Friday, December 16, 2011

Is it possible to decouple economic wealth from carbon dioxide emission rates?

Is it possible to decouple economic wealth from carbon dioxide emission rates? Dr Tim Garrett applies basic thermodynamic physics principles to the economics of wealth, carbon emission rates and civilization and comes up with some very disturbing results.

I came across this randomly chasing youtube links. This talk captured in a 3 part video was given at the Pacific Institute for Climate Studies Seminar May 31st, 2010, University of Victoria in Canada, but only recently uploaded to youtube in December 2011. Dr. Tim Garrett is an Associate Professor of Physics in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah, whose main academic work is in cloud physics.

I mean it really started as just a simple query, as to where the economic value comes from. Coming from a physics background, and being totally naive in economics, I thought "well maybe it has something to do with the rate of energy consumption by civilization."

In other words, perhaps that our wealth, the wealth of civilization, has a direct link to how much energy we can consume. To me, that seemed like a reasonable assumption, because in order for us to do anything, which I suppose is perhaps a measure of our wealth, we need to consume energy.

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

And so what I tried to do was just simply look at this, using some available data. And it turned out that this relationship is in fact fixed. That there is a constant relationship of about 10 miliwatts that is required to support every inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar of economic value.

That was the core result of the first paper I did into this. And what I tried to do is go from there, to see what this implied for subjects such as global warming, which are closer to my primary field of research in atmospheric sciences.

From interview of Dr. Timothy Garrett with Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock. (An audio of this interview is available)

So here is Dr Garrett at Pacific Institute for Climate Studies Seminar - Part 1


Part 2:


Part 3:


Read about The physics of long-run global economic growth at Tim Garrett's website that contains links to 3 peer reviewed papers on this issue.

Here is the abstract for one of his papers - No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity along with mitigated climate change (abstract) The full paper is also free to download and read:

Abstract. In a prior study (Garrett, 2011), I introduced a simple thermodynamics-based economic growth model. By treating civilization as a whole, it was found that the global economy's current rate of energy consumption can be tied through a constant to its current accumulation of wealth. The value of the constant is λ = 9.7 ± 0.3 milliwatts per 1990 US dollar. Here, this model is coupled to a linear formulation for the evolution of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Despite the model's extreme simplicity, multi-decadal hindcasts of trajectories in gross world product (GWP) and CO2 agree closely with recent observations. Extending the model to the future, the model implies that the well-known IPCC SRES scenarios substantially underestimate how much CO2 levels will rise for a given level of future economic prosperity. Instead, what is shown is that, like a long-term natural disaster, future greenhouse warming should be expected to retard the real growth of wealth through inflationary pressures. Because wealth is tied to rates of energy consumption through the constant λ, it follows that dangerous climate change should be a negative feedback on CO2 emission rates, and therefore the ultimate extent of greenhouse warming. Nonetheless, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations are to remain below a "dangerous" level of 450 ppmv (Hansen et al., 2007), there will have to be some combination of an unrealistically rapid rate of energy decarbonization and a near immediate collapse of civilization wealth. Effectively, civilization is in a double-bind. If civilization does not collapse quickly this century, then CO2 levels will likely end up exceeding 1000 ppmv; but, if CO2 levels rise by this much, then the danger is that civilization will gradually tend towards collapse.

So it appears we are in for a rough ride this century. We are not making the deep cuts to decarbonise our economy that youth representatives called for at Durban COP17 that were agreed in the Bali Map in 2007, so that leaves global warming of 3.5 to 4 degrees or more by the end of the century, along with the likely collapse of civilization.

So It's the end of the world as we know it - a fine time to reprise that R.E.M. classic here performed by Cable "Ribbonfingers" Ussery and Meghan "Treetop" Treptow (known collectively as Morsel of Agony) at a rare public performance on March 18, 2011 at Prairie State College.