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Mitigating for 4 Degrees C and Planning for 2 Degrees C


David Roberts with a sobering report on how our climate change plans are developed with the assumption of maximum economic growth, an impossible scenario if we want to do anything to halt the onslaught:

The vast bulk of the reductions available in the near-term are on the demand side. Of course this means driving efficiency as fast as possible while taking measures (like raising prices and setting standards) to avoid the rebound effect. But it also means (gasp!) conservation. Actually, “conservation” is too polite a word for it. It means shared sacrifice. Climate campaigners have sworn until they’re blue in the face that reducing emissions is compatible with robust economic growth. And it’s true! But reducing emissions enough? Maybe not, at least not for the next little while.

This is the stark conclusion drawn by Anderson and Bows: “the logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations.”

Also, why does anything “sobering” make me want to drink?

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  • Murc

    You know, I always get a little bit frustrated when I encounter people who are what I call ‘have your cake and eat it too’ environmentalists.

    Green jobs are well and good, but any effective plan for dealing with climate change is likely to involve delivering a body blow to economy in the short-term in order to ensure that we’re all still here to HAVE an economy in the long term. The strength of this blow is directly proportional to how long we wait to deliver it, with some additional variance for how well we handle the transition.

    Pretending otherwise is either foolish, or dishonest.

    • mpowell

      This wouldn’t necessarily have been true if we had really gotten started in 1994, though. It’s only because the US has literally done nothing up until this point that it creates a problem. But you’re right: with an aggressive approach, there will be climate jobs. But even if this does not lead to greater unemployment (and that’s the real bitch here), we’d all have to be slightly poorer.

      I am less irritated with the people you identify, however, because there is zero chance that any people anywhere will sacrifice economic growth for action on climate change until they actually start experiencing pain from climate change. Which won’t be until it’s too late. In some ways, trying to get whatever political action is possible while hoping we get ridiculously lucky is the only real shot.

    • JRoth

      mpowell says what I was going to. Putting us on a glide path to tolerable emissions in 1994 would have involved, essentially, a smallish reduction in annual GDP growth, spread over a number of years. Combine it with actual smart mechanisms, such that the free money the world kept sending our way in the ’00s went into green infrastructure rather than anti-green sprawl and SUVs, and we probably end up in 2011 with more national wealth, better distributed, all combined with OK emissions.

      This misallocation of investment over the past 10 years is, literally, staggering in its scope. It’s like somebody living under a leaky roof putting all her money into pen and ink artwork. Not only have you failed to address a problem that only gets worse, but you’ve also spent the money on things that will be devastated by your shortsightedness.

  • njorl

    If we can’t reduce emissions while maintaining robust growth, then climate change must be a hoax.

    I’m sure there are people who think this way when you get right down to it. The reliability of the science is inversely proportional to the costs it implies.

  • I dunno merc, I see just as much b.s from the zero-growth environmentalists. Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth got major play in the papers, but I read through the thing and I saw major holes in this line of argument:
    – using the Spirit Level argument about declining returns to GDP, but without Wilkinson& Pickett’s attention to distributional issues. For example, arguing “Real income per head has tripled in the US since 1950, but the percentage of people reporting themselves very happy has barely
    increased at all, and has declined since the mid-1970s.” without paying attention to how distribution might affect that stat.
    – bouncing between “we need zero growth, sustainability is b.s” and “but we understand economic development is necessary for the developing world” without resolving the tension between these positions.
    – implicitly calling for the developed nations to move from growth to redistribution as a solution to the problem of austerity without really coming out and saying it or thinking through the political/economic difficulties.
    – a lot of waffling about how “an important component of prosperity is the ability to participate freely in the life of society” non-materially, without thinking about the material requirements for building communities in developed nations. Claiming that “In a world of limits, certain kinds of freedoms are either impossible or immoral. The freedom…to find meaningful work at the expense of a collapse in biodiversity or to participate in the life of the community at the expense of future generations may be [among them]” without really thinking about the privilege in that kind of statement.

    And most importantly:
    – after a lot of hard talk about being the only folks real enough to say that green economics isn’t going to be enough and we all have to accept a 75% decrease in GDP at current intensity levels, then saying that it’s ok because moving to a service economy, green investments, and work-sharing will mean no pain.

  • rea

    The problem with calling for the kind of austerity that would effect shortrun changes in the climate is that’s going to, frankly, kill people too. We’re never going to make that kind of choice of evils until we’re absolutely backed into the corner.

    • JRoth

      Killed by what?

      Not a snarky question; I’m unclear on what causality you’re positing.

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  • JRoth

    Also, why does anything “sobering” make me want to drink?

    To reverse the effects.

  • JRoth

    Here’s the thing: to use economic (or I guess ultimately physics) terms, a greener society is just as stable an equilibrium as the one we’re currently in. There are costs involved in moving from one to the other, but once you get into the other equilibrium, there will be comfort and growth and new whiz-bang inventions and all that good stuff.

    But we really are too entitled to accept any of that. Thanks to DeLong, I read FDR’s speech from 70 years ago today, in which he talks about the shared sacrifice, and coming rationing, and that sort of thing, and it really was jarring. I know full well that there was rationing and victory gardens and all the rest, but it’s really bracing to read it so starkly: we have to do this thing, and in order to get it done, we’ll have to give things up – period.

  • Holden Pattern

    Also, why does anything “sobering” make me want to drink?

    Because the ground state of anyone sane who’s been paying attention at this point is slightly knurd, and more “sobering” things tip you over into really really knurd, and you need to drink to get back merely slightly knurd.

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