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Modeling the Economy As a Physics Problem 452

Posted by kdawson
from the gazintas-and-comezoutas dept.
University of Utah physicist Tim Garrett has published a study that approaches the economy and its relation to global warming as a physics problem — and comes to some controversial conclusions: that rising carbon dioxide emissions cannot be stabilized unless the world's economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day. The study was panned by economists and was rejected by several journals before its acceptance in the journal Climatic Change. "[Garrett discovered that] Throughout history, a simple physical constant... links global energy use to the world's accumulated economic productivity, adjusted for inflation. So it isn't necessary to consider population growth and standard of living in predicting society's future energy consumption and resulting carbon dioxide emissions. ... 'I'm not an economist, and I am approaching the economy as a physics problem,' Garrett says. 'I end up with a global economic growth model different than they have.' Garrett treats civilization like a 'heat engine' that 'consumes energy and does "work" in the form of economic production, which then spurs it to consume more energy,' he says. That constant is 9.7 (plus or minus 0.3) milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar. So if you look at economic and energy production at any specific time in history, 'each inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar would be supported by 9.7 milliwatts of primary energy consumption,' Garrett says. ... Perhaps the most provocative implication of Garrett's theory is that conserving energy doesn't reduce energy use, but spurs economic growth and more energy use."
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Modeling the Economy As a Physics Problem

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  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:39PM (#30257142) Homepage Journal

    We have to stop somewhere. At six billion or six trillion. It has to happen. The Heinlein fan in me says this will happen with war and starvation. Its not that hard to imagine, it happens all the time.

    Or we can learn to regulate our population, as the Chinese are trying to do. Even in the last 30 years there has been a recognition that high standards of living reduce fertility. But have China and India gone too far for this to work? I am sure the US nearly did, because you have to wear high birth rates and high energy consumption at the same time for a while (the 1950s) for it to work. The same peak would put the energy consumption of 10 billion USA or AU people in China alone.

    Don't ask me for help. I'll be starting a farm on Ganymede.

    • by Luyseyal (3154)

      There was a study published in Nature several years back that said population was likely to level off at 10 billion by 2100 due to affluence, wars, etc. IIRC, it may have even been on Slashdot.

      -l

    • by Puff_Of_Hot_Air (995689) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:56PM (#30257246)
      Kind of missing the point of the article. The population is a function of the energy consumption which directly correlates to the economy. Ergo; reducing the population will lead to decreased energy consumption, and a collapse in the economy. This is the fundemental problem here, economic growth is directly tied to energy usage. The only way out is a radical reform of the fundemental way our economy is _defined_. Sobering research indeed.
      • by russotto (537200) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @09:18PM (#30258068) Journal

        Kind of missing the point of the article. The population is a function of the energy consumption which directly correlates to the economy. Ergo; reducing the population will lead to decreased energy consumption, and a collapse in the economy. This is the fundemental problem here, economic growth is directly tied to energy usage. The only way out is a radical reform of the fundemental way our economy is _defined_.

        All of which is completely obvious and has been pointed out before (I know, because I'm one of those who has pointed it out). Usual response is some blather about alternative energy (easily shown to be inadequate, especially given other environmental constraints), conservation (law of diminishing returns), or lifestyle changes (kills economy, and besides, won't happen without major force). Usually, at some point the environmentalist will give up and claim the realist is just being too much of a pessimist.

        • physical economy (Score:3, Insightful)

          by astar (203020)

          as far as most economists go, the physical economy is pretty much off the radar screen. I consider this study to be about the physical economy. No wonder economists do not like it. And the author observes that collapse or reduction in living standards is not much discussed. I wonder why. But we are getting austerity policies to pay for bailing out the speculators while the physical economy collapses.

          So here is something that seems to be true and relevant. Considering humans, from before fire and on, we

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Knacklappen (526643)
          Usual response is some blather about alternative energy (easily shown to be inadequate, especially given other environmental constraints)...
          Then show it

          ...conservation (law of diminishing returns)...
          Explain it

          ...lifestyle changes (kills economy, and besides, won't happen without major force)
          Prove it

          What you do is rhetorics, not a scientific discussion.

          I think the guy has just got lost in his own model, which tries to liken such a complex thing as the human civbilisation with a simple physic
      • by Muros (1167213) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @09:52PM (#30258196)
        Indeed, reform of the way the economy is defined is needed. A collapse in "economic growth" need not necessarily lead to a drastic decrease in living standards. Vast amounts of energy are used in the world today to produce items with a lifetime far shorter than they could be. High quality engineering and craftsmanship could, at a slightly higher cost, produce items (furniture, cars, refrigerators, whatever) with lifetimes of many decades instead of a few years. Yeah, so there would be a lot less employment available as a result, both directly in manufacturing and indirectly in waste recycling, but people wouldn't need to buy as much either, so you could conceivably achieve shorter working hours and lessened energy/materials consumption (lessened economic activity) with little effect on people's quality of life. I'd even say it would be a better quality of life if everybody had to work less. The only way I could see to make something like that happen however would be massive regulation of manufacturing to prevent the production of garbage. I don't believe the problem with econmic activity is the use of resources, I think it is more a matter of how much we just waste. Leaving a light bulb turned on overnight is nothing compared to the amount of energy used to create all the plastic rubbish in landfills around the world.
    • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:56PM (#30257250) Homepage

      "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." -Kenneth Boulding

      On a related note, the U.S. Census Bureau World Population Clock [census.gov] just ticked over to 6.8 billion a few minutes ago.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vtcodger (957785)

        ***"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." -Kenneth Boulding***

        Absolutely.

        And conversely, if your only modeling tool is an exponential equation, every trend looks like a catastrophe.

    • Even in the last 30 years there has been a recognition that high standards of living reduce fertility.

      I think I saw an article fairly recently that suggested that as the standard of living increases past some point, this reverses itself and fertility rates start to go back up.

      • Even in the last 30 years there has been a recognition that high standards of living reduce fertility.

        I think I saw an article fairly recently that suggested that as the standard of living increases past some point, this reverses itself and fertility rates start to go back up.

        I doubt there are any observations to support that yet. People breed extra children if they believe some of their children will die before they reproduce. Maybe if we had robots to raise the children hands off, so people started to say "I'm bored with that kid lets have another one" and were able to act on that impulse at nearly zero cost (like buying a new car) then we would see that happen.

        • by plopez (54068) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @09:06PM (#30258000) Journal

          1) as people get wealthier they don't need as many children to "run the farm", so to speak. They in fact become an economic liability.

          2) As people get wealthier their access to health care, proper sanitation etc. becomes easier. This increases the survival rate of their children which reduces the number compensatory pregnancies. In other words, when a child dies a woman's friends, neighbors, relatives, coworkers etc. decide to "have just one more, just in case".

          Europe, the US and Japan are all examples of this.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by srussia (884021)

            1) as people get wealthier they don't need as many children to "run the farm", so to speak. They in fact become an economic liability.

            Nonsense. Every additional person is productive over his lifetime on the average. Plus, there is ever increasing capital wealth, multiplying productivity per person. My siblings and I are not on the farm (but we did work in my father's construction firm at one point). But if may parents' pension goes kablooey, there's enough of us producing enough so that they'll have no problems.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Graff (532189)

              Nonsense. Every additional person is productive over his lifetime on the average. Plus, there is ever increasing capital wealth, multiplying productivity per person. My siblings and I are not on the farm (but we did work in my father's construction firm at one point). But if may parents' pension goes kablooey, there's enough of us producing enough so that they'll have no problems.

              This is only true in the case of unlimited resources. Once you start to run out of land, oil, water, minerals, etc. then each additional person becomes an increasing liability. You can only be productive in relation to the amount of resources available to you. All realistic models of population growth show that adding additional members to make a population more effective only work up to a certain point, past that you experience diminishing returns and each new member becomes a liability. Yes, the death

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Even in the last 30 years there has been a recognition that high standards of living reduce fertility.

        I think I saw an article fairly recently that suggested that as the standard of living increases past some point, this reverses itself and fertility rates start to go back up.

        Yes, that was in the news, but when you actually look at the data, the evidence for an upturn in fertility at very high affluence levels is not statistically significant.

    • by reporter (666905) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:08PM (#30257304) Homepage
      Physicist Tim Garret is correct when he observes "that conserving energy doesn't reduce energy use, but spurs economic growth and more energy use". That is another way of saying that society grows and expands up to the constraints of the system.

      When we conserve energy, we can and do use the saved energy for other activities. "conservation" is not really conservation if we promptly use the saved energy for another activity.

      Consider the food supply. The population has now reached a size at which the current amount of food is not sufficient for everyone to eat well. So, scientists at ADM and other companies are trying to invent new ways to increase food production. Suppose that the scientists succeed and that we increase food production by 20%. The population, enjoying this additional food, now grows by an additonal 20%: we return to the original problem.

      In the long run, the 4 horsemen will eventually impose their own solution on humankind. Many people will die in the process.

      Inevitably, some Slashdotter will claim that yet-to-be discovered technology will always provide a fix for the problem. Believing that yet-to-be discovered technology will be discovered (and will be the salvation) is exactly equivalent to believing the numerous claims of religion. Often, the same Slashdotter who is atheist does not hestitate to believe in yet-to-be discovered technology. A hypocrite, a fool, or both?

      • by dintlu (1171159) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:26PM (#30257398)

        Starvation is a geopolitical problem, not a resource problem. Grain production has consistently outpaced population growth for the past 30 years. Even during last year's food crisis, resource shortfalls were not an issue.

        more here: http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm [worldhunger.org]

      • That's not a very good metaphor. With religion, our actions have no bearing on the existence of metaphysical truths or deities, whereas our actions can have an impact on the state of technology.

        Faith in technology is very different from religious faith. Think of it as a hypothesis. We observe, through reliable historical documents as well as the current state of the world, that in the past non-military technology has improved the condition of the human race. Based on this robust evidence, we might safely co

      • by UncleFluffy (164860) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @11:25PM (#30258736)

        Inevitably, some Slashdotter will claim that yet-to-be discovered technology will always provide a fix for the problem. Believing that yet-to-be discovered technology will be discovered (and will be the salvation) is exactly equivalent to believing the numerous claims of religion. Often, the same Slashdotter who is atheist does not hestitate to believe in yet-to-be discovered technology. A hypocrite, a fool, or both?

        The difference is that those people who believe that technology will allow the human race to overcome its limits have been proven right multiple times over the historical record. Those people who believe that $deity will come down and make everything right for us have less of a track record of successes.

      • by Monsuco (998964) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @12:10AM (#30258970) Homepage

        Consider the food supply. The population has now reached a size at which the current amount of food is not sufficient for everyone to eat well. So, scientists at ADM and other companies are trying to invent new ways to increase food production. Suppose that the scientists succeed and that we increase food production by 20%. The population, enjoying this additional food, now grows by an additonal 20%: we return to the original problem.

        That is in no way the problem. Where do you see starvation? Various parts of Africa, North Korea, and a few other locations. Many of these starving countries are not nearly as populated as the USA or Europe and have more fertile land. Why do they starve? Why does North Korea have a food shortage when South Korea is fine? In both these cases high population is a ridiculous excuse. In Africa, political instability and warfare results in the destruction of crops. In North Korea the socialist regime will not allow for people to grow crops. Some places like Hong Kong are extremely crowded, but still rarely suffer from starvation due to the ability to buy food from less crowded areas. Even poor countries such as India have managed to largely eliminate starvation through use of modernizing their agricultural system and liberalizing trade. Anywhere in the world you see mass starvation it is nearly always the result of either warfare or government intervention in the economy. A lack of places to grow food is a ridiculous explanation. Even poverty doesn't cause starvation. In the USA, arguably the biggest health risk faced by the poor is not starvation, but obesity. People living below the poverty line have abnormally high rates of obesity. Our only problem is too much food. Then again, someone below poverty line here lives a lifestyle that many in Africa would consider to be extremely luxurious.

        We have plenty of space to grow food, and with advancing crop production techniques this will be even less of a problem. Theoretically it would be possible to fit the entire population of the world inside the state of Texas and still have a lower population per square mile than New York City.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dasunt (249686)

        Consider the food supply. The population has now reached a size at which the current amount of food is not sufficient for everyone to eat well.

        Actually, with the current amount of food grown, everyone could eat well.

        But feeding everyone in the world isn't as profitable as growing plants, and feeding the output to animals (wasting energy in the process) to sell to rich affluent first worlders.

        It's one of the reasons why people starve. Other reasons why people are starving include war and failed politic

      • "Inevitably, some Slashdotter will claim that yet-to-be discovered technology will always provide a fix for the problem. Believing that yet-to-be discovered technology will be discovered (and will be the salvation) is exactly equivalent to believing the numerous claims of religion. Often, the same Slashdotter who is atheist does not hestitate to believe in yet-to-be discovered technology. A hypocrite, a fool, or both?"

        Scientists and engineers have a long and detailed history of coming up with creative s
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shentino (1139071)

      It's tragedy of the commons.

      You see, everyone wants to have a healthy planet, but nobody wants to be stuck holding the bag if they're the only ones restraining their consumption.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:41PM (#30257490)

      "The Heinlein fan in me says this will happen with war and starvation."

      The trick is to be the killers instead of the dead, and the fed instead of the starving. Should it come down to that, I suspect we'll find it easy to shitcan idealism and kill our competition.

      Given a choice between theirs and ours, I'll choose ours.

  • If you build something more efficient now, you can do more than you could originally.

    That makes sense.

    If a kettle takes half as much electricity to boil water than it did before, you can boil twice as much water with the same electricity right? You end up using more hot water for other purposes? Like more tea.

    Someone else can provide a car analogy, I don't have a licence to drive.

    Is what he is saying? Ultimately we are just trading energy for more of the same work, right?

    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:57PM (#30257256) Journal
      While this is probably largely true, human demands do seem to expand to fill available resources, our demands aren't infinite.

      The marginal value of your first dollar, or 10 dollars(depending on local cost of living), is enormous. You get to eat. The marginal value of your 1,000,001th dollar is a great deal smaller.

      There isn't a fixed "ceiling" above which people demand no more energy; but there are a number of "floors" below which things get really ugly, really fast(like, "Rwandan Genocide" bad, not just "I want a cooler yacht" bad). If you can increase efficiency enough, it should be possible to reduce the amount of damage that needs to be done in order to head off genuinely bad outcomes.

      There is also a second factor to consider: When people are desperate(or ignorant, or stupid), they will be willing to consume their capital to survive. Destroying fish stocks by catching juveniles, farming harder and harder until the topsoil erodes, polluting water supplies, eating the seed corn, deforestation to make charcoal(on the subject of deforestation, compare the Dominican Republic with Haiti. Same island, same location, one country has its forests, one doesn't. The Dominican Republic is merely poor. Haiti is deeply fucked.), and so forth. Even in strict economic terms(i.e. setting the intrinsic worth of "the environment", beyond its practical utility, at 0) this is a stupid plan. If the alternative is starving, though, people will do it anyway. If efficiency increases, fewer people will be desperate enough to eat their capital instead of their income.
  • by illumastorm (172101) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:45PM (#30257172)

    So, is the economy or global warming treated as a perfect sphere?

    • by Eudial (590661) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:12PM (#30257322)

      Ah, but I found the solution to global warming. If we model people as an ideal gas confined to a box, increasing the number of people while keeping volume and pressure constant will decrease the temperature!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Ah, but I found the solution to global warming. If we model people as an ideal gas confined to a box, increasing the number of people while keeping volume and pressure constant will decrease the temperature!

        On a similar note, I've discovered the secret to faster than light travel. E=mc^2, so all we have to do is reduce mass while keeping energy constant and we can increase the speed of light.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Pretty much, it appears.

      From the summary it seems that he looks only at energy consumption while totally ignoring that our energy sources do differ in their potential of adding waste energy to the biosphere.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cheekyboy (598084)

        Dude, do the maths, if you cant be bothered reading EIA reports, 85 million barrels of oil are used DAILY.
        Yearly thats a lot of tonnes of oil. all of it gets used.
        Alternatives are less than 2%.

    • by Anpheus (908711) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @08:36PM (#30257794)

      No no, he modeled the population as a frictionless surface that perfectly reflects all light.

  • Global thermonuclear war : 80% less economic output in developed countries, a nuclear winter, and a selection of the fittest specimens of the human race plus a few Pygmeas, Tibetans, Polynesians, Swedes and Swiss.
  • by mangastudent (718064) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:46PM (#30257180)

    conserving energy doesn't reduce energy use, but spurs economic growth and more energy use

    This fits with an observation by insurance companies (or at least mine, USAA) that building safer cars results in people continuing to drive them to their preferred safety margin. We still end up with about as many crashes (but injuries are less).

    • conserving energy doesn't reduce energy use, but spurs economic growth and more energy use

      This fits with an observation by insurance companies (or at least mine, USAA) that building safer cars results in people continuing to drive them to their preferred safety margin. We still end up with about as many crashes (but injuries are less).

      Well, injuries to occupants are less, anyway.

    • by Gerafix (1028986)
      You can build a safer car, you can't build a smart(er) driver. Humans are the weak link there as stupidity is not limited by economics or safety margins..
    • This fits with an observation by insurance companies (or at least mine, USAA) that building safer cars results in people continuing to drive them to their preferred safety margin. We still end up with about as many crashes (but injuries are less).

      That was predicted by sociologists, but turns out not to be the case.

      The mileage-adjusted accident death rate of automobiles has dropped significantly with the added safety features.

  • by Shadyman (939863) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:57PM (#30257252) Homepage
    The problem is that you can't adjust for inflation too far back, because the "basket of goods and services" [wikipedia.org] that inflation is measured upon changes every now and then, so the cost of everyday items now can't really be measured against the cost of items in 1920. Some things that were necessities in 1920 aren't anymore, and some things that are necessities now weren't even invented. The most you're going to get is a very rough estimation of what the dollar was worth.
  • Its long been known that energy consumption is highly correlated with economic output/growth. And I don't see how it is provactive to claim that conserving energy results in more being used (in the long run). Are not virtually *all* of our modern day appliances far more efficient than they were 10, 20, 40 years ago? And lame as our cars may be, they are far more efficient than they were in 1980. So even though we have 'conserved' through large gains in efficiency we are still using energy at a record cl

  • by Jay Maynard (54798) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:59PM (#30257268) Homepage

    There's another implication of that theory, and it's one that conservatives have been arguing for some time now: the end result of the current drive to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions is the destruction of the worlkd economy.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by DNS-and-BIND (461968)
      And this would be a bad thing how exactly?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        A rather large part of the big bad "world economy" is feeding people.

        The truth is that reducing energy consumption will almost certainly cause millions of people to die.

        The question is whether their deaths will be a sacrifice to save the rest of us.

    • by NixieBunny (859050) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:50PM (#30257544) Homepage
      I wouldn't worry about that, as the end result of *not* cutting back on energy use is also the eventual destruction of the world economy. We live unsustainably. Oil isn't forever. Nukes aren't forever. Enjoy it while it lasts.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TapeCutter (624760) *
      Conservative have also been arguing there is no problem. This article [thedailymash.co.uk] about the CSU hack "fires a polar bear of truth between the eyes of hysteria and communism".
    • by localman (111171) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @09:01PM (#30257960) Homepage

      Isn't that exactly the _opposite_ of what this theory states?

      The author specifies that efficiency in fact spurs _more_ economic growth. Unsurprising, since our entire society from the dawn of crop cultivation has been based on our ability to get things done more efficiently, thus freeing up time and energy for other work and discoveries. So if you want to grow the economy, work on... economy.

      What is somewhat surprising is that the efficiencies gained seem to be immediately taken up by new forms of consumption, so there is never any decrease in resource usage, just a growth in what we accomplish with our endless accelerating depletion of those resources.

      An interesting and somewhat troubling thought. In the end we are likely not above nature and a painful equilibrium will be found.

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:59PM (#30257270)

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

    While I can't speak to the validity of the underlying theory as such, a conclusion like this doesn't really come as a shock. The 20th century saw an steady stream of "labor-saving" inventions that are now part of our daily lives, but we don't have more leisure time than our ancestors -- in many cases, we actually have less -- because all of that liberated time was promptly consumed by new forms of work.

    Sooner or later, we're going to have to come to terms with our now obsolete species-wide obsession with material acquisition. It made sense before we developed tools and civilization: grab all you can while it's abundant because scarcity is the norm. Now that we have all we actually need and then some, we're just killing ourselves with the byproducts of our superfluous production.

    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      Exactly. And my dad wont even loan me his fucking jigsaw. I'm supposed to spend $40 on one so I can cut one piece of fucking wood? Because he's going to use a jigsaw 40 times between Thanksgiving & Christmas?
      • by Rogerborg (306625)
        And another thing: he fucked your momma. How do you like them apples?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by benjamindees (441808)

        Consumer goods are designed to self-destruct. Ergo, no one is willing to share them lest they be destroyed. Ergo, everyone needs his own and more total consumer goods are purchased.

      • by ciaohound (118419) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @11:22PM (#30258724)

        Your dad at least discusses his fucking jigsaw with you -- that makes him much more emotionally available than mine. I mean, my dad just will not open up about his fucking jigsaw, his boning sawhorse, his nipple-pinching vise or even his fisting workbench. Perhaps it's best if one's parents conceal those things from you.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Narcocide (102829)

      Though the intellectual in me has trouble denying the truth in your statement, you can have my Nintendo Wii when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers, you damned hippie.

    • by martin-boundary (547041) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:35PM (#30257456)

      but we don't have more leisure time than our ancestors

      How far back are you talking about? If it's the 19th century, then you're definitely wrong. We have huge swaths of leisure time compared with our 19th century ancestors. If it's the first half of the 20th century, then the economies in the West were still fairly unregulated although better than previously, and a lot of people were still more overworked than most of us are now. If you mean by ancestors your parents or grandparents, then you'd probably be right. The post-WWII period was a golden economic age for a large percentage of the population in the West. Unfortunately, with deregulation from the 1980s onwards exploitation has increased again.

      • by ignavus (213578) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @11:46PM (#30258854)

        Thepost-WWII period was a golden economic age for a large percentage of the population in the West. Unfortunately, with deregulation from the 1980s onwards exploitation has increased again.

        Yeah, like I too, man, think that, like the whole western world came to its peak, man, at Woodstock, back in '69.

        Like far out. Been a huge bummer ride since then.

  • by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Saturday November 28, 2009 @06:59PM (#30257272) Homepage Journal

    The climate is headed for a crash, and there's nothing that anybody can do about it.

    Sorry, but that's the truth.

    And one more thing: humans of the future will curse your bones. That is all, carry on.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No. Throughout history, the Earth has had wide climate swings. "Global warming" became "climate change", which is meaningless since the climate has always been changing. There are dozens of climate models predicting immediate disaster, yet none of them predicted the current climate (temperatures leveled off and started cooling).
  • Jevons Paradox (Score:5, Informative)

    by Arkange (92306) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:03PM (#30257284)

    This sounds like Jevons Paradox.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox [wikipedia.org]

  • Massive fail (Score:2, Insightful)

    Human's are not machines. We make choices, and those choices affect the things around us. We don't yet have the understanding of physics necessary to use it predict human behavior. In fact our current understanding of physics precludes the idea that physics can predict the human brain (assuming the brain operates on a quantum level), so this whole study is bullshit. Physics can't be used to predict the choices humans will make. Politics is complicated game played as part of human behavior. Some people

    • Re:Massive fail (Score:4, Informative)

      by nedlohs (1335013) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:24PM (#30257382)

      The fail was on your comprehension.

      What humans are and are not is irrelevant, it has nothing to do with choices, nothing to do with rational behavior.

      It's simply saying that each unit of economic production results in the consumption of X units of energy. And that reducing energy consumption on something results not in less energy use but in more production.

      Which leads to, if you want to reduce carbon dioxide levels, two choices:

      1. Economic collapse.
      2. Build obscene amounts of "clean" (in terms of carbon dioxide production) energy generators.

  • Gee wizz.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sapphon (214287) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:09PM (#30257310) Journal
    Economists routinely use highly complicated mathematical models on stuff like this, and are just as routinely criticised for it because their simplifying assumptions aren't close enough to reality. Then along comes this bloke and uses a model that's not even based on human behaviour: the economy as a heat engine. No wonder he's been panned. Criticise economic models all you like, but at least the modern ones* have a foundation in human behaviour.

    I can see why this gets a run here – scientists are cool nerds; economists are not – but in the end it's a guy doing research outside of his field. Sometimes you get tremendous insights [wikipedia.org], but most of the time (as in this case) you don't.

    * I'm not talking about the physiocrats here, okay?

    Disclaimer: I am an economist.
    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:40PM (#30257482) Homepage
      Yeah, if an actual scientist had just come along and made the entire premise of my profession irrelevant, I'd be pretty hacked off too. You're taking it pretty well, actually, and yes, I will have fries with that.
    • Really? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WindBourne (631190)
      What exactly do you base your statement that this is a bad model? Or do you object to something different and unique? Personally, I would like to see more about what this guy has before nuking it.

      One issue that I have seen in soft 'Sciences', is that they resist the idea of applying real math and other science to their models. As it is, you just got done saying that economics counts on human behavior, i.e. psych, an even weaker science.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by top_down (137496)

        One issue that I have seen in soft 'Sciences', is that they resist the idea of applying real math and other science to their models.

        The problem is exactly the opposite: math is all over the place in social science. The problem is that the things you want to quantify like maybe 'power' or other concepts close to real human behaviour are very hard to quantify. But since you really, really want to do math or else it wouldn't be 'real science' you settle for 'hard facts', things that are easy to quantify like the GDP the author of the article is using (he really is a pretty typical economist as far as his methods go). There is even a name f

    • Re:Gee wizz.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Saturday November 28, 2009 @08:03PM (#30257618) Homepage Journal

      Economists routinely use highly complicated mathematical models on stuff like this, and are just as routinely criticised for it because their simplifying assumptions aren't close enough to reality. Then along comes this bloke and uses a model that's not even based on human behaviour: the economy as a heat engine. No wonder he's been panned. Criticise economic models all you like, but at least the modern ones* have a foundation in human behaviour.

      So economists are trying to figure things out from first principles, and having a rather difficult time because their necessary simplifying assumptions could possibly be simplifying away things that actually matter. While this guy seems to be looking at the economy as a black box, saying "it looks like this input and this output have always been related in the past, so what happens if they stay related in the future?". He's trying to come up with laws ("this is what happens") rather than theories ("this is why it happens"), and doesn't really need a foundation in human behavior. Much like we can know what gravity does, without actually having found a graviton or whatever current theories say we should find.

  • and other solutions does not. Basically, tax all goods at point of consumption (retail tax) with a CO2 tax based on WHERE ASSEMBLED AND PRIMARY SUB-COMPONENT come from, combined with the CO2 to get there (the further away a good is from consumption should incur a heavier tax due to shipping). Any other solution, esp. the command economy that is being pushed by EU under Kyoto is doomed to fail. It is the ONLY solution that I have seen that will involve all countries, businesses and nearly all ppl.
  • So more expending means more more energy and more global warming? That didnt took into account the huge expendings that means try to reduce global warming. Is an ok analogy if we dont care about it (or say that is a hoax, a trap or a government/scientist evil plot), and dont take any measure. But once you start taking measures, expendings go up, and energy output (should) go down.
  • [Garrett discovered that] Throughout history, a simple physical constant... links global energy use to the world's accumulated economic productivity, adjusted for inflation.

    No.

    Data also shows that there is a correlation between the number of teddy bears that children own and how wealthy their parents are. Does owning teddy bears cause a child's parents to be wealthy?

    The more prosperous an economy is, the more things that the people buy. Including energy. This is not news. The correlation is that being wealthy means buying more energy, not vice versa!

    Correlation is not causation.

  • by dominion (3153) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @07:29PM (#30257412) Homepage

    "or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day."

    I don't have a problem with this. Let's get building.

    Eventually we'll turn towards the sun, and nuclear will only be our failsafe, but I have no problem with it filling in the gaps.

  • ...unless the world's economy collapses

    Mission accomplished, then. Kudos all around.

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

    This was discovered a LONG time ago - like 1865. It's called Jevon's Paradox. [wikipedia.org]

    However, Jevon's (and Garrett) get turned upside down when energy sources deplete and costs for energy steadily increase. Then, the only way you can have economic growth IS through massive conservation, insofar as a society's base usage decreases faster than the net ene

  • you say ? you mean,

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

    this ?

    and it provocates what, stupidity ? and makes a point of what, trivializing energy conservation ? i heard only a few more stupid things than this in my life.

    lets not conserve energy then. because, it only spurs more growth and more energy use. lets go a mile of civilizational development whereas we could be able to go a mile and a half by conserving energy. yea.

    lets do that, because, well, it is a 'provocative implication' of someone's theory. in another perspective, why conserve, w

  • Freejack (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wdhowellsr (530924) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @08:04PM (#30257626)
    This whole thing drives me crazy. Is man screwing up the earth? Absolutely, but the solutions the politicians and algoreans are suggesting is pay to play. You can polute all you want as long as you pay for it.

    Imagine for a moment that Microsoft was forced to deal with the fact that their software is responsible for ninety-five percent of virus infections, but instead of, Oh I don't know - MAKING THEM BUILD BETTER SOFTWARE - , we simply require that they pay for the tuition of every High School graduate who wants to get a degree in Computer Science.

    Freejack. If this system survives longer than twenty-five years, Al Gore and every other person on the inside will live in secure cities with fresh water, abundant food and toss scraps to the rest of the world to feed the need for compassion.

    As for me, I've got my money on the zoo of the future. Imagine being able to see the extinct Blue Jay, Cardinal, and if you are really lucky an Eagle.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

    Dateline 1488: William Howell purchases a nice manor in Buckinghamshire, England but has a recurring nightmare that he is living 521 years in the future. Sucks to be him.
  • Yet more proof (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Murdoc (210079) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @08:31PM (#30257766) Homepage Journal
    This is exactly what Technocracy [technocracy.org] has been saying for over 80 years. They were the first to "treat the economy like a physics problem", the only difference is that they saw it coming and warned us way back when it was far easier to do something about it. Now, whether we can do something about it without too much pain is in question, but if we can then we have to do something about it now [technocracy.ca] while we still can. Like one commenter said here earlier, "The only way out is a radical reform of the fundemental way our economy is _defined_". Technocracy has provided a logical answer to this too that is worth checking out. It needs a bit of updating since the movement is so small right now, but the underlying basis for it all is still quite sound. If you want a good scientific way of looking at our economy, and how it relates to our environment, then this is the place to start. I'm glad to see more modern research being done that confirms this.
  • by presidenteloco (659168) on Saturday November 28, 2009 @09:18PM (#30258064)

    Because it is the amount of work we are putting in to things we want to do or want to have happen.

    I predict that economic theory in general will move in this direction.

    There are other alternatives to the nuke method however. We could do massive wind and solar,
    supplemented by ocean wave and geothermal.

    Opponents with a vested interest in the status quo claim these are marginal and intermittent (not core)
    power sources, but they do not understand or are deliberately ignoring the power balancing you could do
    with a continent-wide superconducting smart-switching power grid.

    Another, complementary, alternative is that we can back off on our tendency to destroy natural eco-systems and
    replace them by our own systems,
    and let some of them (natural systems) thrive, and do some of the work for us. This only works if we support them
    and harvest them with humility and respect.

To thine own self be true. (If not that, at least make some money.)

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