Tag Archives: climate change

The consequences of American energy independence

The World Energy Outlook 2012 that was released on November 12 contained many interesting projections and comments. One that was particularly interesting from a political climate change perspective was the following:

The recent rebound in US oil and gas production /…/ is spurring economic activity – with less expensive gas and electricity prices giving industry a competitive edge – and steadily changing the role of North America in global energy trade. By around 2020, the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer /…/ The result is a continued fall in US oil
imports, to the extent that North America becomes a net oil exporter around 2030.

On the one hand, this could imply that when the United States is finally generating an energy surplus, it may become serious in taking on climate change. But on the other hand, a more likely scenario in my opinion is rather that the United States will appreciate finally becoming energy independent and will show even less effort than today. As The Economist puts it:

[T]he elimination of ‘dependence on foreign oil’ as an economic and security bogeyman may lead the world’s largest economy to abdicate responsibility for global leadership on climate change even more than it already has.

Another interesting political perspective, albeit not so much related to climate change, is how the geopolitics of the Middle East will change when America no longer is dependent on oil imports from the region whereas China’s energy imports are projected to continue to grow. How will this shift affect the political dynamics in the world’s most unstable region?

Simon Hedlin

On discount rates

What is a really feasible discount rate? The issue of choosing a discount rate, for example in models predicting costs of climate change, is not easy. There is also a risk that one may choose a discount rate that is too low, which would cause us to instead overestimate the costs. Pondering these questions easily makes one think of an accessible paper by William Nordhaus written in 2007 in which he argues that the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change uses a discount rate that is too low. Nordhaus claims that the Stern Review’s estimate of overall costs of climate change being equal to the world losing 5% of global GDP each year from now on is dependent on a near-zero discount rate and a very specific utility function.

In this debate there are several relevant perspectives. One of them is economic. In some cases we might actually underestimate the costs, for example when it comes to permanent losses of biodiversity. On the other hand, in other cases we risk overestimating costs, often due to undervalue the rate of technological and economic progress.

The issue of discounting does also have a clear philosophical dimensions. How much are future generations worth? As long as there is an existing risk of extinction of our species there should probably be some form of discount rate due to this uncertainty. But how large should this discount rate be? What is appropriate? How much is the generation of our children worth? And what about their children?

One could also raise the inconvenient question of whether it would be easier for future generations to pay for the harm we cause the environment simply because they likely will be much wealthier than people living today. This argument is one that was discussed by The Economist in a summary of the “Stern-Nordhaus debate.”

A little more recently, Larry Karp has done some interesting research on discounting, and he finds that discounting over time is not constant. This is usually called “hyperbolic discounting,” which implies that our discounting preferences are dependent on the time frame, and generally we are willing to spend almost as much on our great great grandchildren’s generation as on our great grandchildren’s generation because it is so far into the future. This would imply a non-linear relationship over time, as opposed to the linear and time-consistent relationship that is usually assumed. This is an example of how experimental evidence and psychological insights, pioneered by Daniel Kahneman and others, can contribute to economic theory. Hyperbolic discounting is likely to be a topic paid much attention over the coming years.

And finally, two other recommended readings on the choice of discount rate are a blog post by Gary Becker, and a more recent working paper by Lawrence H. Goulder and Roberton C. Williams III.

Simon Hedlin

On climate change


A Modest Proposal: Hearth Hour

A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of the world from committing a climate catastrophe, from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the planet.

by Simon Hedlin Larsson (with inspiration from the Earth Hour movement, and the invaluable contributions of Dr. Jonathan Swift). 2010

It is a melancholy object to those, who have walked on the glaciers, or travel in the Arctic, when they see the few ice floes and the land patches crowded with polar bears of the female sex, followed by, two, three or five cubs, all in famished condition, and importuning any passenger for subsistence. These mothers instead of being able to hunt for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in swimming to find sustenance for their helpless infants who, as they grow up, either turn to thieves for want of cubs, or leave their dear native country, to fight for the Wild Animal Fighting club in Indonesia, or sell themselves to San Diego.

I think it is agreed by all parties, that this prodigious number of cubs in the arms, or on the backs, of rat the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the Arctic, a very great additional grievance; and therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these cubs – and all other fauna and flora living rough from human climate change – better off than under present circumstances, would deserve so well of the public, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the planet and its resources.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of Mother Nature: it is of much, much greater extent, and shall even take in the whole number of human infants at a certain age, who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them, as those who demand our charity in the streets.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years, upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of our projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation. It is true, a child just dropt from its dam, may be supported by her milk, for a solar year, with little other nourishment: and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner, as, instead of being a charge upon the nature or their parents, or the parish, or consuming energy and animals and plants for the rest of their lives, they shall, on the contrary, contribute to the energy consumption, and partly to the feeding of many millions.

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.

The number of souls on this planet being usually reckoned six point eight billion, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred million couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract fifty million couple, who are not making a large impact on the environment (although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of our planet) but this being granted, there will remain hundred and fifty million breeders. I again subtract fifty million, for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There remain about hundred million children annually born. The question therefore is, How this number shall be reared, and provided for? which, as I have already said, under the present condition of the environment, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For we can neither offer them vegetables or meat; agricultural production emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide (I mean in terms of combusted fossil fuels), and breeding animals costs extreme amounts of energy, which were decades ago already at an unsustainable level.

I am assured by our environmentalists, that a boy or a girl, before fifteen years old, is of no possible contribution to the nature, and even when they come to this age, they will mostly not yield any benefits for the inhabitants of the forests or the oceans.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most superiorly efficient energy source, whether compared to oil, gas, coal or bio fuels; and I make no doubt that it will equally overbear nuclear and organic waste. As have been explained to me, a human child put in a hearth will upon ignition generate heat equivalent to ten thousand times its weight in coal or wood. A child will also serve as an exceptional replacement of raw material in any combustion power plant. The extents of using children as a combustion energy source are thus barely conceivable.

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration, that of the hundred million children, already computed, twenty million may be reserved for breed, whereof only one fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine, and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore, one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining eighty million, at a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune, over the planet, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good hearth or combustion plant. A child will generate two weeks of energy consumption for a standard American household, and if it is a single person who lives in a small apartment, a one year old will be enough for a month’s demand of electricity.

It is my most truthful hope that this proposal may be realized in before long for the needs of stopping climate change and environmental damage are urgent as it was never thus. I call for immediate action, and advise the driving spirits and scrupulous that this message may reach, that today, March 27, 2010, at 20:30 local time, take part in a global movement that hence shall be known as the “Hearth Hour”.

Parents are urged to allow their children to be consumed in combustion, and their flames will not only spread warmth to every cold soul or numb body, they will symbolize the end of the much prolonged human intervention in our planet’s sensitive ecosystems in search for energy. In addition, I have been told that there is no such delicacy as the ashes of a child. My humble proposal may therefore not only satiate our needs of climate- and environmental-friendly energy, but also satisfy our distinctive taste for the finest delicacies.

I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged, that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the world. This I freely own, and ’twas indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire  the reader will observe, that I calculate my remedy for this one planet Earth, and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can be in the universe. Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our carbon dioxide emissions: Of using agricultural subsidies to fund extensive climate research: Of preventing ecological and energy-inefficient means of production: Of quitting this political game of demanding other actors to make the first move: Of preventing a cap-and-trade system for political purposes: Of planting two new trees for every one chucked down: Of learning to love life and all the other lives on this planet: Of increasing funding to energy research: Of taking measures for biodiversity in rainforests as well as oceans. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our environmentalists, who, would save the last polar bear, rather than a human child.

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, ‘till he hath at least some glimpse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of our planet, by advancing our development, providing clean energy, replacing fossil fuels, relieving the polar bears and other animals, and stopping climate change. I have no children, by which I can propose to put in a single hearth.

Simon Hedlin Larsson

If only it were so simple

Bilden är hämtad här.

Some climate skeptics clutch at every piece of possible counter-proof they can find. But when they are trying to use the latest scandals and discoveries concerning the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a way of proving that human activities with certainty do not affect the planet’s climate, they are mostly clutching at straws.

One could really question how the IPCC work in terms of, for instance, peer-reviewing and releasing raw data, but that has little to do with the existence of climate change as a phenomenon, and even less to do with the upcoming energy crisis, and much needed change from fossil fuels to other energy sources, regardless of carbon dioxide emissions.

Simon Hedlin Larsson

It is easy to talk

This is pretty much what American politics looks like at the moment, President Barack Obama talks, but he gets no legislation passed by the Congress:

Original source here.

Simon Hedlin Larsson

Två bilder säger mer än tvåtusen ord

Bilden är hämtad här.

Bilden är hämtad här.