frequency of neuronal firing within the brain – follows the same laws of self-similarity or scale invariance you see in income distributions in humanity, or the size of turbulent eddies in a cloud, or like the size of meteors impacting the moon – or a whole number of phenomena throughout the world. Our brains aren’t actually fundamentally – at least statistically – all that different.

And Einstein himself, he grew up in a wealthy society, which could support the development of these ideas that could feed him and provide the kinds of intellectual stimulation that would lead him to coming up with these fantastic conceptions of how the universe works. All of that would require energy. So you could think of Einstein as being, in some way, an extreme manifestation at the tail end of the spectrum of what a civilization produces. It’s all part of the global whole where individual phenomena, like Einstein, are unpredictable at the individual level, but can be expected … we can expect wonderful ideas to come up in a wealthy civilization. And in an energy constrained civilization where everybody is scrambling for their next meal, I think you would expect these to be less common.

38:00 – ASAnd I love this comment that you posted August 20 [2018] in the blog: “Unlike enhancing our sense of wellbeing, and social survival by storing crops to prepare for the winter, a response embedded within us from eons of evolution, there is no obvious precedent for a similar response to climate change. So we focus on contemporary issues that are much too short to relieve us from our predicament.” And I think you just explained our mass fascination with the Donald Trump show while, our world heats up so dangerously.

Eons of human evolution did not prepare our brains to plan for decades of extreme climate change – there is no collective memory of this existential threat

TG – I think economists talk about this. We do value things in the short run more than those in the long run. I’m not an expert in human behaviour, but it is interesting that we can plan for the future, but we seem to plan most effectively for futures that we have experienced previously. So we can plan for retirement because it’s built into our society’s understanding that you need to do this because plenty of other people have planned for retirement in the past, and we model our retirement savings on what other people have experienced. We naturally plan for storing crops for the winter because if there wasn’t a history of doing so, well we wouldn’t be here today.

Climate change seems different. It’s not the same. What’s the collective memory that we have of a similar event? I don’t think we have it.

39:51 – ASMaybe somewhere in our brains there was the arrival of the ice in the Ice Ages. And we all had to move south or change what we were eating. But that’s not the same at all, is it?

Planning for a cold winter did not prepare humans to plan for temperatures being a couple of degrees colder 100 years in the future

TG – It’s rather a long time ago. I don’t feel I have in my thinking some sort of built-in planning for a future Ice Age. Maybe the reason is that these climate changes in the past tended to happen over sufficiently long periods of time that still – I mean relative to the life span of a human – that still, the dominant thing anybody would ever think of, would it be planning for the winter — not planning for temperatures being a couple of degrees colder a hundred years from now?

40:47 – ASWell, I’ve just been reading that our homes are totally designed for the cold, and we’re trying to keep the cold out and use insulation and so on, and not for the heat. So we’ve mis-designed our houses for the future that is developing.

TG — Yep. I just mortgaged my house to buy some land up at 8800 feet in the mountains nearby. That’s my future refrigerator.

ASOne last point on the economic front. Do you attribute what I call – or what many call – the Great Acceleration after 1950, to increase energy availability. But then I asked myself – Well, what if the economy crashes due to war or human misunderstanding or just plain greed? And there could be no direct relationship to energy availability at all.

Expect wars and inflation to rear their head when global competition for resources heats up

41:38 – TG – I don’t think history bears that out. Again, I’m not a historian. Look, if everybody’s doing well and there’s a ton of energy out there, and everybody can grow successfully, is there really that much of a need to be killing one another? I don’t see that. I see that wars tend to crop out when there is competition for resources. We’ve been in a period of extraordinary wealth since 1950 because of flourishing discoveries of things like oil and natural gas. Eventually that will come to a halt. It’s not until then that – myself, personally, I would expect that things like wars and inflation would rear their head.

Resource scarcities will happen in two ways – resource depletion or infrastructure degradation caused by growth

It will happen – these resource scarcities will happen. It can happen in two ways: One is that we run out of the raw materials or another is that they just become much more difficult to access even if they are out there, because things like climate change start to become such a burden that it destroys the infrastructure that we have and use to access those resources. Resource scarcity is a question of availability. We can deplete, make things less available by depleting it. We can also make things less available by a fraying of the fabric of civilization that is used to access those resources. And that can happen by way of environmental destruction. And it’s at that point that I would expect things like wars to become increasingly common. But we’ve seen a trend since the fifties of decreasing deaths from wars, so it doesn’t [happen].

43:43 – ASYou’re right historically. I mean Japan went to war after they were surrounded by the American navy and cut off from the energy supplies they needed for their new economy. And Germany similarly wanted to invade Russia in order to get at the Balkans’s oil because their economy needed more energy. So, I guess it does hold up, but to your point you just made, beyond science and philosophy it looks to me like billions of humans are headed into a great time of suffering — I don’t know if it’s in this decade or the next, but by, say, 2050, for a number of reasons. Would you share that [view]?

Expect more Syrias and Venezuelas in the future

TG – Yeah … I mean of course there’s suffering at all times. Many people today are suffering incredibly. Just look at a place like Syria. The question is whether Syria or Venezuela will become increasingly common in the future. I do expect that to happen.

The US and Canada should not expect their relative isolation to insulate them from global chaos

You and I, we live in extraordinarily rich countries. They may be able to insulate themselves for a time. But United States and Canada are connected to the rest of the world. We aren’t isolated. We are connected through international trade and everybody wants to live somewhere. There’s refugees looking for somewhere to live.

We are experiencing explosive systems growth, which tends to be followed by explosive collapse or decline

One thing that you see in systems growth is when something’s growing incredibly rapidly – I would use the word ‘superexponential’ growth, or ‘explosive’ growth — so it’s not just that it’s growing exponentially with a constant rate of return, but the rate of return itself is increasingly (unintelligible). And that’s the situation we’ve be in since 1950.

There are two modes of decline – gradual, fairly orderly, and an explosive, accelerated rate of decline

45:43 – TGWhen you see explosive growth you tend to see that followed by explosive collapse, when the conditions that supported that explosive growth are no longer there. When we talk about the future, and there being a fraying, a decline, or whatever there is, I think of there being two modes of decline: One is a gradual decline – like civilization does subside, but it does so gradually in an arguably fairly ordered fashion; And the other is a superexponential decline, where the rate of decline itself accelerates, and that would be a collapse.

Think of civilization as a wave approaching a beach, collapsing and crashing when it runs out of water

Maybe an analog is just to think about an ocean wave. Think of an ocean wave moving up and down. Maybe us, like a cork on that wave, moving up and down. Move up gradually and come down gradually. Or you could also have a situation where a wave explodes upward as it approaches a beach, then ultimately, when it runs out of water, it collapses, it crashes on the beach.

Will civilization, like a wave, rise again?

I suspect – I hate to think of this that way – but I suspect that based on civilization’s recent past we are more like that wave approaching the beach, and like a wave that will subside and perhaps rise again out in the middle of the ocean.

47:19 – ASTim Garrett, if we are all part of a superorganism, following inexorable laws of physics, does it matter what any of us does? – or whether we fear the future or enjoy the present?

We, as individuals, cannot change civilization’s inexorable trajectory towards collapse

47:33 – TGI mean – I can tell you my own feeling, because that’s what you’re asking – I have a family, I have friends. I’m concerned about the state of the world, and I truly want to believe that there is the capacity for individuals to make a difference in the ultimate trajectory of civilization. And I’ll admit that myself I struggle to reconcile that with what I see with testable hypotheses based on fundamental physics, which suggests that ultimately – and in a statistical fashion — one way or another civilization, is on a trajectory and us, as individuals, cannot change that trajectory because it is determined by things that are beyond us, such as, just simply the geology of the planet, whether or not the energy reserves that feed civilization are out there.

Civilization is a superorganism that will grow until no further growth is possible

I suspect the superorganism idea is really correct, that civilization is a superorganism that will grow until the resources that sustain it – like the cells in a petri dish – until it can’t. It will grow to the maximum extent possible until no further growth is possible. And then the collapse will start to happen.

49:09 – ASIsn’t that what stars do?

Everything in the universe is a consequence of an initial availability of energy and matter; and when it runs out, it dies

TG – Everything does this. Yes, it is what stars do, but everything in the universe is a consequence of an initial availability of energy and matter. That’s what created it [the universe] in the first place. And that energy and matter had to come from somewhere. And when that energy and matter runs out, the thing can no longer sustain its internal circulations, and it dies.

49:43 – ASSo. [Sigh] Tim, are you thinking all the time? Help us understand you.

TG – Oh, I drink beer. That helps.

ASWell, what I do is I garden, and I do put away food for the winter. I’ve just been doing that. I’ve been putting away squash and tomato sauces on my stove, thickening. And I picked all the apples from my apple tree. Somehow, those, I would say age-old activities, help soothe my brain from talking to scientists who upset my brain.

TG – Yeah, we all have our coping techniques.

50:22 – 50:36 — PROGRAM BREAK

50:37 – ASDoes Tim Garrett know what is next for Tim Garrett? Do you know what you’re going to be working on?

The cloud problem led to a breakthrough in statistical laws that have clarified regularities in many phenomena

50:42 – TG – I’m totally fascinated by this cloud problem. I was working on the clouds and I managed to finally break through in trying to come up with these statistical laws. And now so much seems so much more clear with so many situations. I was teaching class yesterday, and I found a paper from 2005 that was showing how this thing called “power laws”, or self-similarity, or scale invariance – you just see it absolutely everywhere – it’s so fascinating. I mean things like the frequency of words in Moby Dick perfectly follows it, the predictable power law. Or wealth of people in civilization, or clouds, or droplets, or the firing neurons in the brain. They all follow the exact same mathematical law.

There will always be more poor who have as much wealth collectively as the very few rich – [If that’s a statistical law, the implications are frightening]

And this has me fascinated. And I think I have some sort of understanding of why this is the case now – It’s basically with a finite amount of energy and matter everybody has to share. It’s like the line from the Bible – I’m probably paraphrasing: “The poor are always with us.” There will always be a few rich and many poor. And that’s because everybody has to share. There will be more poor who has as much wealth collectively as the very few rich. And there’s sort of a principle called ‘equipartition’ here: a number times the wealth is in variance with the amount of wealth a person has.

As the world gets richer there will be the uber-rich and the poor, and there’s going to be a continued expansion of that separation for as long as the world gets wealthier

One question I have in mind right now, thinking about the economy, is what will happen with income inequality in the future. We see rising income inequality right now and I suspect that’s quite predictable. As the world gets richer there will be the uber-rich and the poor are always with us. And there’s going to be a continued expansion of that separation for as long as the world gets wealthier.

Contraction will inevitably follow expansion – And what impact might that have on political and economic systems?

And then I would expect a contraction too as competition for resources increases. And then you start thinking about how would that play out in terms of political systems. Do we have things like capitalism becoming no longer a viable option in a resource-constrained environment. That’s just armchair philosophizing, of course, but it’s based upon thinking about how physical systems work and some sort of recognition that humanity itself behaves like a physical system.

53:35 – ASAs we wrap up, is there some place where we can find in one place that basic formula that you’ve just been talking about?

Watch for Garrett’s Nephologue blog post on scale invariance and economic systems

TG — I just posted a tweet yesterday about it – on income distributions. There is the paper that’s online about the clouds. For most listeners, perhaps even a lot of people might feel it’s a bit esoteric. I’ll put out a blog post. You’ve encouraged me now, as you have in the past to write about these topics. I’ll try to present a very simple explanation for this basic idea: scale invariance and economic systems. It’s not that complicated and I think it can be explained succinctly with words.

ASWe will be looking for it. That is it for this journey into clouds and a cloudy future. We’ve been speaking with Dr. Tim Garrett, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Utah. Tim, talking with you I do feel a little bit small compared to a larger man, so thank you much for coming back.

TG – Thanks so much. Every single time it’s been a great pleasure to talk with you. You’re an excellent interviewer.

*****

AS — You can find Tim Garrett’s Twitter feed at Nephologue. That’s worth a trip because each tweet leads to delicious and or disturbing places. I’ll post links to my previous two interviews with Tim Garrett in my blog.

56:20 — END OF INTERVIEW

Links

Nephologuehttp://nephologue.blogspot.com/

Radio Ecoshock https://www.ecoshock.org/ Includes these tabs: Home, About, Programs, Podcasts, Stations, Contact, Donate.

Audio- on-Demand https://www.ecoshock.org/audio-on-demand — Includes links to 23 topical categories

 

*****

Tim Garrett warns — Energy efficiency gains will do the opposite of what economists claim they will do

As energy efficiency increases, civilization grows faster, consumes more resources faster, grows the economy: The bad news — Energy consumption and CO2 emissions accelerate.

No 2393 Posted by fw, November 9, 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

“Improving energy efficiency is our best hope to slow global energy consumption and limit carbon dioxide emissions. Makes perfect sense, right? Better technology for more jobs and a healthier planet! Yay capitalism. But let’s look a little closer. … It is easy to find economists … pointing to … examples in economic sectors or nations where energy efficiency gains have led to less energy consumption. For example, the USA has become more efficient and thereby stabilized its rate of energy consumption. While these counter-examples may be true, they are also very misleading, especially if the subject is climate change. … Taking this global perspective with respect to the economy, efficiency gains will do the exact opposite of what efficiency policy advocates claim it will do. If technological changes allow global energy productivity or energy efficiency to increase, then civilization will grow faster into the resources that sustain it. This grows the economy, but it also means that energy consumption and CO2 emissions accelerate. CO2 emissions can be stabilized despite efficiency gains. But this is possible only if decarbonization occurs as quickly as energy consumption grows. At today’s consumption growth rates, this would require roughly one new nuclear power plant, or equivalent in renewables, to be deployed each day.” —Tim Garrett, Nephologue

The above passage captures the essence of atmospheric physicist Tim Garrett’s article, reposted in full below. In addition, at the bottom of the post is a link to a related paper, also by Garrett, to which I have reposted the paper’s abstract.

To read Garrett’s energy efficiency article on his blog, Nephologue, click on the following linked title.

**********

Is increasing energy efficiency driving global climate change? by Tim Garrett, Nephologue, September 20, 2018

Improving energy efficiency is our best hope to slow global energy consumption and limit carbon dioxide emissions. 

Makes perfect sense, right? Better technology for more jobs and a healthier planet! Yay capitalism.

But let’s look a little closer. People may choose to drive more often if a vehicle is fuel efficient: driving is useful or pleasurable and now it is more affordable. Or, less money spent on fueling energy efficient vehicles could enable more money to be spent on fuel for home air conditioning.

The idea was first introduced by William Stanley Jevons in 1865. Jevons was emphatic that energy efficient steam engines had accelerated Britain’s consumption of coal. The cost of steam-powered coal extraction became cheaper and, because coal was very useful, more attractive.

Economists do acknowledge this to some degree referring to a phenomenon called “rebound”. A very few studies even argue for “backfire”: gains in energy efficiency ultimately lead to greater energy consumption. Calculating the total magnitude of rebound or backfire has proved contentious and elusive. The problem for academics has been that any given efficiency improvement has knock-on effects that can eventually propagate through the entire global economy. Estimating the ultimate impact is daunting if not impossible.

Imagine you buy a nice new fuel efficient car. An unequivocal good for the environment, right? Sure feels good to do one’s part to save the planet. And you have a fatter wallet too since you spend less on gas. Life’s good! You can spend that saved money now (for argument’s sake) on better household heating and cooling so that you sleep better at nights. Being more rested you become more productive at work, giving you a raise and your employer higher profits. The business grows to consume more while you take that much deserved flight for a vacation in Cancun.

In this fashion, the ramifications of any given efficiency action might multiply indefinitely, spreading at a variety of rates throughout the global economy. Barring global analysis over long time scales, conclusions about the magnitude of rebound or backfire may be quantitative but highly uncertain since they are always dependent on the time and spatial scales considered.

Analyzing the global economy like a growing child

There’s a way around this complexity — ignore it by treating the economy only as a whole.

Stepping back like this is a standard part of the physics toolbox. Imagine describing the growth of a child without being an expert in physiology. It shouldn’t take a doctor to comprehend that the child uses the material nutrients and potential energy in food not only to produce waste but also to grow its body mass. As the child grows, it needs to eat more food, accelerating its growth until it reaches adulthood and its growth stabilizes (hopefully!).

Now, an inefficient, diseased child who cannot successfully turn food to body mass may become sickly, lose weight, and even die. But a healthy, energy efficient child will continue to grow and some day become a robust adult who consumes food energy at a much higher rate than as an infant.

What could be treated as a tremendously complicated problem can also be approached in a fairly straight-forward manner, provided we look at the child as a complete person and not just a complex machine of component body parts.

Efficient civilization growth

We can take the same perspective with civilization.  Without a doubt, consuming energy is what allows for all of civilization’s activities and circulations to continue — without potential energy dissipation* nothing in the economy can happen; even our thoughts and choices require energy consumption for electrical signals to cross neural synapses. Just like a child, when civilization is efficient it is able to use a fraction of this energy in order to incorporate new raw materials into its structure. It was by being efficient that civilization was able to increase its size.

[*In this paragraph, Tim essentially defines ‘dissipation’]. When civilization expands, it increases its ability to access reserves of primary energy and raw materials, provided they remain or are there to be discovered. Increased access to energy reserves allows civilization to sustain its newly added circulations. If this efficiency is sustained, civilization can continue to grow. In a positive feedback loop, expansion work leads to greater energy inputs, more work, and more rapid expansion. 

This is the feedback that is the recipe for emergent growth, not just of civilization, or a child, but of any system. The more efficiently energy is consumed, the faster the system grows, and the more rapidly the system grows its energy consumption needs.

Ultimately there are constraints on efficiency and growth from reserve depletion and internal decay. But in the growth phase, efficient conversion of energy to work allows civilization to become both more prosperous and more consumptive.

Implications for climate change

It is easy to find economists willing to express disdain for the concept of backfire, or even rebound, by pointing to counter-examples in economic sectors or nations where energy efficiency gains have led to less energy consumption. For example, the USA has become more efficient and thereby stabilized its rate of energy consumption. 

While these counter-examples may be true, they are also very misleading, especially if the subject is climate change. Nations do not exist in economic isolation. Through international trade the world shares and competes for collective resources. Quite plausibly, the only reason the USA appears to consume less energy is that it has outsourced the more energy intensive aspects of its economy to countries like China. Should an economist argue that “There is nothing particularly magical about the macroeconomy, it is merely the sum of all the micro parts” we can be just as dismayed as we would upon hearing a medical practitioner state that “there is nothing particularly magical about the human body, it is merely the sum of all its internal organs”. Connections matter!

Fundamentally, through trade, civilization can be treated as being “well-mixed” over timescales relevant to economic growth. In other words, trade happens quickly compared to global economic growth rates of a couple of percent per year. Similarly, excess atmospheric concentrations of CO2 grow globally at a couple of percent per year. They too are well-mixed over timescales relevant to global warming forecasts because atmospheric circulations quickly connect one part of the atmosphere every other. For the purpose of relating the economy to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the only thing that matters is global scale emissions by civilization as a whole.

Taking this global perspective with respect to the economy, efficiency gains will do the exact opposite of what efficiency policy advocates claim it will do. If technological changes allow global energy productivity or energy efficiency to increase, then civilization will grow faster into the resources that sustain it. This grows the economy, but it also means that energy consumption and CO2 emissions accelerate. 

CO2 emissions can be stabilized despite efficiency gains. But this is possible only if decarbonization occurs as quickly as energy consumption grows. At today’s consumption growth rates, this would require roughly one new nuclear power plant, or equivalent in renewables, to be deployed each day

For more details

Garrett, T. J., 2012: No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate changeEarth System Dynamics 3, 1-17, doi:10.5194/esd-3-1-2012

Abstract. In a prior study (Garrett, 2011), I introduced a simple economic growth model designed to be consistent with general thermodynamic laws. Unlike traditional economic models, civilization is viewed only as a well-mixed global whole with no distinction made between individual nations, economic sectors, labor, or capital investments. At the model core is a hypothesis that the global economy’s current rate of primary energy consumption is tied through a constant to a very general representation of its historically accumulated wealth. Observations support this hypothesis, and indicate that the constant’s value is λ = 9.7 ± 0.3 milliwatts per 1990 US dollar. It is this link that allows for treatment of seemingly complex economic systems as simple physical systems. Here, this growth model is coupled to a linear formulation for the evolution of globally well-mixed atmospheric CO2 concentrations. While very simple, the coupled model provides faithful multi-decadal hindcasts of trajectories in gross world product (GWP) and CO2. Extending the model to the future, the model suggests that the well-known IPCC SRES scenarios substantially underestimate how much CO2levels will rise for a given level of future economic prosperity. For one, global CO2 emission rates cannot be decoupled from wealth through efficiency gains. For another, like a long-term natural disaster, future greenhouse warming can be expected to act as an inflationary drag on the real growth of global wealth. For atmospheric CO2 concentrations to remain below a “dangerous” level of 450 ppmv (Hansen et al., 2007), model forecasts suggest that there will have to be some combination of an unrealistically rapid rate of energy decarbonization and nearly immediate reductions in global civilization wealth. Effectively, it appears that civilization may be in a double-bind. If civilization does not collapse quickly this century, then CO2 levels will likely end up exceeding 1000 ppmv; but, if CO2 levels rise by this much, then the risk is that civilization will gradually tend towards collapse.

 

******

In an 888-word article, Tim Garrett explains why the global economy must collapse

And if, after reading his article, you had difficulty understanding Garrett’s chain of reasoning, you’re not alone.

No 2394 Posted by fw, November 12, 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

Excerpted Passage

“Right now, energy consumption is continuing to grow rapidly, sustaining an ever larger GWP [Gross World Product]. But it is not the rate of energy consumption that supports the GWP, but the rate of growth of energy consumption that supports the GWP. This important distinction is flat out frightening. The implication is that if we cease to grow energy and raw material consumption globally, then the global economy must collapse. But if we don’t cease to grow energy consumption and raw material consumption, then we still collapse due to climate change and environmental destruction.  Is there no way out?”Tim Garrett, Nephologue

Above is the concluding passage of Tim Garrett’s article, reposted in full below.

His conclusion is crystal clear: Humanity is caught in a double bind, ending in global economic collapse. There’s no way out — To paraphrase:

  • If we cease to globally grow consumption of energy and raw materials, then the global economy must collapse.
  • And if we DON’T cease to globally grow consumption of energy and raw materials, we still collapse due to climate change and environmental destruction.

As clear as the conclusion is, most folks will surely find that Garrett’s chain of reasoning leading to his conclusion is not always easy to understand. Consider, for example, this single sentence midway through his article:

High potential primary energy resources like oil and coal sustain civilization’s circulations against dissipation of waste heat.”

If you have trouble understanding this sentence, then you may be able to sympathize with the problem I have been having trying to promote Garrett’s ideas to environmental NGOs and publishers of progressive online news and information sources. I suspect that Garrett’s writings present too much of a cognitive challenge for them, their readers, donors and advertisers. (See, for example, my post: I’m discovering that Garrett’s “civilization collapse” message is a tough sell, with no takers so far. How come?)

Calculus and math aside, what does make physics-based explanations so hard for people to understand? To paraphrase, here is one explanation that reflects my thinking:

“What makes physics hard for you to understand is the fact that there’s no conceptual context for you to put the information into. For instance, if I tell you that Las Vegas is further west than Los Angeles, you immediately understand what I said because you understand the spatial concepts of east and west. But, if I tell you that weight and mass are different things, and that weight is actually force exerted by the mass of an object due to the acceleration of gravity, you might not understand what I have told you because concepts such as ‘mass’, ‘weight’ and ‘acceleration’ don’t have any real meaning to you.”

Below is my repost of Tim Garrett’s article, with added subheadings. In an effort to extract as much meaning as I can from challenging texts, I find that adding subheadings forces me to translate Garrett’s writing into words that reflect my understanding of what I think he means — Granted, of course, that my words may not accurately capture Garrett’s intended meaning.

In addition to a repost of Garrett’s article, I have also reposted, at the bottom of this post, a selection of readers’ comments including three comments by Garrett. Incidentally, the comments by the reader who calls himself “Stainless Steel Rick” is, in fact, Astronomy Professor Dr. Richard Nolthenius, who wrote an article about Garrett that I reposted on this website under the title:  A fellow physicist finds Tim Garrett’s discoveries “surprising”, “impressive”, “insightful”, and “fascinating”

To read Tim’s article on his website Nephologue, click on the following linked title.

**********

The global economy, heat engines, and economic collapse, by Tim Garrett, Nephologue, August 17, 2018

[With apologies for the poor quality of the graph, which is copied from Tim Garrett’s article]

British Petroleum provides some pretty nice tools for visualizing energy consumption like the figure above which drives home effectively the point of just how fast our demand for energy is growing, roughly quadrupling in the past 50 odd years.

Our ability to work rests on the availability of energy – So why is energy  not also an essential ingredient in traditional macro-economic models?

In order to understand this growth better, I think it’s important to ask why we need energy in the first place. This may seem like a pretty bone-headed question — of course we need energy. But energy is not an essential ingredient in traditional macro-economic models. In the best case, energy is treated as a quantity that can be “substituted” for other ingredients of the global economy as capital and labor.

As a physicist, this seems totally nuts as our individual ability to work rests on the availability of energy. We’re not somehow divorced from the laws of the universe. I’ve never heard of someone being an effective element of the labor force who had completely ceased to eat. And food sure doesn’t materialize without work being done.

Garrett makes the case that civilization should be treated as a “thermodynamic heat engine” – But what does that mean?

Instead, I think it’s appropriate to treat civilization as a what can be termed a thermodynamic heat engine.

Mechanical heat engines consumes energy in gasoline at high temperatures, dissipating waste heat at low temps – in cyclic motion, pistons go up with high temps and down with low temps

The idea of a heat engine was first envisioned by French engineers in the early 1800s. In a car, work is done to propel a car forward by consuming the chemical energy in gasoline at high temperatures and dissipating it as waste heat at low temperatures with the pistons moving up and down in between.

Similarly, humans consume energy from food, and in cyclic motion we release energy inside our bodies at high temps to perform work, and dissipate waste heat at lower temps to the outside of our bodies  

In one way, we’re very similar. We consume energy to go through the cyclic motions of going to and from work and the grocery store, sending out internet search requests, and pumping our hearts. All these actions require a temperature gradient where energy is released at high temperatures and dissipate at cold temperatures, whether with our cars, our computers, or the gradient from the inside to exteriors of our bodies.

Analogously, human civilization can be seen as a superorganism: it consumes primary energy to engage in its internal cyclic motions, ultimately dissipating waste heat to the cooler atmosphere and out to space

In fact, we can see all of human civilization as a “super-organism” that consumes primary energy to engage in all of its internal circulations, ultimately radiating waste heat to the atmosphere and then to cool of space.

High potential fossil fuel energy sources sustain civilization’s cyclic motions against the dissipation of its waste heat

High potential primary energy resources like oil and coal sustain civilization’s circulations against dissipation of waste heat. ‘Useless’ energy ultimately flows to space through the cold planetary blackbody temperature of 255 K. In between lies civilization, including people, their activities, and all their associated circulations, whether or not they are part of the GDP.

Civilization Growth

The difference between human civilization and mechanical processes is that civilization grows, expanding its thermodynamic engine, which drives growth

A key difference between human civilization and a car is that it can grow. By growing, its thermodynamic engine expands. A larger engine consumes more, dissipates more, and does work ever faster. This positive feedback provides a recipe for exponential growth.

In order to grow, civilization consumes a little more energy than it dissipates

Civilization uses energy consumption mostly to sustain existing circulations. A small fraction is also used to grow civilization through an incorporation of new raw materials (e.g. iron and wood) into its structure. Thermodynamically, this is possible only if civilization consumes a little more energy than it dissipates. A small fraction of the energy that is consumed is available to incorporate raw materials to build civilization.

Garrett uses the analogy of human growth to clarify the meaning of the previous paragraph

We’re actually pretty familiar with this. If we eat too much we get fat. I’m told that consuming an extra 3500 calories beyond what we need leads to a pound of weight gain. This is the energy required for the body to turn food into flesh. A child consumes food today in some proportion to the child’s body mass. The child experiences a production of mass if there is a convergence of energetic flows such that it dissipates less heat than is contained in the food energy eaten. The child’s current size is directly a consequence of an accumulation of prior mass production. Its current rate of food consumption is also a consequence of prior production. As the child grows it eats more. As the child approaches adulthood, the disequilibrium between consumption and dissipation narrows, and (hopefully!) the production of new mass stalls.

Economic production (expressed as GDP) grows only when energy consumption is greater than the rate that civilization dissipates energy

So economic production, or the GDP, can be seen as the consequence of this imbalance: production is positive only when primary energy consumption is greater than the rate at which civilization dissipates energy due to all it’s internal circulations. If production is positive, civilization is able to incorporate raw materials into its structure. It grows, and then uses the added population and infrastructure created with the materials to consume even more energy.

Collapse

I think this is what is happening with the BP statistics. Because the GWP [Gross World Product] exists, we grow, and then use our growth to access more energy which we can then consume with the higher infrastructure demands. The relevant equation is that every 1000 dollars of year 2005 inflation-adjusted gross world product requires 7.1 additional Watts of power capacity to be added, independent of the year that is considered.

Right now, energy consumption is continuing to grow rapidly, sustaining an ever larger GWP

Right now, energy consumption is continuing to grow rapidly, sustaining an ever larger GWP.

But it’s the RATE OF GROWTH OF ENERGY CONSUMPTION that supports the GWP

But it is not the rate of energy consumption that supports the GWP, but the rate of growth of energy consumption that supports the GWP.

This important distinction is frightening because it means “the global economy must collapse”

This important distinction is flat out frightening. The implication is that if we cease to grow energy and raw material consumption globally, then the global economy must collapse. But if we don’t cease to grow energy consumption and raw material consumption, then we still collapse due to climate change and environmental destruction.  

Is there no way out? [I highly recommend a reading of the Abstract to the paper by Garrett]

*****

11 comments:

Stainless Steel Rick August 17, 2018 at 4:38 PM

Is there a way out? The usual response from eco-friendlies is “Sure! We just convert to renewables and climate will not collapse us!”. My response to them is – sounds great… but the numbers just don’t pencil out. Nature’s laws are not normative, their quantitative. And they are absolutely inviolate. Converting to renewables itself takes energy and when you attempt to factor that in, given the bloated fossil fueled civilization that we are stuck with as our t=0 initial conditions, then it looks pretty darn hard to find a graceful exit. It’s possible perhaps, but only if we become different animals than we seem to be. The qualitative difference between what is needed, and what is the usual assumed path, is that what’s needed is a big dose of Civilization Pain, and THAT we absolutely won’t tolerate voluntarily. So it looks like it’ll instead be involuntarily. It is physically possible for all 7 billion of us “get religion” and immediately go on a massively Spartan lifestyle change diet, meanwhile diverting every spare dollar to decarbonizing. But will we? Very hard to imagine it actually happening. Instead, we elect demagogues and “strong men” who will tell us what we would rather hear, rather than the Truth. And meanwhile, the sequestered carbon in soils, vegetation, the ocean, the permafrost… will be re-awakening and re-emerging to make up for the carbon we imagine we’ll stop burning. We’ll now have to built massive infrastructure and consume new energy (solar? wind?) to air-capture CO2 and push it back down from where it came from, and quickly, to shut off these feedbacks.

Tim Garrett August 20, 2018 at 10:17 AM

I’m only half joking when I say I expect to see an abrupt shift towards fascism as a means for enforcing the austerity required for collective survival. Surely there are historians who have explored whether and how political systems reflect resource availability and environmental conditions.

Stainless Steel Rick October 3, 2018 at 4:03 PM

yeah, except the fascists will enforce austerity not for OUR collective survival but to support THEIR kleptocracy. If your point is that they may commandeer this argument as a means to justify instituting fascism, at this point nothing would surprise me.

Ian Graham September 3, 2018 at 11:09 AM

For why TG’s theory has gotten so little traction in 10 years, see Ugo Bardi on the Peer Review process and his own description of the travesty he endured when he first submitted his papery. Bardi at https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2018/08/so-you-think-science-will-save-world.html

Tim Garrett September 4, 2018 at 2:39 PM

From a thermodynamics perspective, civilization is an open system that survives by converting high potential energy (or low entropy) density fuels into low potential (or high entropy) density waste heat. It is the continual conversion of one to another that sustains all that we do, including our thoughts, thereby defining our wealth – our collective capacity to think and do.

Lidia17September 5, 2018 at 8:35 PM

As far as I understand thermodynamics, though, there is no “pushing CO2 back where it came from” without expending even more energy than that which was obtained from its release. I’d be interested to learn differently.

Tim Garrett September 6, 2018 at 8:36 AM

Roughly. Your argument is strictly true if the goal were to return CO2 to its original form as a fossil fuel. If it is converted to another solid or liquid form, then the chemistry can allow for this being done using less energy than was obtained during the initial release. Either way, the amount of energy is significant enough as to likely be prohibitive economically.

James September 6, 2018 at 5:22 AM

It seems that returns to capital are being fabricated by financial institutions to give the impression of growth. Even though things may be slowly collapsing even now in certain areas, central banks blowing asset bubbles and media propaganda can give the impression of “all is well”. Of course, most people on the ground will experience some dissonance between their real lives and the message. You may find some discussion at www.megacancer.com  interesting, but it’s not peer reviewed and if it had to be, it wouldn’t exist.

Stainless Steel Rick October 3, 2018 at 4:09 PM

Nate Hagens makes the valid point that all “growth” these days is really paid for by debt. However, in the civilization thermodynamics sense, that doesn’t matter. It’s still spending in service of taking things to a lower entropy form that must then be forever supported against decay. So yeah. Not only do we get stuck with the energy bill for this, but gotta repay the principal and interest since we’re borrowing it from future generations. Maybe the “good” news is that they may not survive to hound us for collection! What a world we live in.

 

*****

Account of my spat with an editor and climate specialist over Tim Garrett’s controversial research findings

While I actively promote Garrett’s research results, my rival worries Garrett will “immobilize” those seeking solutions.   

No 2398 Posted by fw, November 27, 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

Back on October 27 I posted a piece titled: I’m discovering that Garrett’s “civilization collapse” message is a tough sell, with no takers so far. How come? The post was a copy of an exchange that I had had with two other respondents to my remark in the comments section, promoting the controversial climate-related research findings of Dr. Tim Garrett, atmospheric physicist at the University of Utah. One of the respondents just happened to be the well-known co-editor of a highly popular, online publication of excellent articles about activist resistance.

Well, here I am again with another story about another spat prompted, once again, by my promotion of Dr. Tim Garrett’s research findings. And once again my rival is an editor of an excellent Canadian online publication that “promotes community awareness of, engagement in, and action on climate change, energy, and post-carbon solutions.”

Without going into detail, the article that drew my attention was about the federal Liberals’ formation of a climate panel to recommend practical steps to meet, or even exceed, Canada’s 2030 targets.

Here are copies of the exchange of comments between myself and the editor, beginning with my initial comment that sparked the spat.

My Initial Comment

I hope the excessive length of this comment does not dissuade visitors from reading it. It is worth reading.

Comments by Co-chair Steven Guilbeault signal that the panel’s final report — to Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna and Finance Minister Bill Morneau in spring 2019 — is likely to be received favourably. For instance, Guilbeault says the panel’s mandate “… doesn’t preclude us going out and meeting with different groups and organizations” to collect ideas that will “move the needle a bit, if not a big bit, on climate in Canada”. Elsewhere, he notes, “The panel’s role ‘is to have our eyes on where the Canadian economy, and frankly where the world economy is moving … There are clear transformations that are happening, and will be very positive if they’re done well.”

It’s beyond shameful for Guilbeault (and the Liberals, who set the mandate) to put forward such apathetic expected outcomes in the face of recent urgent warnings that climate change will, or already has – to cite recent headlines — “shrink the US economy”, “kill thousands”, “worsen disasters”, “triggered extinction rebellions in the UK, Ghana and the US”, “mobilized a march for action in Quebec”, and so much more.

Obviously, the fix is already in on this panel. Citizen input would be a great waste of time.

More to the point, if the research findings of Dr. Tim Garrett, atmospheric physicist at the University of Utah, are correct, the work of the federal panel is all for naught. Although Garrett has been engaged in extensive climate-related research dating back to 2009, his groundbreaking work on the risks associated with Earth’s rapidly changing climate is not widely circulated.

On the subject of proposed solutions to reduce climate risks, here’s how Garrett puts it: “I think if we are to find solutions, we should not be pursuing goals or plans or fairy tales, whatever they are, we should be trying to understand how the system really works.

And no one understands better than Garrett how the system really works.

At the risk of not giving one of Garrett’s key findings the attention it deserves, I’ll paraphrase it this way:

Humanity is caught in a double-bind ending in global economic collapse, from which, in Garrett’s words, “there is no way out”. Here’s the double-bind:

If we cease to globally grow consumption of energy and raw materials, then the global economy must collapse;

And if we DON’T cease to globally grow consumption of energy and raw materials, we still collapse due to climate change and environmental destruction.

Simply put, there are no solutions, including, for example: transition to 100% renewables; conservation; clean energy; geo-engineering technologies; production efficiency measures; sucking carbon out of the atmosphere; degrowth, controls on population growth; and whatever else — All likely futile.

I suspect the reason Garrett’s research is not more widely circulated is that it is based on physics, and not always easy to understand. In addition, his forecast of the collapse of civilization and the global economy within decades is, in his own word, “frightening”. Who wants to read that The End Is Near? – it scares away readers, donors, advertisers, and especially politicians.

For those who want to make the significant cognitive investment, you can find links to 21 articles by Dr. Garrett, and by others about his research, by visiting – [Civilization/Economic Collapse ~ Links to All Posts By or About Dr. Tim Garrett’s Research] at URL (https://citizenactionmonitor.wordpress.com/civilization-economic-collapse-links-to-all-posts-by-or-about-dr-tim-garretts-research/ )

*****

The Editor’s response

So are you proposing a panel to explore and affirm Garrett’s contention that there are no solutions?
I certainly can’t speak for either panelist, Guilbeault or Vrooman. But in the same edition, we cover the rapid growth of Extinction Rebellion, and the much more drastic/realistic solutions that movement is demanding. I’d be shocked if they aren’t both already on top of that.

As for there being no remaining options — Garrett has his view. We’re also hearing from the IPCC and others that all the elements of a solution are in place except political will — that, they said in early October, is the last box to check. Which would shed a positive light on anything that will damp down the faux controversy around post-carbon solutions in a petro-state like Canada (or Australia, or others) and drive toward faster, deeper carbon cuts.

I’ll express the view that, if we really want to immobilize everyone we talk to with fear and grief, let’s spread Garrett’s message far and wide…then conclude that it must be all over, because there are no popular movements rising up to push for solutions. However, we do have another option, unless we’re more interested in being the smartest kids in the room than in actually getting anything done. If we work from the assumption that the last chapters of this story aren’t written yet, and we still have a chance to write them, that opens up a whole menu of strategies and solutions that are not guaranteed to deliver the outcome we need, but nor are they yet guaranteed to fail. That menu would quite possibly include a short-lived federal expert panel.

*****

My Follow-up Reply to The Editor (To which, one day later, there has been no response)

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Re your opening remark about my “proposing a panel” I trust you’re not being serious here? However, I would welcome an environmental NGO to step forward and invite an independent atmospheric physicist to do a critical analysis of Garrett’s research methodology and results. Perhaps you would consider doing this?

I applaud your publication’s coverage of actions/solutions to address the climate crisis. But while the Panel may, in your words be “on top of that”, how and in what context will this matter be presented in its final report, especially given Guilbeault’s telling remark about “moving the needle a bit on climate change”, and “have our eyes on the Canadian economy.” Trudeau and McKenna have repeatedly emphasized “we can grow the economy and reduce emissions,” so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the panel told them what it knows they want to hear.

Re political will, here is what Garrett has written in that context:

Can we really navigate our way out of the potential for a broad scale breakdown simply by applying a sufficiently powerful dose of political and economic will? It would be wonderful to think so. Yet we still have to acknowledge that there are physical limits to what is possible. The human world is as much part of the natural universe as anything else, and if we readily accept that the complex motions of climate march to physical laws, it may be unreasonable to imagine that society should be an exception.” (Source: Shortlink https://wp.me/pO0No-4vL )

It is not inevitable – as you seem to suggest — that Garrett’s research findings will “immobilize everyone we talk to with fear and grief.” On the contrary, if more people bothered to read and tried to understand his research results, they might realize that doing more of the same — or, in your words, “open up a whole menu of strategies and solutions” — in the hope that things might turn out differently, may not be the answer either.

If you have not yet read any of Garrett’s scientific papers, or his less technical articles, or listened to his 4 radio interviews, or read articles by others about Garrett’s work, including 2 pieces by a physicist, on what basis are you dismissing (dissing) his physics-based analysis? As Garrett says, the nice thing about physics is that the hypotheses are testable and can be refuted. So far, to the best of my knowledge, his research has not been refuted. Have you closed your mind to the possibility that he may be right? And if he could be right, isn’t the public entitled to know? Or do we keep this knowledge from them?

I trust your closing comment about “being the smartest kids in the room” doesn’t apply to Garrett or me. As for the rest of the paragraph, I generally agree, provided — as I said above – we do not keep doing more of the same, or even a bit differently, in the possibly misguided hope that things might turn out differently.

Always a pleasure.

*****

END OF GARRETT ARTICLES POSTED ON MY WEBSITE

FAIR USE NOTICE – For details click here

%d bloggers like this: