Carbon-Based Prohibition

If some environmentalists have their way, simple math suggests life as we know it will end

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In 1916 a blanket ban on beer seemed like far-fetched idea. But prohibitionists cracked the door open by promising to keep whiskey available by prescription. Within three years, the country was dry.

Nearly a century later, environmentalists are thinking the same way about carbon. Converting fossil fuels into controlled substances today could lead to outright carbon prohibition tomorrow.

In a magazine interview last year, Al Gore upped his call for a 90 percent cut in fossil fuel use, demanding Congress "eliminate the payroll tax and replace it dollar for dollar with a CO2 tax." A research paper published this year in Geophysical Research Letters went further. "Avoiding future human-induced climate warming," the authors said, "may require policies that seek not only to decrease CO2 emissions, but to eliminate them entirely." As the New York Times business section headlined it in March, "For Carbon Emissions, a Goal of Less Than Zero."

Those who view fossil fuel the way Carrie Nation did Demon Rum point out that were everyone on Earth to burn just a gas tank's worth of carbon each day, CO2 in the atmosphere would still double in a decade. Skeptics may discount climate models as metaphysical, but true believers consider the human costs of prohibition an acceptable price for environmental salvation. Gore's 2006 Nobel Prize speech elevated environmentalism from a pretext for social intervention to a categorical imperative by declaring: "We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer.…They will not take us far enough without collective action."

It took two centuries for daily per capita carbon consumption in America to reach the roughly 100-pound level that currently lights homes, powers industry, and keeps the Internet humming. But like driving, all those welcome activities increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The average American currently generates 22 tons of CO2 a year, but to limit 21st century warming to 2.5 degrees Celsius, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests cutting the global rise in CO2 to one part per million by 2050. That's only a small multiple of the weight of the CO2 people exhale, and realizing this goal within 42 years could require America to burn less carbon in a month than we do now in a day.

This draconian downturn unfolds from a single statistic: the 5-quadrillion-ton weight of Earth's atmosphere. Your 792,000-ton share of the air may seem hefty, but one part per million of it is less than one ton. Goodbye, central heating; an average New England home furnace belts out six tons of CO2 a year. Ditto private cars; families living on a truly Earth-friendly carbon ration might spend breakfast debating whether to blow their half-pint gasoline coupon on a moped ride to town or use the daily kilowatt-hour allotment to turn the communal electric blanket up to 4. Holiday turkeys may end up as sashimi, since oven roasting could mean a heatless Thanksgiving night or Christmas Eve.

A personal CO2 limit of less than a ton per year does not even imply the right to buy that much fuel, because CO2 is only 27 percent carbon. Multiply your 1,745-pound annual CO2 ration by 27 percent, divide the result by 365 days, and…yikes! It's 21 ounces of carbon a day—and falling. If the global population reaches 9 billion by 2050, expect a daily fossil fuel ration of a latté cup of gasoline, three Pilates balls of natural gas, or a lump of coal the size of a turnip.

If you suspect life on a pound of coal a day might be solitary, brutish, nasty, and short, you're right. The countries with the smallest carbon footprints already feature the shortest life expectancies on Earth. Not that real prohibitionists should mind—when it comes to carbon, Sudan is bone dry.

Russell Seitz (russellseitz@gmail.com), a physicist living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, blogs on the climate wars at adamant.typepad.com.

NEXT: Mark Bauerlein - Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

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  1. So…

    What I’m curious about is, where are they on producing catalyst-driven CO2 converters like we were promised in SimEarth?

    Cause if that would be cheaper and quicker than reducing everyone’s carbon share to an idiotic amount, why not go that way instead? The R&D may be expensive but it’s practically guaranteed to be less expensive than the alternatives.

  2. Cause if that would be cheaper and quicker than reducing everyone’s carbon share to an idiotic amount, why not go that way instead?

    Assuming it’s possible…

    That’s not virtuous. You are a bad person for using so much energy. STOP USING ENERGY, damn you! You need to conserve simply because it’s the right thing to do.

  3. That’s not virtuous. You are a bad person for using so much energy. STOP USING ENERGY, damn you! You need to conserve simply because it’s the right thing to do.

    [sigh]

    LMNOP,

    I do think that co2 sequestering is going to be part of the solution.

    As for Seitz’s article?

    Meh.
    Not a very serious analysis.

  4. Personally, I think we could take a crack at it just by ramping up Arbor Day into a 24/7 365 day sort of thing. We got millions of acres of unused federal land, we got seeds, we got a veritable army of enslaveable sixteen-year olds. Let’s get some fucking trees up! They’re like little solar-powered CO2 scrubbers.

    Scratch that. They ARE little solar-powered CO2 scrubbers.

  5. Elemenope,

    I like your style. Enslave sixteen year olds for tree planting . . . what about lawn care? I hate mowing my yard. Whats your platform?

  6. LMNOP,

    Yeah, even if all we do is replace the 1 Billion acres of forest that we’ve cut down in the last 200 years in the lower 48.

    (to be fair, we’re up about 1 Billion acres since the lowest point)

  7. Circa 1.5 million years ago, humans discovered fire. Today, concerned citizens fight to undo that historic wrong.

  8. Regarding plants as co2 scrubbers.

    How many acres of roof-top are there in cities world wide?

    Who doesn’t like a rooftop garden?

  9. What an utterly stupid article. It reminds of stuff by peak oil alarmists that can’t conceive of fuel sources other than oil.

  10. It reminds of stuff by peak oil alarmists that can’t conceive of fuel sources other than oil.

    Oooh, I like this comment! Comparing the opponents of reducing CO2 emissions to the Peak Oil crowd is a master stroke.

    (This comment should not be construed as an endorsement of mandatory reductions in CO2 emission, merely an appreciation of Tim Lambert comparing two groups that are often at odds.)

  11. Wake me up when someone has a reasonable proposal for meaningful CO2 reduction that doesn’t involve shattering the US economy and invading China and India to destroy their manufacturing base and turn them back into subsistence farmers.

  12. Circa 1.5 million years ago, humans discovered fire. Today, concerned citizens fight to undo that historic wrong.

    Fucking LOL!

    re: my (half-facetious) platform

    Drop the voting age to 14, and then pass legislation that before you can vote, you must plant a tree; I don’t give a damn where. (This goes for each time you want to cast a vote, see. That’s like two dozen per person per election).

    Arm everyone, with quality of arms inversely proportional to net worth. That’ll balance out to an equilibrium quickly, though perhaps messily; gives a new meaning to ‘enlightened self-interest!.

    Abolish the federal reserve and bring back a barter system. Whittling classes will be offered.

    A home in every computer! (Wait a minute…)

    I’m sure I could think of more.

  13. If the environmentalists would support nuclear power instead of feel-good solar and wind generators that barely work, we wouldn’t have this problem.

  14. Lot’s of nice ideas Neu, but nothing that satisfies the IPCC criteria of the reduction required to solve global warming.

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  15. Nuclear power is part of the mix.
    I say this as an environmentalists.
    It is not, however, the silver bullet that Josh makes it out to be.

    It is a non-renewable source with significant fuel extraction issues.

    It also suffers from being a large point-source power generation model.

    Distributed power generation/decentralized systems will take care of a large chunk of the problem moving forward.

  16. Old Idea:
    Carbon based life forms good.

    New Idea:
    Carbon based life forms bad.

    CO2 + Plant food

  17. What I’m curious about is, where are they on producing catalyst-driven CO2 converters like we were promised in SimEarth?

    I am a dull and simple lad, but it seems to me that to turn CO2 into carbon and oxygen it would require just as much energy (actually more) as was yielded by combining the two. IIRC, CO2 is fairly inert and does not readily combine* with other substances without an energy input. Chemists, what combines with CO2 without an energy input?

    * I think it will combine with fluorine, but getting that requires an energy input as well.

  18. How about we just let the price of fossil fuel get high enough that clean renewable sources can beat the coal price? Oh and let’s remove the petroleum and coal subsidies too.
    Include the war premium we pay while you are at it.
    The opportunity is to have this goal- make fossil fuels like salt- a cheap commodity we used to go to war over.
    Now we can’t make oil more abundant, or coal less damaging to earth and air, but we can take advantage of the huge amount of solar and kinetic energy that surrounds us, and get rich converting it. Between kinetic and solar there is more energy on the surface of the planet every day than in all the known oil reserves. All of the energy the US needs daily falls in 103 sq miles. The best PV today requires 10,000 sq miles of collection. Just put it over every parking lot in the country and have capacity to spare. Plenty of room for improved optimization. Ten square miles of kinetic generation from passing ocean swell is estimated to be enough to power all of California. We have a garbage gyre 5000 times that size.
    Also, make the feds use their consumption for direction of policy. If the US government made commitments to buy the cleanest power available. Start with the most available today and have zero carbon be the goal. Don’t legislate technology, but results.

  19. I am a dull and simple lad, but it seems to me that to turn CO2 into carbon and oxygen it would require just as much energy (actually more) as was yielded by combining the two. IIRC, CO2 is fairly inert and does not readily combine* with other substances without an energy input. Chemists, what combines with CO2 without an energy input?

    No, you’re right. It was a lead-up to the “trees!” shtick. But more seriously, someone could use solar or geothermal as their energy sources for such a project, and still come out carbon-negative, if you could get the efficiencies up.

  20. So the eco-socialist wackos want us all to convert to “alternative” energy, eh?

    Allrighty then.

    We should round all of them up and grind them up into little pieces to use as fuel to generate elecricity.

    Now THAT’S some alternative energy!

  21. Now THAT’S some alternative energy!

    Mmm. Smells like Soylent Green. And Soylent Green, of course, tastes like bacon. Win!

  22. No, you’re right. It was a lead-up to the “trees!” shtick. But more seriously, someone could use solar or geothermal as their energy sources for such a project, and still come out carbon-negative, if you could get the efficiencies up.

    Why use carbon at all then? Carbon combustion = X energy. Breaking down CO2 requires > X energy.

    Don’t worry about burning oil folks. It will soon (30 years?) be so expensive that simple economics will replace it with something else. On the other hand, coal is plentiful and will remain cheap.

  23. “On the other hand, coal is plentiful and will remain cheap.”

    And it can also be used to make synthetic gasoline.

  24. Why use carbon at all then? Carbon combustion = X energy. Breaking down CO2 requires > X energy.

    First, it may be more efficient to convert solar energy into CO2 sequestration than it is to convert solar energy into electricity. Think, for instance, of bioengineered algae or nanotech CO2 adsorbers.

    Second, it may be more efficient to convert solar energy into CO2 sequestration than it is to convert solar energy into motive power. The path from solar energy to electric grid to batteries to electric motors may be less cost effective than simply burning gas to run cars and using the sun to sequester the resulting carbon.

    Finally, and most importantly, CO2 sequestration can happen anywhere. So you can do it in the Nevada desert where you can maximize the availability of sunlight yet where you can’t do anything else of particular use.

  25. Nuclear Winter is the solution to Global Warming. We just need to pick a target.

  26. Oil and coal are the ‘alternatives’ to the original energy falling on your head all day. The problem with nuclear is that a very successful installation passes overhead everyday and mocks you, giving you more than you need for free. All fossil fuels were once sunshine derivatives. That makes them just the next best thing after burning wood. Why burn at all? Burning is unnecessary except for the pleasure it gives you pyros.
    Coal isn’t cheap, when you cost the price of clean air or loss of a mountain top. Oh, your economics is inadequate to include the value of things like clean air or fish without mercury in it? Hmm. What can be done about that market heads? Unless you want carbon cap regulation, you need a way to account for the value of common necessary assets, like air and water.
    The laws of chemistry and physics are set. Economics is just a matter of changing your mind- something that you ‘must burn to live’ folk seem to be out of practice at.

  27. The problem with nuclear is that a very successful installation passes overhead everyday and mocks you, giving you more than you need for free.

    If it’s free, why does the state of California give homeowners $20,000 to take advantage of it, after which they still don’t break even for more than two decades? Looking at who actually uses that program, it is nothing but a subsidy for the rich. Why must the state subsidize rich homeowners for something that is free?

    The laws of chemistry and physics are set. Economics is just a matter of changing your mind

    Uh, no. Economics, or, as you are using it here, breaking the laws of economics, requires changing the minds of a good number of other people, generally through the application of force.

    Regardless, no matter how many minds he could change or, failing that, render irrelevant, Stalin couldn’t change the laws of economics any more than he could change the laws of physics or chemistry.

  28. “why does the state of California give homeowners $20,000 to take advantage of it”

    It’s free the same way coal and oil are free- it just costs to turn it into something you can use in this society.

    ” Economics, or, as you are using it here, breaking the laws of economics, requires changing the minds of a good number of other people, generally through the application of force.”
    In California, 30 years ago, they changed the business model for utilities to decouple production from profit. Since a KW/hr costs about 6.5 cents to constantly generate and only 2.5 cents to save, they made it possible for the utilities to make money by buying the cheaper efficiencies available in better appliances etc. That wasn’t ‘force’. The result is that per capita energy use in California is at the same level it was then, while in the rest of the USA it has gone up 50%. No broken heads, just changed local PUC regs.
    Thinking that force err Stalin, is the model for changing economics suggests that you lack imagination and shouldn’t be in a conversation about new ways of doing things. Maybe start with remodeling a kitchen. Don’t borrow to do it. Check back here in a year or so.
    Show me the economist who, in 1989, had one dollar of growth in their projections for the next decade about the internet. You can’t only look back.
    We have to know history, but it isn’t a set of boundaries we can’t exceed.
    Gotta go.

    Regardless, no matter how many minds he could change or, failing that, render irrelevant, Stalin couldn’t change the laws of economics any more than he could change the laws of physics or chemistry.

  29. In California, 30 years ago, they changed the business model for utilities to decouple production from profit.

    In Ukraine 80 years ago, they changed the business model for farms to decouple production from profit.

    I will grant that rolling blackouts aren’t quite the same as mass starvation, but actions have effects. When the state sticks its nose into markets by, say, changing business models to make production unprofitable, people shouldn’t be surprised to see shortfalls in production.

    Since a KW/hr costs about 6.5 cents to constantly generate and only 2.5 cents to save, they made it possible for the utilities to make money by buying the cheaper efficiencies available in better appliances etc. That wasn’t ‘force’.

    If it wasn’t “force”, then why did the state have to change the business model? Why did the utilities not do it themselves?

    Or maybe your “they” is the utilities, not the state. If so, good for them.

  30. What a disappointment. I thought an actual scientist would have come up with better arguments than the Rush Limbaugh stuff about destroying the economy and not being able to roast turkeys.

    Please follow this up with an economist who talks only about the physics of climate change, so that the parade of ignorance will be complete.

  31. On the carbon sequestration front, there’s a guy who’s claiming to have designed a “synthetic tree” that captures atmospheric carbon, and stores it for later use.

    CO2 Extractor.

    It’s an interesting idea.

  32. Sorry but how is it reasonable to compare the 1920’s prohibition on alcohol with today’s environmental crisis?

  33. One reason that comes to mind: because you used the word ‘crisis’ where ‘issue’ would be more accurate.

  34. “When the state sticks its nose into markets by, say, changing business models to make production unprofitable, people shouldn’t be surprised to see shortfalls in production.”

    The blackout disaster of 2001 in California was the result of market deregulation pushed and manipulated by Enron. You ignore the other 29 & 3/4 years of the execution. California’s utilities have recovered from that mess. The state’s economy didn’t even drop its rank in the top ten global list. Not a good argument for keeping business as usual everywhere else.

    Since you bring up that old hag “sticking their nose into markets”, allow me to paraphrase Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE keynote at the WSJ “Eco-nomics” conference last March. It went something like this- If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu when it comes to regulation. Name the business that government isn’t a part of. Who here would own equities if there wasn’t an SEC or courts to adjudicate disputes? Over 300 capitalists in the room and not one hand in the air. What authority’s currency do you carry?

    “why did the state have to change the business model? Why did the utilities not do it themselves?”

    Because utilities are monopolies. If you have a built in profit on a cost plus basis, and all you have to do to make more money is do more of the same, why would you change/learn something new? You would change to keep your monopoly which the state awarded you in the first place.

    “Or maybe your “they” is the utilities, not the state. If so, good for them.”
    The ‘state’ is all of us- when we participate. Companies have had more say than average citizens for quite a while, yet they still haven’t gotten everything their way. The utilities have always had representation on the Ca PUC. But the air and water haven’t. Maybe if they did, PG&E wouldn’t have had to pay $271million for poisoning the water table of Hinckley ( Erin Brockovich’s case).
    BTW_ it does it bother you that you can’t eat tuna anymore?

    re”how is it reasonable to compare the 1920’s prohibition on alcohol with today’s environmental crisis?”
    Prohibitions always fail. Incentives for preferred behaviors and outcomes are always better. Some things- like seat belts in cars, and lead out of products- are perfect for regulation, because the generation of the common good is clear and can be generated with a level stable field. Carbon doesn’t even have a good standard of measurement yet ( another thing industry should create unless they want government to do it).

  35. laws of economics

    Hmmmm….

    [scratches head]

    Force of gravity = invisible hand?

    Hmmmm…

    [sigh, erase]

    Hmmm….

    [scribble]

    Legal framework for market activity, monetary policy, SEC…

    [erase]

    Who enforces the laws of economics?
    Nature or the state?

    Hmmm….

  36. It is with great hope that sanity will quickly return to the American people. Get off of the Goreboil bandwagon, eat, drink, smoke, and drive what pleases you. The dogooders, who are stealing our freedom, need take a strong laxative to revive their faltering brain cells. In reality, our freedom is what is endangerd. Wake up people, this is AMERICA THE LAND OF THE FREE.

  37. “Gilbert Martin | July 23, 2008, 2:00pm | #

    “On the other hand, coal is plentiful and will remain cheap.”

    And it can also be used to make synthetic gasoline.”

    Yep, at double the price and double the pollution. Coal-to-oil and shale-to-oil are simply disasters. They are not cheap, and since one half the energy in the coal or shale has to be used in order to extract the other half, you just doubled all the pollution involved. Niether of these technologies stands a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving without subsidies (eg, a free public garbage dump for all the filth they produce).

    Get rid of ALL the subsidies (in particular, the free public dumping ground), and renewables will kick the crap out of coal, oil, or anything else that we currently know of. Nuclear is already prohibitavely expensive (wind is cheaper, and has far fewer downsides), and coal only survives due to its massive subsidies. Natural gas would live on for a while without subsidy, until its rarity priced it out of the market.

    There is no technical reason we could not have 100% renewables in ten years. And how should we pay for it? Well, I would say the ~10-20 billion barrels of oil in ANWR and the gulf would cover the bill, as long as we are willing to put the screws to whichever oil companies we allow to drill OUR OIL, and hold them to a modest but fair price for their drilling services. Since they have drilled for decades quite profitably at much less than ~$30 a barrel, there is no reason they would need more now. So $100 a barrel for us, 15 billion times over…yeah, 1.5 trillion bucks – all of which should be used to build the renewable energy and public transit infrastructures that we are so far behind on.

    I am surprised no politician is talking about how much money we should be able to extract from OUR OIL. And if we can’t extract the vast majority of the value of our oil, something is wrong with those who write the contracts.

  38. Who enforces the laws of economics?
    Nature or the state?

    Nature. Surely you recognize that the wealth of nations tracks rather closely with how well the laws and enforcement in each nation correlate with the laws of economics.

    Just because one imagines it would be nice to engineer societies doesn’t mean it is easy or even possible.

  39. The blackout disaster of 2001 in California was the result of market deregulation pushed and manipulated by Enron.

    I was under the impression that it was the state that changed the regulatory law. Also “market deregulation” is hardly the right word for freeing prices on the wholesale side while keeping them pegged on the retail side. “Insanity” is a better word. “Flouting the laws of economics” also comes to mind.

    Because utilities are monopolies.

    Thankfully, the state didn’t have anything to do with that.

    You would change to keep your monopoly which the state awarded you in the first place.

    Oh.

  40. Nature. Surely you recognize that the wealth of nations tracks rather closely with how well the laws and enforcement in each nation correlate with the laws of economics.

    Just because one imagines it would be nice to engineer societies doesn’t mean it is easy or even possible.

    Hmmmm….

    Did evolution engineer the species?
    Did evolution engineer human nature?
    Is it human nature that enforces the laws of economics?
    Has human nature changed in the last 1000 years? 10,000 years?

    Prior to economies, did the laws of economics apply?

    Is economics like language, an adaptable human artifact that has co-evolved with the species and effectively changed human nature?

    Or is it more like the law which has been designed by humans to meet specific needs without changing human nature appreciably?

  41. More to the point…

    Have the laws of economics changed as human societies have gotten more complex?

    Or are economic laws the same now as they were for early hunter-gatherers?

    Do economic laws adapt over time?

    Is there an economic law that guides that adaptation?

  42. In response to comment of 7:21pm…

    Yes.
    Yes.
    I wouldn’t say “enforces”. I would say “is constrained by”.
    Not essentially.

    Yes.

    No. Again, it is a description of constraints.

    Or is it more like the law which has been designed by humans to meet specific needs without changing human nature appreciably?

    The laws of economics constrain how individuals each striving for his individual interest can allocate limited resources to disparate ends.

    Humans are well advised to make their encoded laws consistent with economic laws, lest their societies bring great misery — willingly or unwillingly — to their populations.

  43. I don’t think economic laws adapt. I think the ones that are relevant to a society at a certain evolutionary and cultural point may differ, but the laws themselves do not.

    I suppose I don’t believe that core human nature — that is, the capabilities of a newborn baby — has changed that much from clans in caves days. Of course, I have virtually no evidence to support such a conjecture.

  44. Oooh, I like this comment! Comparing the opponents of reducing CO2 emissions to the Peak Oil crowd is a master stroke.

    If you do a Venn diagram comparing those who want to reduce CO2 emissions and those worrying about peak oil, you’ll notice an extraordinary amount of overlap.

  45. ” don’t think economic laws adapt. I think the ones that are relevant to a society at a certain evolutionary and cultural point may differ, but the laws themselves do not.”

    The laws don’t change, but which laws are relevant change, in particular with growing populations. Beyond about 200 people, groups can no longer count on “everyone knowing everyone” and probably being related too, and some fundamentally different rules start taking precedent. In particular, small societies can often escape prisoner-dilemma style situations through direct negotations with all the stake-holders. This obviously doesn’t work when the society contains over six billion people. At one level, environmental issues are nothing more than a classic prisoner’s dilemma – one from which we cannot expect the market to save us because the cost of negotation and enforcement at an individual level is too high.

  46. This article is both moving and terrifying because there are no sources of energy that do not produce pollution! If only we could magically discover a way to harvest the energy from the sun, or the wind, or the motion of waves, or to unlock the power of the atom, we could survive in this cold, harsh, cruel fossil fuel free world. Alas, it is but a dream!

  47. Who here would own equities if there wasn’t an SEC or courts to adjudicate disputes? Over 300 capitalists in the room and not one hand in the air. What authority’s currency do you carry?

    So you’ve established that corporations don’t mind government interference in the market. This is not new, well except to socialists. Corporations love them some welfare. Of course, the same morons who fail to grasp this also ten d to be the ones who think that placing limitations on freedom of speech is the only way to reduce the influence of lobbyists.

  48. MikeP,

    I think we would disagree on the fundamental nature of economic laws.

    I think economics is more like linguistics than physics, and language is clearly an adaptive system, so I would assume economies also adaptive. As a result the laws that describe either adaptive system will change over time as the underlying system they attempt to model changes.

    Both language and economics seem to include a combination of rules that have evolved through use and rules that were designed to meet a particular need.

    I have no way to prove that conjecture.

    As for the time frame in which human nature has changed fundamentally. I would subtle changes have occurred in the last 50,000 years as a result of adaptive pressures, including language and complex societies.

    I have no data to prove that conjecture.

  49. Since most of the available options for off-grid home power are carbon free, why all the doom and gloom about a carbon limit? Just put up some solar panels and turbines, switch your lighting to LEDs and you can live pretty much the same as you do now, except you aren’t dependent on on a centralized power utility. Or does Reason suddenly prefer centralized power over individual self-sufficiency?

  50. Math equally simple to that used in the article reveals that you can’t have an infinite increase in population and resource use with a finite initial base.

    Nobody likes passive-aggressive social engineering (well, some do, apparently), but denying simple, bare-bones reality doesn’t seem like a wise path, either.

  51. Seitz and Freinds really ought to look at what is planned for a Zero Fossil Co2 future, instead of guessing it can only mean misery.

    One such near future installation:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masdar_City

  52. de-plete:

    There is no evidence that we will experience an infinite growth in population. Indeed, the opposite trend is now emerging…population will start to decrease later this century. Already, the birth rates in industrialized nations are well below replacement rates, and most developing nations are around the break-even point. Only in certain third world countries are birth rates high enough for population growth to continue to accelerate. Birthrates have stabilized in the industrialized nations but are falling everywhere else. As more nations industrialize, there is every reason to expect birthrates to continue to fall and population to first stabilize and then begin to fall.

    Indeed, some countries are already knee-deep in this problem and are actively trying to up their birthrates back up to a sustainable rate.

  53. I have an idea about dealing with nuclear waste. Here it is. We establish a base of some sort on the Moon, let’s call it “Alpha”. It will be used, in part, to monitor the nuclear waste deposits, let’s call them Areas’ One and Two. Then we’ll use multiple transport units, let’s call them “Eagles”, to transport the nuclear waste to said areas’. What could possibly go wrong with this scenario?

  54. Well gee, just for starters, you gotta feed those eagles somehow.

  55. This article is akin to an anti-prohibitionist arguing that we could not possibly ban beer because people would die of thirst! After all, beer is the only drinkable fluid and carbon-based fuels are the only source of energy we have. By 2050, technology will be exactly like today’s except it will all be turned off because of the carbon prohibitionists.

    Makes sense to me!

  56. Neu Mejican,

    There is much to be said for the cultural component of economics. And it is true that individuals in a culture are somewhat bound by the economics of the culture, so that a culture and its economics grow and adapt together.

    But these are not the economic laws I speak of, which are universal in nature. I would say that cultures whose economic traditions align with economic laws do better economically than those whose economic traditions clash with economic laws.

    Perhaps the simplest economic law is that willing exchange between two individuals raises the wealth of society. It is hard to see that law changing regardless of culture. What is traded and how it is valued may change, but the fact that it is valued and the fact that the two parties see marginal improvements in the things they value do not change.

  57. The global warming fraud is the most extraordinary scientific hoax ever perpetrated, simply without any precedent in recorded history. What began as an environmental movement to reduce actual pollutants from the air in 1968, which has been hugely successful, has grown into a clear attempt to collectivize the entire world population under an iron-booted world government. By finally classifying CO-2 as a pollutant, when in fact it’s an essential component of the atmosphere without which no plant life (and thus no animal life) could survive, the collectivist loonies of the world believe they’ve found the perfect scheme to put themselves totally in control of the planet and its hapless inhabitants.

    The truth is that dangerously unbalanced people such as Al Gore and his deranged minions hate humanity for paying no attention to their collectivist schemes, for what they see as their profligacy and waste, and want to punish them as cruelly as possible. These are the people, with their murderous collectivist governments, who killed more people in the 20th Century than all the wars combined in recorded human history. And these weren’t wars – they were the organized slaughter of their own subjects, done ostensibly to rid the world of the “exploiters,” which is to say the successful.

    The radical environmental movement is the same old communism in new clothing. It seeks to enslave humanity, destroy their freedoms completely, and march them in brutal lockstep into a brave new world of scarcity, want, and poverty. That anybody listens to these crazies, or even tolerates their presence, is remarkable.

  58. has grown into a clear attempt to collectivize the entire world population under an iron-booted world government

    The truth is that dangerously unbalanced people such as Al Gore and his deranged minions hate humanity for paying no attention to their collectivist schemes

    I am interested in your ideas.
    Where can I subscribe to your newsletter?

    Help stop the EnvironmentalJihad and it CollectivistPowerDreams.

  59. Tim – “I have an idea about dealing with nuclear waste. Here it is. We establish a base of some sort on the Moon, let’s call it “Alpha”.”

    The whole controversy over nuclear waste makes me wonder whether we deserve to survive as a species. The Egyptians were able to build pyramids 5,000 years ago that have survived quite well. A couple of pyramids could hold all the nuclear waste we can conceivably generate in the next 5,000 years. You could tuck a couple of pyramids into Death Valley and nobody without a guide would ever be able to find them. As to worrying about primitive peoples breaking into them and burning their fingers in 100,000 years are we going to start fencing off volcanos so primitive people don’t fall into their craters?

  60. Why not do nothing and just let the climate change. If it gets colder we’ll deal with it. If it gets warmer we’ll deal with it.

  61. Jardenero,

    Slow climate change can be dealt with. This is what the enviros want to accomplish by limiting CO2 emissions.

    Rapid climate change is a bullet which can’t be dodged. This is what will transpire given unmitigated CO2 emissions.

    We are facing the later. It gets dealt with after the fact by dying out. (or maybe just the end of Civilization.) It gets dealt with in the current context, before the fact, by halting CO2 emissions.

  62. Sully. Thank you for thoughts on the trouble with disposing of nuke waste. I hadn’t pictured it that way. The scenario I was proposing was actually the premise of the sci-fi t.v. series called Space:1999. A series I loved (at least it’s 1st season) despite the completely improbable premise of the Moon being blasted out of Earth’s orbit by a massive explosion of stored nuke waste. Please do not think I’m shooting down your thoughts. You really have thought this out and I for one appreciate it.

  63. It’s arguable whether the climate is changing in any meaningful way at all. Until the advent of several climate monitoring satellites in the nineties, all data collection was ground based or ship based and the raw data from such collection was crap. The following website is a collaborative attempt to sift through that data:

    http://www.climateaudit.org/

  64. On the Contrary.

    Satellites monitoring the climate began in the late 70’s.

    Radiosonde balloons also collected data prior to that.

    Climate Audit sucks.

  65. Until the nineties there were only two satellites that monitored air temmperature, the Microwave Sounding Unit; and sea surface temperatures, the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer. Starting in the mid nineties considerably more have been launched measuring not just temperature and humidity in the soil, sea and at various altitudes, but also sea levels. The data being collected is much more comprehensive and of better quality than ever before.

  66. The whole GW and CO2 business sounds pretty bizarre to me. The ice core data clearly shows that actually the temperature change precedes the change of the CO2 level for several centuries.
    The other important thing is that the level of CO2 concentration will still be for very long time just few tenth of promille and even if the GW theory is valid the danger of new ice age is far more serious for the survival of human species. Big parts of North America and Europe were under shield of ice 2000 m thick during the last ice age. I can imagine to survive in climate few degrees warmer but not under an iceberg. The new ice age is going to happen with great probability (just check the ice core data) whether we like it or not. If CO2 can make it milder why should we stop it is beyond me.

  67. It’s weird to see a physicist adopt such a negative, “can’t do” posture.

    Nuclear is almost completely non-carbon, much cleaner environmentally than all fossil fuels and is available now, and there’s fusion somewhere down the pike. All we need to do is to start charging for GHGs and carbon black production, allow offsets for proven CCS and other sequestration methods, and off we go. Even Cato is now supporting carbon taxes: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9558, at least in lieu of wasteful subsidies.

  68. The truth is that dangerously unbalanced people such as Al Gore and his deranged minions hate humanity for paying no attention to their collectivist schemes, for what they see as their profligacy and waste, and want to punish them as cruelly as possible. These are the people, with their murderous collectivist governments, who killed more people in the 20th Century than all the wars combined in recorded human history. And these weren’t wars – they were the organized slaughter of their own subjects, done ostensibly to rid the world of the “exploiters,” which is to say the successful.

    Stop drinking Randian Kool-Aid!

    Stalin (which I’ll take as representive of “murderous collectivists”) was motivated by a perceived need to industrialize the Soviet Union as fast as possible (and given what happened in Germany, he was right!). He was anything BUT anti-progress. In fact the only Communist regime which WAS anti-progress was the Khmer Rouge. (Incidentally, both the Khmer Rouge and their Islamist analogues the Taliban arose in war-devastated countries – what excuse do Western eco-freaks have?)

    Turning a pre-industrial society where a small elite rules a mass of peasants barely above subsistence into a modern, high-standard-of-living society is HARD. The rise of Western capitalism was even bloodier than the rise of the Soviet Union (with the provisos that the death toll was over a much longer period of time, and was mostly African slaves and Amerindians).

    Environmentalists are not socialists, but aristocratic conservatives (note for Americans: conservative does not necessarily equal capitalist) seeking to restore an idyllic pre-industrial past that never actually existed (and which would result in billions of deaths if attempted with today’s population levels).

    1. Stop drinking Randian Kool-Aid!

      An interesting reply given that the rest of your comment is so Randian as to have been a paraphrased passage from Atlas Shrugged:

      Environmentalists are not socialists, but aristocratic conservatives (note for Americans: conservative does not necessarily equal capitalist) seeking to restore an idyllic pre-industrial past that never actually existed (and which would result in billions of deaths if attempted with today’s population levels).

      Reference:

      With all of their noisy devotion to the age of science, their hysterically technological jargon, their cyclotrons, their sound rays, these men were moved forward, not by the image of an industrial skyline, but by the vision of that form of existence which the industrialists had swept away ? the vision of a fat, unhygienic rajah of India, with vacant eyes staring in indolent stupor out of stagnant layers of flesh, with nothing to do but run previous gems through his fingers and, once in a while, stick a knife into the body of a starved, toil-dazed, germ-eaten creature, as a claim to a few grains of the creature’s rice, then claim it from hundreds of millions of such creatures and thus let the rice grains gather into gems.

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