28 July 2011

The Simple Math and Logic Underpinning Climate Pragmatism

Here is an open invitation to Joe Romm, David Roberts, Michael Tobis and any other self-proclaimed "climate hawks" to explain what is wrong with the math and logic presented below. This is the math and logic that underpins the arguments of "climate pragmatism" -- such as espoused in the report released yesterday by that name, The Hartwell Paper and The Climate Fix.

The "climate hawks" have usually been pretty loathe to engage in open intellectual debate, preferring instead to lob ad homs and mischaracterizations.  (Maybe they should be called "climate chickens" -- that is a joke;-)  So here I make it easy for them.

Below, I have broken out an argument into 10 points to make it easy for critics to identify where they disagree and provide evidence to the contrary. So here is a chance -- an open invitation even -- for them to point out errors in the logic and math behind climate pragmatism.

1. Decarbonization refers to a decrease in the rate of carbon dioxide emissions divided by GDP.

2. Stabilization of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere (at any low level, but let's say 350 ppm to 550 ppm for those who want a number) requires a rate of decarbonization of >5% per year.

3. The world has been decarbonizing for at least 100 years, and the rate of this decarbonization was about 1.5% from 1980 to 2000.

4. In order to get from a rate of 1.5% (or smaller) to higher rates, such as >5%, requires that decarbonization be accelerated.

5. However, the world has in recent years seen rates of decarbonization decelerate and in the most recent few years may have even been re-carbonizing, that is, the ration of CO2/GDP has been increasing.

6. In 2010 the United States re-carbonized as well.

7. Efforts to secure a global treaty or comprehensive national legislation in the US have not led to an acceleration in rates of decarbonization.

8. In fact, no country or group of countries in the world, despite their statements or policies, has ever achieved sustained rates of decarbonization exceeding 5% per year.

9. Contracting the global economy is not a viable tool for accelerating rates of decarbonization.

10. Actions that lead to an increase in rates of decarbonization are desirable, even if they are justified for reasons beyond climate change.

Two quick points before leaving it to the discussion in the comments . . .

First, I recognize that not everyone starts with an acceptance of the assumptions behind statement #2 above -- that is OK, this post is focused on the arguments of the "climate hawks" who obviously do accept the assumptions behind that statement. Please don't clutter the comments taking issue with the premise there (in fact, for those who do, just start with statement #10;-). 

Second, statement #10 above leaves unaddressed the answer to the question, "what actions will lead to an accelerated decarbonization of the global economy?" The honest answer is that no one actually knows how to accelerate decarbonization to >5% per year for a period of decades. Climate pragmatism says that we should look around and see what actions are actually moving in the right direction and to build upon those. In contrast, climate idealism holds that a comprehensive solution implemented all at once is the only acceptable course of action, and absent the ideal, even moving in the wrong direction is preferable.

Pragmatism is about taking the first steps on a long journey and not a comprehensive plan for how the last steps will be taken. That is how we fight disease, manage the economy and win wars.  Climate change will be no different.

There is more to argue of course, but let's start here and see where the critics find fault -- or if they engage at all.


  1. Do you think that there's people out there who will disagree with your very first statement?

    Meaning, "decarbonization" could be determined regardless of GDP as just a raw, dwindling ppm number, could it not?

    GDP could go down along with carbon and some circles would hail that as a success.

    I suppose it follows then that this person would also disagre with point #3 ...hardly thinking that all this time the world has been 'decarbonizing' with no recongnizable fruits in terms of climate change.

    If someone does not see eye-to-eye with either one or both of these points, is it possible to still be able to effectively conduct a discussion?

  2. I appreciate the invitation to comment. Doing this justice may take some time.

    I do have a preliminary response, though.

    You say "Pragmatism is about taking the first steps on a long journey and not a comprehensive plan for how the last steps will be taken. That is how we fight disease, manage the economy and win wars. Climate change will be no different."

    This is arguable (though by no means proven) provided the steps are not only in the right direction but also fast enough.

    The physics of climate cares nothing for the carbon intensity of GDP. The physics responds to the total net emissions. Therefore a goal of "decarbonizing" by some amouny is insufficient when paired with a goal of GDP growth of some unspecified amount.

    It is the product of the two rates that must suffice for a rapid decrease.

    For example, an 80% reduction in emissions over 40 years at a steady rate requires 3.9% reduction per year.

    (If we start out slower, obviously we have to close in faster. For example, suppose 2% for a decade and 3% for the next decade; then we are stuck with 7.7% for the next two decades. So we have to get out of the gate quickly.)

    Now that is for emissions. Suppose the economy grows at 3%/annum. Then the 3.9% cut in emissions amounts to an intensity decrease of

    1-((1000-39)/(1000+30)) = 6.7% per year.

    (Rather worse than your 5%, but in the same ballpark for present purposes. I think this is the comparable calculation.)

    Of course, if there is zero growth, the intensity cut is the same as the emissions cut, and if there is 3.9% contraction, the intensity can stay the same. And so on.

    The global growth rate in the interim is therefore a key to the whole matter.

    I would like to believe that we can maintain something resembling growth for another generation or two, giving us time and resources to get a handle on the transition to a sustainable economic structure. I am not sure I do believe it, particularly since the transition cannot be fueled by unconventional fossil fuel sources, and because the nuclear option looks politically untenable post-Fukushima. But let's presume that growth can be maintained for the interim.

    If that optimistic scenario holds, the goal has to be set in terms of emissions, not in terms of intensity. Where I agree with Joe Romm is that lacking a specific target emission trajectory we would be absurdly lucky to come out of this century in good shape.

    Focusing on "intensity" rather than emissions amounts to cutting extra slack that just isn't there.

    On the other hand, we may need to cope with limits to growth sooner than we would like. We can't decarbonize in the scenario of "growth" via increasing exploitation of lower and lower EROEI fossil fuels, never mind the obvious brick wall that such growth eventually hits. Alas, from all appearances that is the plan that the marketplace has hit upon, and there is nobody around with the ability to put the brakes on it.

  3. -1-Salamano

    Thanks ... the first statement is just definitional. I doubt there are too many climate hawks willing to argue for global economic contraction, but let's see.

  4. Perhaps I'm not reading/thinking clearly here, but in the last two sentences of the third-to-last paragraph, do "we should look around and see what actions are actually moving in the right direction and to build upon those" and "a comprehensive solution [should be] implemented all at once" refer to policy choices while "even moving in the wrong direction" refers not to policy but to the result of policy choices (or lack thereof) - i.e. to the actual state of decarbonization?

    If so, might a more consistent (and maybe fairer?) statement end with a third reference to policy such as "...and absent the ideal, even no policy/political action is preferable."?

  5. Has anyone examined the effects of the UK's transition from coal to petroleum in terms of impact on carbon/GDP? I don't remember seeing it in Hartwell and I haven't looked at your pragmatist article as yet.

    It would appear to me as though large scale fuel substitution is the only way to achieve decarbonisation. We did it in the 18th Century when we moved from wood to coal, and that took a century. We did it when we moved from coal to petroleum (for transportation) and hydroelectric (for electricity), and that took about 75 years.

    Maybe the next transition will only take 50 years. (Solar 'started' in 1978, so maybe by 2028...?

  6. -2-Michael

    Thanks for dropping by ...

    Based on the Kaya Identity (which I assume you are familiar with?), it makes no sense to talk of emissions while ignoring GDP. Further, given the role of GDP in emissions, emissions intensity is far more relevant a concept than simply emissions from which to discuss policies focused on stabilization (for the exact reasons that your math shows, were are not in a steady-state economic world, far from it).

    If you are unfamiliar with the Kaya Identity, you can get up to speed quickly here on it and its application to stabilization policies:


  7. -5-Tom

    Thanks, see note #2 here:

    The "dash for gas" (not petroleum) resulted in a short term uptick in decarbonization. It is noticeable in the data but not particularly large or sustained.

  8. Curses, foiled again! Thought I found an easy answer... ;)

    On the other hand, take-up of residential solar power in the U.S. increased by 102% in 2010... and may do the same in 2011. Don't need too many years of that kind of acceleration to make a dent.

  9. -4-kmye

    Maybe so, but not sure I follow

  10. -8-Tom

    No easy answers ;-)

    Exponential growth can drive big numbers of course. But here are some big numbers in context -- (fro, p. 114 of TCF): replacing just 10% of 2006 US energy consumption would require deployment of 33,000 10 MW solar thermal plants (or if you prefer, 130,000 2.5 MW wind turbines or 146 1 GW nuclear plants.

  11. But doesn't it make a difference if we choose which 10% of energy consumption to replace? If we chose to replace the dirtiest coal plants producing electricity with even natural gas, let alone renewables, doesn't that have a disproportionate impact?

    Still looking for an easy answer...

  12. -11-Tom

    Absolutely ... some more numbers, for the US to reach a 17% (from 2005) emission reduction target by 2020 would imply shutting down about 60% of the dirtiest coal plants and replacing them with 189 new nuclear power plants. And all increasing demand would have to be carbon-free, assuming a 0.5% increase in demand implies 153 additional nuclear power plants.

    From pp. 100-102 in TCF, where numbers are given for natural gas, wind/solar and efficiency as well.

    Still no easy answers:-(

  13. Well, 2010 global shipments of PV modules were equivalent to 17 nuclear power plants. If we double that 3 more times...

    And the hottest new toy in the solar world is a solar charger for electric cars...

    I gotta say I'm an optimist about all this.

  14. Tom, care to provide a link for those global PV numbers? My bet is you are using the rated capacity, which doesn't account for day/night and obliquity. Last I heard, nuclear plants worked at night and have a 90% uptime.

  15. I am familiar with the Kaya identity. Such relationships are not necessarily instructive.

    Consider for example ladybugs. Carbon emissions are equal to ladybug population times carbon intensity per ladybug. These identities are easy to construct. You have to make the case that they are useful or meaningful.

    The point is that total emissions is what the system responds to. As long as we have a nation-state system, we have to allocate targets to countries, and then each country has to meet its targets.

    Mixing in growth in GDP or ladybugs is up to each country, but in the end all the strategies have to end up with no emissions past the trillionth ton, or the two trillionth ton, or whatever the last ton is. That is the real world constraint.

    All that the intensity number tells us is that the more we grow, the harder we have to work on the intensity.

    Your claim that "emissions intensity is far more relevant a concept than simply emissions from which to discuss policies focused on stabilization" consequently makes no sense to me. Maybe you made a case for this somewhere else but in this article you have not.

    There are enough complications in the problem that it makes little sense to start out by complicating the simple parts. Unless by "progress" you mean "changing the subject" I don't see how this constitutes intellectual progress.

  16. Roger, statement #1 is a definition that only an economist could love. Because it leads to the nonsensical results that a country, say, China, could build coal plant after coal plant, and as long as each is just slightly more efficient than the average, they get credit for 'decarbonizing', even as they double-up their emissions. It's like the politicians who squawk at budget 'cuts' when next year you only spend 5% more than this year, instead of a planned 10%.

    It also means that statement number two can't be calculated exactly, it's a ratio involving total GDP. So if you wanted to hit a fixed target, you'd either have to restrain GDP, or have much greater corresponding real emissions cuts.

    Actual real decarbonization, not the fake economist kind, will only happen with a full-scale move to nuclear, which isn't in the cards any time soon.

  17. -15-Michael Tobis

    Are you suggesting that the Kaya Identity is _not_ useful? Really?!

    Consider this analogy ... let's say that you are concerned about your weight, and you'd like to stabilize it at a lower level.

    I tell you that the only way to stabilize your weight will require you to count the calories that you consume and those you expend through exercising. To count the calories that you consume you need to focus on what you are eating.

    You respond that you don't want to talk about eating, rather you only want to talk about weight. And you tell me that you have to lose X pounds over Y weeks to hit your target weight.

    I tell you in response, sure that is fine, but if you actually want to modulate weight, you will have to include a discussion of eating, because eating is what leads to the accumulation of calories that lead to you gaining weight -- and the reality is that you are going to have to eat.

    You could dig in your heels and say, no, what you want to talk about is weight, not eating, and don't want to complicate the matter.

    You want to go on a diet without talking about eating ... at that point I tell you, it's not really going to work, good luck losing weight.

    You write: "All that the intensity number tells us is that the more we grow, the harder we have to work on the intensity."

    Hello?! We are growing and will continue to do so, thus emissions intensity matters.

  18. -16-Skip

    The Kaya identity is as follows:

    CO2 emissions =
    GDP *
    GDP/population *
    energy consumed/GDP *
    CO2 emissions/energy consumed

    this can be simplified as follows:

    CO2 emissions = GDP * technology

    where technology has 2 parts: (1) energy intensity of GDP and (2) carbon intensity of energy

    If you want to measure progress on technology related to emissions reductions, then mover GDP over as follows:

    CO2/GDP = technology

    A reduction in this measure reflects advances in technologies of emissions reductions.

    So when you conclude, "Actual real decarbonization . . . will only happen with a full-scale move to nuclear," you are exactly correct according to the Kaya Identity ;-)

  19. -18-

    Sorry, first GDP should be population ...

  20. Michael Tobis, I just want to point out that you have not contested any of the 10 points above.

    You have suggested that GDP is as relevant to emissions as are ladybugs, which may lead some to suggest a new category of "denier";-)

    Simple question, do you contest any of the 10 statements above? Just curious.

  21. Your points 2 and 4 include implicit assumptions about growth. Stipulating that growth has not ended and will not end during the next few decades they seem at least qualitatively reasonable. Similarly, point 9 carries a lot of presumptions and is a value judgment, but again, assuming that we are not in a major transition already, seems defensible.

    I think we may already be reaching limits to growth, and I think that causes me to find the whole line of reasoning dubious. According to the Kaya identity, all else equal decarbonization should be easier in a declining economy. Of course, I expect you will agree that all else is not equal, and that if we are entering a period of stasis or decline, decarbonization will be much harder. This means that something important is missing in the identity. Perhaps not as much as in the ladybug identity, but something very substantial nonetheless.

    Now I hope I am wrong about the imminence of the end to growth. If I am, if it can be postponed past the decarbonization somehow, if something resembling the normalcy of 1950 - 1990 can be maintained for a while, then I think your points are roughly true.

    I don't see how they combine into anything resembling an adequate greenhouse gas policy, though. So let's stipulate for the purposes of argument that limits to growth are at least a century in the future if we avoid a climate disaster.

    So how do your points help us do that last bit?

  22. -21-Michael

    I do assume that global economic growth is going to be positive for the foreseeable future -- whether that is 20 or 50 years or 500 years, I don't know, but in any of the cases what it implies is #9 above.

    Now, if you agree with #10, then what could it possibly be that you actually disagree with with respect to Hartwell, TCF and Climate Pragmatism?

    I am utterly baffled ...

  23. I haven't read it yet, but if your ten points summarize it well, then my position is that this is the equivalent to recommending a response to the outbreak of a deadly infectious plague of eating an orange or a grapefruit daily.

    Now, you claim the citrus may improve your health and immunity. I stipulate that and yet find it essentially irrelevant. I suggest that a massive investment in quarantine facilities, into the epidemiology of the disease and into a targeted no-holds-barred research program into treating the disease is more relevant.

    You reply that at least the grapefruit is a step in the right direction. Well, yes and no.

  24. Michael Tobis said "...we have to allocate targets to countries, and then each country has to meet its targets."

    I would just like to point out that he might think he's talking about science, but a statement like that is politics, pure and simple. And fairly authoritarian politics at that.

  25. I would only add that energy transformation is best achieved outside of governmental and political processes.

  26. -23-Michael Tobis

    "I haven't read it yet"

    And yet you feel qualified to trash it and critique it?

    "I suggest that a massive investment in quarantine facilities, into the epidemiology of the disease and into a targeted no-holds-barred research program into treating the disease is more relevant."

    The irony ;-)

    Please come back after you've informed yourself, makes for a much better conversation.


  27. -Dr. Pielke (9)

    I'm sorry to have wasted your time above, and here as well; I think my thinking and communication above may be a little fuzzy, and maybe here, too. Time for some evening coffee, I think.

    Trying to avoid falling into any quibble-babble like I did above, I think a different way to put my original thought is that I thought your statement was open to an interpretation of saying idealists consciously prefer policy approaches that make things worse to other positive policy approaches that aren't their own (as opposed to idealists just not recognizing or consciously accepting that their singular focus on their preferred policy has been a major or primary contributor to a stagnant policy situation where the results have been decarbonization "moving in the wrong direction", if that distinction makes any kind of logical sense). I didn't think the former thought/interpretation was fair or accurate for the average 'climate idealist', and didn't think that was what you were trying to say, so I brought it up wondering if there was a safer, unequivocal way to put things.

    On reconsideration and rereading the *whole* paragraph again, with its complete context, I feel like it's clear you're arguing something along the lines of the latter, parenthesized interpretation (please correct me if I'm wrong).

    The terrible, terribly inconsistent thing is, after thinking about it, in my own view maybe there is a portion of those who'd qualify as 'climate idealists' who've confused their preferred means of addressing the climate issue with an end in itself, to the degree that they would fully consciously prefer to see the problem get worse so that the more extreme, centralized approach they see as the only environmentally viable one anyway becomes politically viable.

    If that's the case, either interpretation is fair, so I'll stop running in circles, apologize for wasting your and readers' time again, and hope I wake up tomorrow with less short-circuits in my head. :/ ;)

  28. Message for Eli/Josh ... feel free to add substance, but trolling and unsupported assertions are best submitted directly here:


    Advice: if you want to make a claim that "X is false" then you need to provide evidence and an argument. I suspect you can.

  29. Roger, no, I am responding to your ten points. I have already agreed to read it and comment at greater length. But if those ten points are a summary, I am not impressed.

    I agreed with Joe Romm on the point that absent targets all we are talking about is handwaving. I am trying to make that point here.

    Carbon in the environment, as with any pollutant or contaminant, is fundamentally a quantitative problem. And if the present article is an indication, you have offered no quantitative targets, never mind a scalable mechanism to achieve them. In other words you have said nothing of consequence on the issue at hand, which is pretty much what Joe, albeit in his most exasperating style, alleged.

  30. -29-Michael

    If you are indeed responding to my ten points then you can see in #2 above that stabilization targets are explicitly mentioned. You will find an extensive discussion of them also in TCF.

    Once again, your strong and certain critiques will be much more informed if you actually read the arguments that you are critiquing, rather than parroting what you think Romm might be on about. I'd suggest starting with TCF then reading THP then CP.

    You will then be in a position to avoid the embarrassment of publicly commenting on materials that you have no yet engaged ;-)

  31. Sorry, "350 to 550, whatever" is not much of a target and the "5% decarbonization per year which it implies will be difficult to achieve" is definitely not a plan of any sort.

  32. The bottom line is that the climate hawks, along with the entire AGW community, have failed to create any policy that has worked.

  33. -29-Michael

    Target may be fine if they are realistic. But currently, they aren't, and Roger is telling you exactly why they aren't. And when they aren't, they are simply an opportunity for politicians to pretend and continue to pretend to be doing something serious about the problem. When the hour of reckoning arrives, they can say "oops, let's set some new, aggressive targets, then" and blame the difficulty that should have been obvious from the start, or their predecessors, or climate skeptics, or whatever.

  34. Roger / Michael Tobis,

    I really thought that Roger's weight loss analogy would clear it up. It seems to me that Michael is really arguing for a #11, which states that policy makers should set targets based on some assumptions about how CO2 will affect the climate.

    But Roger's whole point is about how you get from here to there, not about where, exactly, "there" is.

  35. Roger,
    Even before reading the other comments I was going to object to your first point: "Decarbonization refers to a decrease in the rate of carbon dioxide emissions divided by GDP". It borders on the class of being not even wrong! Decarbonisation is a decrease in the rate of carbon dioxide emissions.

    You state the Kaya identity as:
    CO2 emissions = GDP * technology

    Thus to reduce CO2 emissions either GDP must fall or technology must fall! Excuse my pragmatism but I do not see either happening in the near future. Therefore carbon dioxide concentrations will increase until they pass a tipping point when there will be a catastrophic abrupt climate change.

    What I don't think is generally realised is that in fact CO2 production equals GDP. We think that our standard of living is the result of human inventiveness. It is not. It is due to our harnessing fossil fuels to power industry. No longer do navies build rail-roads, hue trees, mine for gold and coal with pick axes, or even sweep up leaves with a brush. A leaf blower is now a sine qua non.

    Even our food is now largely grown with the help of fossil fuels. The work that was done by human and horse power is now supplied by oil powered tractors and combine harvesters. The productivity has been increased by using fertilizers also derived from fossil fuels. And in many cases the fields are irrigated using fossil fuel power.

    It is not just the USA that is hooked on oil and coal. The whole of the western world depends on it along with the emerging countries led by China.

    We can already see the effects of higher atmospheric CO2 levels. The Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheets have started melting. The later will raise sea levels by over 20 feet inundating Florida. The sub tropical deserts are now spreading causing famine in the Horn of Africa and droughts in Oklahoma and Texas.

    I am very disappointed to find some one as smart as you twisting the arguments to justify the status quo, when you could be using your high profile to warn your fellow countrymen of the obvious perils that they are facing.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  36. -31-Michael Tobis

    ""350 to 550, whatever" is not much of a target"

    What are you the first 280 ppm climate hawk? ;-)

    What target would you prefer if not something in the range 350 to 550?

    Again, the time you are spending making arguments against points readily dealt with in the materials you are critiquing might be better spent actually reading those materials.

    Then we won't to have this repeated interaction where you say something that has easily been dealt with and I have to point that out to you.


  37. -35-Alistair

    Actually, technology equals energy intensity of GDP * carbon intensity of energy.

    Thus, in a nutshell if you want to achieve a low stabilization level you necessarily must make technological progress on efficiency or the replacement of carbon-emitting energy with carbon-free energy.

    For various reasons efficiency can only get you so far, meaning that the bulk of the effort must be done through changing energy supply.

    All of this is discussed in TCF, with math included, and it actually supports the points you make as "critique";-) In other words, we appear to be on much the same page.

  38. Roger,
    This is an amazing thread.
    It would be good if Michael would give a well thought out answer to the point you emphasize in post 36.
    You should be clear and specific about targets and how they can be reached. Not one idea offered by the AGW community has had the effect of lowering CO2 or impacting the climate. That seems to imply a ration of cost to impact approaching zero.
    Please also comment on what compels you to demand what is likely to be more of the same.

  39. Roger,

    A simple question along the lines of 'success is not guaranteed'. What probability does your 'pragmatic' approach have of averting dangerous climate change (i.e. greater than 2C warming)? Less than 1%? Greater than 50%? I understand that this is an inherently subjective question, but I'm curious where you would ballpark it, if at all.

    As I've said before, I don't think anybody takes issue with 'no-regrets' strategies (how could they?). Rather the problem --to put it back in terms of grapefruits and epidemics-- is that you haven't told the patient that while eating grapefruits are highly unlikely to solve the problem, they're the best that can be done under the circumstances, and doing something is better than nothing...

  40. -40-Marlowe Johnson

    Thanks, a few replies ...

    "What probability does your 'pragmatic' approach have of averting dangerous climate change (i.e. greater than 2C warming)?"

    Since you read "success is not guaranteed" then you will correctly expect my answer to be -- "don't know".

    You likely have not read TCF or you'd know the answer is -- "wrong way to think about the issue".

    What I can tell you is that if you want to accelerate rates of decarbonization, then the approach that we've outlined has a far better chance to do so that the approach that has been tried these past 20 years. And there is empirical evidence to support this case, based on policy experience. I am just about 100% certain of that ;-)

    But here are some questions for you:

    If we invest $30 billion in medical R&D this year, what are the odds that death rates are reduced by at least 10% by 2050?

    If we invest $400 billion in defense annually, what does this mean for the odds of a war by 2035?

    If we invest 20 billion in Homeland Security this year, what does this mean for the quantitative odds of a another terrorist attack in NYC?

    Silly questions lead only to silly answers.

    Finally, you write "... you haven't told the patient ..."

    I am repeatedly amazed at he willingness of otherwise apparently intelligent blog commenters to write things that are just plain incorrect, simply because they have not done their homework. This point is made repeatedly in my writings, most obviously and explicitly in TCF ...


  41. The easy part of pragmatism is to vow to do what can be done and abjure what cannot. The hard part is to determine what cannot be done, particularly if one has already invested substantial time and effort in that direction. And this is the problem. People will not give up Kyoto-like approaches, even though there is overwhelming evidence they don't work, because it would require them to write off a massive investment of past effort.

    It is particularly hard of political ideologists of either stripe. Marxism, after all, is a perfectly good idea, it's never been implemented properly. Or, if you like, government should limit itself to common defense and the enforcement of contracts. :-)

  42. Thanks for the reply Roger.

    "then the approach that we've outlined has a far better chance to do so that the approach that has been tried these past 20 years. And there is empirical evidence to support this case, based on policy experience. "

    Is there empirical evidence relating to innovation wrt to energy technologies or is the evidence related to other areas (e.g. health sciences)?

    Let me finish by reiterating something I said over at Keith's:

    "the idea that there is an implicit opportunity cost involved; if you pursue global international treaties, you cannot then pursue the other policies that they recommend (e.g. government sponsored research into clean energy research, development and deployment, etc.) . The State Department and the USDA are working on numerous initiatives that have climate benefits (e.g. marine diesel, cooking stoves in developing countries). Would these activities have halted if Kyoto had been ratified? Or conversely, would these efforts have been more succesful if international cooperative agreements had not been pursued to begin with?"

    I would amend the above to say that while there may be some opportunity cost, there is no evidence to suggest that it is significant to the point where it becomes an either/or proposition.

  43. -43-Marlowe Johnson

    Thanks ... you ask:

    "Is there empirical evidence relating to innovation wrt to energy technologies or is the evidence related to other areas (e.g. health sciences)?"

    The answer is "yes". For instance, see this review presented in Congressional testimony by Sarewitz and Alic:

    You are right of course that in principle a focus on a global treaty need not be exclusive to more decentralized efforts. But in practice that is pretty much how it has been. Just look at the viscous reaction to the Climate Pragmatism paper this week. More generally, look at the attention paid by policy analysts and advocates, the IPCC, governments etc. to the FCCC approach and compare that to the effort expended on the decentralized approaches.

    One might easily come to the conclusion that in practice at least the attention paid in design and implementation has been sharply skewed in one direction. We have suggested a need to refocus that attention more productively.


  44. Boy, the standards of overwhelming evidence are awfully low.

    International treaties have not yet worked. Among the many barriers is that public awareness and understanding of the problem has been inadequate. One could imagine fixing this. Indeed, this will eventually be fixed by nature if not by reason. It is not exactly a silver lining, but it is a sort of a backstop.

    Nothing short of an international structure can work, because we cannot tolerate major defectors. If China alone, say, keeps emissions unconstrained, we have no solution.

    As I have said many times, it is conceivable that a technical breakthrough will move the market away from carbon. It would be great but it is silly to bank on this. Digging stuff up and burning it is pretty cheap as long as you don't apply external costs. The people owning the reserves of this burnable stuff are highly motivated to keep doing so, and to promote expensive, long-lived infrastructure and sunk costs to keep that going. The market is unlikely to fix this, no matter how each of us behaves as individuals.

    It only takes a small number of defectors to keep the accumulation of carbon in the environment going. Obviously it is a hard sell to get something adequate through regulations, taxes, treaties and tarriffs, but the facts are as they are. It seems easier, though very hard, to get all the world's 200 nations to cooperate (see WTO, e.g., or IPCC for that matter) than it would be to get all the world's millions of economic actors to cooperate.

    I am open to being convinced otherwise, but "Kyoto is a failure" is not a plan. Tell me what you got, not what I ain't got.

  45. Michael Tobis said... 2

    On the other hand, we may need to cope with limits to growth sooner than we would like. We can't decarbonize in the scenario of "growth" via increasing exploitation of lower and lower EROEI fossil fuels, never mind the obvious brick wall that such growth eventually hits. Alas, from all appearances that is the plan that the marketplace has hit upon, and there is nobody around with the ability to put the brakes on it.

    Markets are good at addressing problems when there are substantial 'first mover' advantages to be had.

    There are not 'substantial' first mover advantages to energy innovation or transportation innovation. In fact, there are substantial 'first mover' penalties.

    Chevy attempted to build an affordable fuel efficient automobile 40 years ago in the form of the Corvair. They got crucified for it.

    Ford attempted to build an afforfable fuel efficient automobile in the form of the Pinto and got cricified for it.

    Toyato built an 'expensive' fuel efficient vehicle in the form of the Prius and has paid dearly for the 'sticky gas pedal' problem.

    GM built the Chevy Volt, and already we have had one house fire that 'may' have been caused by a battery fire.

    Westinghouse has been working on getting the major innovation in the AP1000 reactor...an emergency water supply on the roof of the reactor thru the US NRC for more then a decade.

    Expecting market forces to be able to balance 'safety at any cost' with 'innovation risk' is unrealistic. Status quo wins. Even if we introduce carbon taxes the status quo will still win.

    The 'safety at any cost' costs are incalculable.
    Paying more for fossil fuels is calculable.

    Scaring people that Miami might be under water in 100 years doesn't change the fact that a GMC Yukon is a safer vehicle for it's occupant then an econobox. Making gasoline more expensive doesn't change the fact either.

    Addressing climate change is only going to happen once all the parties involved recognize the fact that the barriers to addressing climate change are not simply the price of coal, oil or natural gas.

    Mrs. Politically Correct Moneybags already knows driving her GMC Yukon is a 'bad thing'. She's not going to trade her 'personal safety' in order to 'save the planet', she'll pay more for gasoline or buy some trees in the rain-forest or donate to save the polar bears ,greenwash which will have no substantial impact.

    Are Joe Romm, Green Peace,the people at Grist and the Huffington Post prepared to stand up and say the risks presented by nuclear power are less then the risks presented by 'Climate Change'?

    Is Ralph Nader prepared to stand up and declare that the risks associated with making vehicles lighter and more fuel efficient are less then the risks associated with 'Climate Change'?

    Do you think 'markets' take into account all potential risks before the money flows?

  46. -45-Michael Tobis

    Your comments remain woefully uninformed.

    You write: "Tell me what you got, not what I ain't got."

    You can lead a horse to water ... please do revisit this discussion when you've had a chance to look over the three pieces that actually develop this argument. Thanks.

  47. 280 ppm. atmospheric CO2. That is the environment in which every human, plant, animal, insect, fungi, bacteria and other living things have evolved on Earth for the last three hundred thousand years.

    We have no idea what a stable climate or ecology would be like at 350 ppm or 400 ppm because we have only fossile records for the last periods when the planet had that kind of atmosphere. Our climate right now is NOT stable.

    The premise of this entire conversation is: "First we're going to dump the entire ecosystem and see what survives a major atmospheric shift." Then we're going to declare that increasing carbonization of the atmosphere is "decarbonisation" by waving the magic wand called "economics."

    News flash: The global economy is a subset of the environment and cannot survive without a healthy ecosystem. This entire thread is a MacGuffin designed to change the Overton window from a scientific conversation of climate change effects to a speculative conversation on economics.

  48. -48- Pangolin,

    So, you would describe the last 300,000 years as a stable climate?

  49. @ #46 ...

    ...Well said. Usually it's "environmentalists" that kill local 'green energy' projects like Biomass facilities, nuclear power installations, and wind-farms they can see or hear from their front porch vista.

    Until fellow environmentalists are willing to stand up at the town meeting and sacrifcially support a project that has large (but diffuse) benefits vs. small (but direct) drawbacks to a community, all the talk about "deployment strategies" is just a sham exercise.

    Everyone's a NIMBY concerned environmentalist when a Nuclear Powerplant is coming to town.

  50. Alistair said:

    What I don't think is generally realised is that in fact CO2 production equals GDP. We think that our standard of living is the result of human inventiveness. It is not. It is due to our harnessing fossil fuels to power industry.

    So there were no economies before carbon?

    My reading says the Egyptians had an economy based on manpower. That was beaten by an economy based on animal power, then wind and water, which in turn ceded to coal. Now it's more mixed.

    Power is the key all right, but there is nothing magic about carbon power. All it would take is effective fusion power and the world would decarbonise overnight.

    You seem to me to really be saying "I don't like economic growth" but hiding behind some specious arguments about how its the carbon that will get us.

    We need to reduce our carbon for various reasons (I do not personally accept that we are anywhere near cliimate catastrophe). That needs incentives and policies. Real ones, not trying to do it via international agreements that we all know won't work.

  51. Michael Tobis said

    "Among the many barriers is that public awareness and understanding of the problem has been inadequate. One could imagine fixing this. Indeed, this will eventually be fixed by nature if not by reason."

    And when is that likely to happen? This could give us an indication:

    "The results indicate that future hurricane damages won't produce a tangible "climate signal" for at least 120 years, and perhaps not for 550 years. The average time before a signal might be seen is 260 years, according to the combined findings of an 18-model ensemble used by the researchers. In that year, 2271, climate change is expected to increase damage by 106 percent, more than double."


  52. I think the weight-loss metaphor is interesting, but surely it can be interpreted also to support targets?

    If a person's weight is about to reach a dangerous level, just setting a weight target, without contemplating how to get there, doesn't seem very sensible. That would be the equivalent of setting a global temperature target without putting in place relevant policies and measures.

    What would be sensible though is, based on an understanding of metabolic processes and other aspects of human biology, to set targets for calorie intake and for exercise. That would be the equivalent of using climate and energy science to set targets for greenhouse gas emissions and carbon intensity. One could decide to reach the target weight by only reducing calorie intake or only stepping up exercise, but the best results would be to do both. I could imagine this would hold for climate policy as well.

    The problem with the metaphor is that a person's weight is affected only by his or her own actions. The real equivalent to climate change would be when the person's weight also depends on how much others eat. There's not much point in going on a diet when your neighbour's continued bingeing makes you fat. In that situation, the only way to lose weight is for (almost) everybody to go on a diet!

    The question then is, how to get people to eat more healthy and do more exercise even if they themselves are not at risk of dying from obesity?

  53. Pangolin,
    Are you a sort of hybrid young earth creationist and evolutionist?
    Your post 48 makes no sense unless you are suggesting that 300KY is a significant time in evolutionary terms.
    Additionally, in the past 300ky we have had significant ice ages and warming periods. That is stable?
    You assert that CO2 ppm increases will dump the entire eco-system. Please provide evidence of this. Life is able to thrive at far higher levels of CO2 than are projected even in the most alarmist predictions.
    If you have some counter data for that, please do share.
    Michael Tobis,I would suggest that it is the AGW community that has very low standards of proof.

  54. I am working my way through the Hartwell Paper and agree with it's tactical analysis.

    However, what I find troubling is that the paper has defined the strategic problem in a globally generic way. The view of the past and the new ideas seem to depend on a sort of homogenization of the globe's challenges dealing with climate change. As if all parties were mostly synonymous.

    My view is much different, and admittedly much simpler. (It's all I am capable of.)

    I think the US recalcitrance is the number one issue globally on any initiative regarding climate change. That passive resistance, and at times active obstructionism, is rooted in conservative beliefs and politics.

    Negatively impacting, in any way significant, the ideals of self determination, capitalism and meritocracy, isn't acceptable to them. (And not really to me). Taking away the "value" of cheap energy does exactly that. (It's not just a simple resistance to accept AGW scientific theory.)

    But back to my central point, as long as the US isn't leading this issue to success globally, it can't gain traction in it's current form.

    As long as the US economically founders and has a relatively strong conservative component in its politics, we can't expect any global answer to the problem in a timely manner. And, it can't, by definition even, be a global movement without the US.

    So on that reasoning alone, I agree that a global solution to this global problem is essentially impossible today. You can choose all the targets you want that are in the climate change handbag, they mean nothing to those that successfully obstruct progress today, and they are the only ones who we really need to convince.

    In fact, the purveyors of those targets, the 350.orgs of the world, only harden the opposition due to the complete lack of acknowledgement of the issues conservatives support, and the pretension of simplicity.

  55. I don't follow everything Mark R says but I'm sympathetic. Specifically, regarding

    "So on that reasoning alone, I agree that a global solution to this global problem is essentially impossible today. You can choose all the targets you want that are in the climate change handbag, they mean nothing to those that successfully obstruct progress today, and they are the only ones who we really need to convince."

    I think that is insightful and mostly true. Though "only ones" goes a bit further than I would, Americans who consider themselves conservative are absolutely a crucial key to the global problem. There is no solution until a good swath of them understand the problem well enough to motivate tolerating a solution at scale.

    Unfortunately their preferred information sources are working against that understanding. It won't be easy getting across to them, but I agree that present efforts are often counterproductive.

  56. Michael,
    Conservatives do understand the problem very well.
    That is why we are skeptical.
    When are you going to do the first step of science and become skeptical yourself?
    Mark R, If you think the USA is the reason for the failure of your desires regarding certain policies around the world, you are kidding yourself completely.
    To any of you on the believer side of the AGW issue:
    Please show us one AGW inspired treaty or policy that has worked as you advertised it would.
    You have had over 20 years. Certainly you can show one?

  57. US conservatives are a "problem" only in achieving the first, easier part of the challenge, which is getting nations to "commit" to targets. In other words, making promises that may be meaningful or completely empty. The real difficulty is in actually doing what it takes to reach those targets. Roger's 10 points address that.

    I live in a country in which the CO2 targets are almost unanimously agreed on by the politicians. And yet, CO2 emissions continue to rise. And it's supposed to be OK because we're allegedly paying for CO2 cuts elsewhere in the world. But if some countries are not decarbonizing, the rest will have to decarbonize even faster to make the scheme work.

    Blaming US conservatives is one easy way out of confronting and discussing the difficulties of real-world implementation.

  58. Staying with the context of "global target" and "global agreement" being the answer (have I framed the question correctly?)

    I would say that those that disagree with my point, the US leads, are grossly underestimating our role in the world.

    Any global treaty, agreement, etc that doesn't include our agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on. (If we have any interest in the issue. And on climate change, we clearly do.)

    I think one can easily dissect the past efforts on global agreement and see instance after instance where US lack of leadership on this issue damaged the outcome. Any leaderless decision, initiative, or agreement cant be measured for success, it was doomed from the start. So I'd offer, we don't actually know if a global climate agreement could have a massive effect on emissions. But it doesn't matter.

    The reason we can't lead is we are unable to reach agreement internally, so the world sees us as impotent on climate change until we do agree internally.

    So many see the idea of a global agreement as stillborn, but I offer that it's a good idea, (not THE idea however), IF the US leads. But what are the chances we can come to internal agreement and lead with our current legislative body?

    So for those reasons alone, I would abandon a top down approach.

  59. Michael Tobis 56 - I too wrestle with the chicken and egg of conservative voters and conservative leaders.

    But I'll offer that isn't a necessary distinction for the purpose of climate action. Conservatives as a whole, and their values, many of which are important, are the issue. And they have real influence and power.

    Ignoring that, just because of the obvious science of AGW, doesn't produce real action at the scale required for the problem.

  60. dagfinn 58 wrote -"US conservatives are a "problem" only in achieving the first, easier part of the challenge, which is getting nations to "commit" to targets."

    At least it seemed easier (says hundreds of delegates);)

    I don't want to take up too much of everyone's time on a hypothetical, but, if the US led this issue to global agreement, the next step of verification would easily follow. The US is well steeped in promises and reality management. Our State Department knows the challenges all too well.

    We are the world's police and we would be on this issue too. It's one of the many reasons we have to lead to make a global agreement and its targets successful.

    We are the only ones with enough influence and experience to make a global treaty actually work in theory and in practice.

    That's why the world tried and failed without our agreement. (It has nothing to do with the China vs US, old CO2 vs New, third world vs first etc etc).

  61. Your definition of decarbonization is. . . creative. The accepted usage is the elimination of carbon

    carbon dioxide emissions divided by GDP is commonly called carbon intensity

    Your usage makes no sense, as has been pointed out, because it allows emissions to grow in net.

    Some might not be surprised

  62. I'd like to note that - as mentioned above - rated power is not the same as delivered power.

    Solar delivered power (i.e. capacity factor) is in the 19% range. Nuclear in the US is in the 90% range, while coal/natural gas are in the 60% to 80% range.

    Thus 3 to 4 Megawatts of Solar power is necessary to replace 1 Megawatt of coal/natural gas - this furthermore requires storage.

    Wind is somewhat better than solar, but has even less reliability in terms of when said power is generated.

    I posted a review on the performance of Alberta wind turbines here: http://www.itulip.com/forums/showthread.php/19839-Alberta-wind-some-numbers

    This analysis is based on Alberta's own numbers, which record electricity delivered in 10 minute intervals from 2004 to 2009.

    Of note was that the capacity factor was 32.49% - about 1/4 higher than the typical 25% touted as wind turbine industry average. This is good.

    However, the Alberta wind turbines generated under 20% of capacity almost half the time, and under 50% of capacity nearly 70% of the time.

    This means the role of Alberta wind generated electricity can never be a substantial portion of the overall electricity generation capability without major storage capabilities or the willingness to lose power for long period of time.

  63. -62-Josh Halpern

    I used to think you were just a bad person. I've come to realize that you and much of your crowd may not be bad people, but you display an unhealthy degree of anger and a distinct lack of civility in ordinary discussions. I also have come to realize how woefully uniformed you are on these issues, remarkably so for a college professor who likes to assert some authority in these debates.

    In response to your comment #62 above, you are completely wrong. (I'd blog anonymously to if I made assertions like those;-)

    There are two different definitions of "decarbonization" in the relevant literature and both are derived from the Kaya Identity. One refers to a reduction in C/TE and is sometimes called "carbon intensity of energy" -- this is the usage you find in the RECIPE report that you link to. A second usage is C/GDP and refers to the combination of energy intensity and carbon intensity of energy. It is some times called "carbon intensity of GDP" or "decarbonization of the economy." Indian and Chinese climate policies are based on this latter metric.

    You are of course absolutely correct that decarbonization of the economy can be reduced while total emissions increase. That is why a stabilization target is needed to set a goal for decarbonization rates.

    Of course, each of the points above is spelled out clearly in The Climate Fix and related peer-reviewed papers of mine.

    You are of course welcome to comment here on substance, but as I have told you on previous occasions, angry, insulting and rude comments won't be allowed. I'd also prefer that your comments about my work and views be informed rather than uniformed, but that is up to you.


  64. re 40

    Marlowe Johnson writes:

    "What probability does your 'pragmatic' approach have of averting dangerous climate change (i.e. greater than 2C warming)?"

    This is question that I have often wondered about.

    Climate sensitivity is not known with any accuracy. So how can the effectiveness of any policy in addressing dangerous climate change be determines. For any policy: Is it too little and will not be efffectvive or is it too much and will damage the economy beyond the purpose?

  65. -61-Mark R - Dallas

    "I don't want to take up too much of everyone's time on a hypothetical" - what an interesting excuse for not exploring your plan in sufficient detail to find out whether it's realistic or not.

    You don't seem to have considered how it could actually be done. Do you know how the "reality management" would happen? The first thing to think about would be accountability and consequences, and that's a vastly different ball game than just "commitment".

    More importantly, you need to consider the realities that this blog post is about. I suppose you really need to read Roger's book, but this gives some indication:


    So after the conservatives are defeated and the US is leading the issue, are you going to force Japan to build all those new nuclear power plants or wind turbines? I don't think so.

  66. From Will Howard by email (part I):

    ""Having read “The Climate Fix” and the “Hartwell Paper” I think I get where Roger is coming from. I have not yet read the Atkinson et al. “Climate Pragmatism” paper but will endeavor to do so soon.

    My take on the points above:

    #1 is definitional, so nothing really to dispute there. One may argue (as some have) that “decarbonization” is not the important issue; that absolute rates of emissions are what’s important. Fair enough argument perhaps but Roger’s points all hinge on his initial definition so I will interpret in that context.

    Points # 3 through 6, and 8, are all empirical statements. I take them at face value as I think the analyses and data sets underpinning
    them are valid. Some may argue with these points on the basis that they have better estimates of global GDP and/or emissions than Roger used, and that would be an analytical argument.

    I do have a criticism of Point #7: “Efforts to secure a global treaty or comprehensive national legislation in the US have not led to an acceleration in rates of decarbonization.” This reads to me as if it presumes global frameworks and national legislation have been
    specifically aimed at accelerating decarbonization. I think they have all been aimed strictly at controlling and reducing emissions, not emissions per unit GDP per se.

    [disclaimer for the following paragraph – I am a physical scientist not an economist. Economists feel free to jump in to tell me I’m all wet and/or this has been thought of before!]

    However this could be an interesting idea for adaptive management of emissions: frameworks which would recognize the nexus between economic
    growth and emissions, and adjust allowable emissions accordingly. This could work the way central banks modulate interest rates. In economic downturns relatively greater emissions per unit GDP might be allowed (e.g. reducing the price of permits) in order to allow some economic stimulus. Conversely in periods of strong growth emissions could be more strongly reined in as economies would be in the best position to afford it, and it could be used as a brake on inflation. Just a thought …

    # 9 and 10 are matters of opinion. Personally I happen to agree with them overall. But what is “viable” or “desirable” is a value judgement. It’s just a question of what people are willing to accept and what their priorities are.

    The “viable” statement is (I think) essentially Roger’s “Iron Law.” I don’t whether his “law” is Iron or not, but I agree it’s pretty tough
    to sell people (especially those who vote) on the idea that they should accept economic pain (in the form of lowered economic growth as “growth” is currently understood – and I know there are arguments that the growth paradigm is flawed) for the benefit of mitigating impacts
    which may be decades-to-centuries in the future.

  67. Will Howard, Part II:

    "One virtue of Roger’s framing of statements 9 and 10 the way he has is that discussion of them pushes clear statements of priorities and
    ideologies out into the open. Are you willing to accept contraction of the global economy as a means of reducing carbon emissions? If so how
    much? Are you willing to accept strategies which would reduce emissions, but for reasons other than mitigating climate risk? (e.g. immediate public health benefits of reduced coal burning?)

    Statement 9 could be thought of another way: at current rates of carbon intensity of economic output, how much contraction for how long would be required to hit a given target, e.g. 450 ppm? And how much, if any, contraction would be acceptable? Michael Tobis’s first comment opens this line of analysis.

    Michael Tobis makes the apt point that the “physics" [and I would add, the biogeochemistry] "of climate cares nothing for the carbon intensity of GDP.” True, but the natural system’s constraints occur in a context of a planet with people and all their economic needs and aspirations, so the political and economic balancing act goes on.

    From the point of view of physical/natural science there is concern about some of the very long-term processes affected by anthropogenic
    emissions (e.g, ice-sheet mass balance, ocean acidification). From this perspective the rate, and rate of growth, of emissions are important in addition to any final atmospheric concentration. So anything that would reduce even the rate of growth of emissions would reduce to rate at which we are “pushing” the natural systems, regardless of any final target concentration.

    Finally I should respond to 'Pangolin's' comment: “280 ppm. atmospheric CO2. That is the environment in which every human, plant,
    animal, insect, fungi, bacteria and other living things have evolved on Earth for the last three hundred thousand years.” Not quite true.

    Actually the earth’s existing biota has existed and evolved over at least the past ~ 800,000 years in the context of a range of CO2 from
    glacial intervals of ~ 180 ppm to interglacials like the preindustrial Holocene with ~ 280 ppm. We have now exceeded that range by (so far)
    about the amplitude of the glacial-interglacial cycles, and at a rate ~ 100 times faster than those past natural fluctuations. So in addition to a global-scale biogeochemical and geophysical experiment, we are running what may turn out to be an interesting evolutionary
    experiment (that’s not even getting started on the many other ways in which we are affecting the global biota)."

  68. -66-Will Howard

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, one quick initial reply:

    You write of my #7 on international climate policy and its effects on decarbonization: "I think they have all been aimed strictly at controlling and reducing emissions, not emissions per unit GDP per se."

    In the context of a growing economy, rates of decarbonization necessarily must increase for stabilization targets to be hit. In other words, if such policies successfully reduce emissions then there will necessarily be an increase in rates of decarbonization.

    No international climate policies that have been proposed (that I am aware of) are based on reducing emissions by contracting the economy.

    See #17 above ...


  69. While he is not prepared to state it explicitly I think Michael Tobis's position on your 10 points is actually fairly clear: he denies #9. But for some reason he seems remarkably unwilling to admit this.

  70. I have banged the drum in the past about one point that I think is relevant in the context of this argument.

    Both the U.S. DOE and the UN have predicted energy consumption at around the 650-700 quad range by 2035. I think this is unrealistic if we assume rates of development projected by the IPCC and Nicholas Stern and even by the UN. I'd be glad to trot out the back of envelope calculations I've used in previous comments here and elsewhere.

    And I blushingly confess that I still haven't read the Pragmatic paper as yet--love those busy weekends... what energy consumption figures did you use for your calculations, may I ask?

    (My totals for mid century range from 1500 to 2200 quads, FWIW.)

  71. -71-Tom

    I use about 1,000 quads by 2050 in TCF (pp. 113-116), based on an increase in demand of 1.5% p.a. 2006-2050.

    That results, in round numbers in a need to add 1 nuclear power plant-worth of carbon free energy every day to 2050. Your numbers suggest it is closer to 2. Either way, a big number.

  72. Roger, they are both big, but one is conceivable, if you postulate (as in your paper, which I finally looked at) mass produced modular reactors of smallish size. You could get to one a day of those--it's about the same scale as the effort to build Liberty Ships on an assembly line during WWII. My number makes the calculations considerably bleaker.

    I derived my calculations by taking conventional estimates of per capita income at future times and plugging in per capita energy consumption of countries that have already achieved that level of income. So Mexico's per capita consumption today serves as a good proxy for China's in 2035, and Turkey's today looks like what we think Indonesia will look like down the road.

    Is there a big hole in my reasoning that you can see?

  73. Likewise.

    Still, cites please. You appear to have your own definition of decarbonization confusing it with carbon intensity. See for example the EIA discussion
    The carbon intensity of the economy can largely be decomposed into two basic elements: (1) energy intensity, defined as the amount of energy consumed per dollar of economic activity; and (2) carbon intensity of energy supply, defined as the amount of carbon emitted per unit of energy. As illustrated by the formulas below, the multiplication of the two elements produces a numerical value for U.S. carbon intensity, defined as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per dollar of economic activity:

    Energy Intensity x Carbon Intensity of Energy Supply = Carbon Intensity of the Economy,

    or, algebraically,

    (Energy/GDP) x (Carbon Emissions/Energy) =
    (Carbon Emissions/GDP).

    Decarbonization, as referred to in Eli's cite above from "RECIPE (Report on Energy and Climate Policy in Europe, pls. don't blame Eli for that): The Economic's of Decarbonization" refers to the elimination of carbon in energy generation.

    As we say, whatever.

  74. Oh yes, FWIW, Eli thinks #1 is wrong.

  75. -74-Josh Halpern

    You have half the Kaya Identity. The other factors are Population and GDP/Population (combined to make GDP, which when multiplied times carbon intensity of the economy, results in CO2 emissions).

    If you want to see a few relevant papers and summaries utilizing the Kaya Identity along the lines discussed in this post, I suggest the following:







    And of course The Climate Fix has a nice intro to the topic;-)

  76. Josh Halpern has doubled down on his display of being uninformed:


    He is coming along though ... ;-)

  77. I recently saw an interview of Vaclav Smil by Andy Revkin and am reading the book "The Last Campaign" about the final days of Bobby Kennedy. Smil and Kennedy made similar points about the efficacy of GDP. GDP is taken as a measure of human well being but the utility of this equivalence is in doubt. Smil pointed out that surveys of human happiness have shown no increase since the 1940s and that happiness is the same in countries with higher and lower energy intensity per person. He pointed out that it would not be so bad to live in Bordeaux even if the energy intensity there is lower than in North America.

    So perhaps point 1 should be modified to become "carbon emssions/gross personal happiness". This would lead to another identity that would relate energy and carbon emissions not to GDP as in the Kaya identity but to happiness.

    Personally my own impression of Smil's point is that the nature of the happiness measured in the 1940s and now is qualitatively different. The expansion on the economy has not brought just "more things" to the population but "more and more diverse things" to the population. The opportunity to experience more culture and learning ahs ever been greater and is a product of the expansion of the GDP. Smil's point about happiness would, in my opinion, have to be modified to account for the increasing worth of happiness over the years.

  78. -77-Roger

    He seems desperate to disagree with you. I get that with members of my family sometimes. ;-)

  79. An interesting perspective here:


  80. "He pointed out that it would not be so bad to live in Bordeaux even if the energy intensity there is lower than in North America."

    For Bordeaux, Toledo, OH, and Little Rock, AR, here are the annual, January, and July mean temperatures,, in degrees Fahrenheit, respectively:

    Bordeaux------->64.6, 50.0, 79.5.

    Toledo, OH----->48.5, 22.5, 72.1.

    Little Rock---->61.8, 39.1, 81.9.

    It shouldn't be surprising that the residents of Toledo or Little Rock would use more energy to provide indoor temperatures conducive to happiness than the residents of Bordeaux.

  81. "1. Decarbonization refers to a decrease in the rate of carbon dioxide emissions divided by GDP."

    As has been pointed out, this is not actually the common definition for "decarbonization." The common definition for "decarbonization" is:

    "...the decrease of the carbon emissions per unit of primary energy."


    See also:


    ...wherein this definition is provided: "Think of decarbonization as the course over time in the ratio of tons of carbon in the energy supply
    to the total energy supply, for example, tons of carbon per tons of oil equivalent
    encompassing all energy supplies."

    It may make no significant difference to the final conclusions, but it's good to start with definitions upon which everyone agrees.

  82. -82-Mark Bahner

    As I have said already on this post, there are two definitions of decarbonization:

    a reduction in C/GDP "decarbonization of the economy"

    a reduction in C/TE "decarbonization of energy"

    Both are common in the literature.

    Arguing over semantics is a poor substitution for arguing over the ideas represented by the words. Regardless what word you choose to apply to the concept of C/GDP, the mathematics work out exactly the same.


  83. Re #65, Climate sensitivity

    It really doesn't seem possible do this sort of analysis without a decent fix on Climate Sensitivity (CS), which is defined as the amount of warming (in degrees) per doubling of atmospheric CO2. So far, there is no engineering-quality estimate of CS available, and this is not an easy problem to solve.

    The uncontroversial part of CO2's role as a greenhouse gas is its direct warming effects (from radiation physics), which is around one deg. C per doubling. Getting to higher numbers requires positive feedback. The current IPCC CS estimates, centering around 3.5 deg C per doubling of CO2, are derived from various modeling studies, which is troubling.

    Almost all of the (scientifically reasonable)) empirical CS estimates I've seen are at the low end of the IPCC range. Many are in the range of 1 to 1.5 deg C per doubling, suggesting little or no positive feedback. These estimates also have problems, but at least they are based on actual observations, as opposed to theoretical estimates.

    No positive feedback makes sense to geologists, because having our climate subject to unlimited positive feedback would lead to Venus-like conditions, which (obviously) hasn't happened. (The life-threatening climatic events in the geological past were from excessive cold.) And CO2 levels in the geological past have sometimes been much higher than our industrial emissions are ever likely to reach.

    So it's a puzzle to scientists outside of Climate Science how little urgency seems to be given to improving our understanding of climate sensitivity. Since otherwise, we can't know whether AGW will be a mild inconvenience or a major problem.

    So, Roger, I'd propose that your clause #1 should be:

    1. Climate sensitivity (CS) is the essential metric to determine how damaging AGW is likely to be. Improving our understanding of CS should be the primary research goal of the climate sciences.

    Incidentally, I've read, and enjoyed, "The Climate Fix". My only substantial criticism is that you appear perhaps too comfortable with the AGW forecasts of the IPCC.

    Peter D. Tillman
    Consulting Geologist, Arizona and New Mexico (USA)

  84. Roger, an observation:

    mt engages you on the issues at hand and you provide him with a set of condescending replies (e.g. 47)

    You put up these 10 points presumably to facilitate a discussion on the merits of your plan. Yet, these points contail mostly definitions and (presumably) facts; one value laden assumption, and one generic course of action.

    The stuff to discuss is evidently how the last point is filled in: How do you plan to remain with, say, 1 trillion ton of emissions, or if you so prefer, above 5% decarbonization (dependent on the assumed economic growth, as pointed out by mt). In other words, where's the beef?

    Your reply: Read the report.

    There I was thinking you wanted to facilitate a discussion by providing a summary of the report. Wouldn't that have been more useful?

    Evidently one can agree with all these 10 points (the tenth is not specified enoguh to know whether one agrees or not) and still vehemently disagree with your plan. If there's no way to provide a useful summary that lais out the points of contestion, than just open your post with that information rather than fooling people into thinking that these 10 points cut it. They may feel tricked.

    Bart Verheggen

  85. -85-Bart

    Thanks for your comment ... a reply:

    You write: "You put up these 10 points presumably to facilitate a discussion on the merits of your plan."

    No, not exactly. As I write in the first sentence of this post, the post is an invitation to those people who have opened a discussion of this topic with their criticism of the Climate Pragmatism report.

    It turns out that none of them have actually read it or the supporting documents.

    I typically assume that someone who critiques an argument has a basic familiarity with that argument. The light condescension that you read is well deserved -- actually if they were students in my courses they'd get worse than that ;-)

    There is of course no requirement that anyone read anything that I've written, but their critiques will be more informed if they do so and save them the embarrassment of having to admit that they don't actually know much about what they are critiquing.


  86. In that case your goal wasn't exactly clear. mt clearly went into this discussion thinking that those 10 points distilled your main argument, found it lacking, and said so.

    What's the point of putting up those 10 points, if they weren't the distillation of your main argument? Just to get your adversaries out of their tents?

  87. -87-Bart

    Apologies for any lack of clarity, blog discussions often occur midstream.

    The point of the 10 points was an effort by me to figure out exactly what these guys actually object to, as their critiques are incoherent and uninformed. I started with these 10 precisely because they are, as you say, mostly definitional and empirical claims.

    Besides the revelation from MT that he does read what he is critiquing, I was actually very surprised at not just his rejection of the Kaya identity, but his equating of economic activity with ladybugs (!) in relation to carbon emissions. This suggests to me that he is interested in just complaining in a pretty unsophisticated way rather than actually engaging policy analyses -- which is fine of course, but good to know from my end.

    If he (or the other critiquers) were to engage the 10 points then we could either discuss them or move on to additional points ... for me at least the exercise has been enlightening.

  88. Roger,

    Thanks for acknowledging the lack of clarity, which is the main issue I'm trying to address.

    As I wrote over at Jean Goodwin's site concerning this discussion, the main question that your critics seem to put forward is "how does such a “pragmatic” outlook prevent too much carbon from entering the atmosphere?" and their main criticms (as I see it) is that your outlook doesn't provide an answer to that (and they think it doesn't prevent that).

    I would therefore have though (and so did mt apparently) that your 10 points would offer a distilled version of your answer to this question. However, they don't come close to doing so. Hence mt's reply: where's the beef? Your reply: In the papers and the book.

    My question is thus:
    Would you mind distilling your main reply to the abovementioned question to faciliate its discussion?

  89. -89-Bart

    Thanks, the answer to your question is simple -- there is no policy approach that in practice can give you what you want, which as I understand it is some quantitative certainty over how much carbon is emitted into the atmosphere for the next 20, 40 or 100 years.

    The best that we can hope to do is to take actions that accelerate rates of decarbonization. In other words, we should worry more about how to start the task rather than how to finish it decades hence.

    We believe that the policies that we have proposed offer the greatest prospect for getting started, something that the last 20 years of climate policy has failed to deliver. There are no guarantees in either policy analysis or implementation, sorry.

    I am learning that you guys want sound bite answers in blog posts;-) but as I have heard variations on your question many times, I wrote a short column on the reply, which you are free to read or not:



  90. -88-Dr Pielke

    'revelation from MT that he does read what he is critiquing'

    Should this not read 'he does NOT read'

    (disclaimer - I don't normally quibble about typos, but this seems important)

  91. -91-Ir'Rational

    Indeed, thanks for the eagle eyes, you are correct, a missing NOT