Hothouse tipping elements of no return

39196777_10156512217517350_3994653278469095424_o The undiscovered link between global warning and the English constitutional conflicts of the 17th century is the role of the sectaries; those for whom incremental change was not good enough, they must push for the kingdom of god on earth. They didn't get it, of course: they got the restoration.

Today we have Will Steffen offering us the problem is neoliberal economics. But he isn't totally wrong: he does get the solution has more to do with economics than science correct. I think the term "neoliberal economics" is poorly defined; I think WS has little idea of what it means1; I think he's using it as a vague bugaboo for "things I don't like and which get in the way of me reorganising the world in the way I would like".

Before I return to the wild-eyed fanatics, I delegate my commentary on the underlying "paper" itself to Richard Betts who has a clear advantage over me: he's read it (so has ATTP; that weed JA hasn't ventured a commentary2). I shall pick out his They argue – or perhaps speculate; and One thing that strikes me about the scientific literature on “tipping points” is that there are a lot of review papers like this that end up citing the same studies and each other.

one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system

Mmmmm. But this, as always with such things, ignores the benefits of the economic system. The current economic-political-scientific-engineering world system supports 7 billion people, albeit at some cost to the long-term sustainability of the planet. Most of those people would die if the Evil Economic System were removed. If the system were suddenly, sharply, changed it is likely the disruption would kill lots of people. FWIW, I think a more liberal economic system and a smaller less corrupt political system would be a benefit. And it would be nice if we could have an intelligent press, too. It's hard to run an intelligent voting system if the voters are fed pap.

We need to immediately stop deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and other tropical forests, and start reforesting them. That means a U-turn in terms of how we operate the world’s economic systems

I'm all for stopping deforestation. Indeed, I am the proud owner of a "reforest the Earth" tee-shirt of thirty years vintage, that I still wear sometimes. But I'm doubtful that economics is the main reason for deforestation; I'd say it is mainly the corrupt politics. Which is fed by money, yes, but that's different. If you want to solve problems you need to get the right analysis.

What is actually going to solve the problem? Certainly not physical scientists spouting off about economics and politics. I grow hopeful that solar photovoltaics will be important. One barrier to these is the idiot Trump administration's tariffs on Chink panels; the solution to which is Free Trade; which all people of Good Will are in favour of... right? Oh.


Runaway tipping elements of no return (2007).
Why Liberal Media Need Conservative Columnists.
* Engine summer.


1. These two statements are not contradictory. "neoliberal economics" is generally used as a term of disapprobation by the "progressives", but that's about as far as an agreed definition goes. To my surprise, "site:mustelid.blogspot.com neoliberal" returns no hits. Over at wordpress, I find myself taking the piss out of someone called "Paul Mason" for writing By neoliberalism I mean the global capitalist system shaped around a core of neoliberal practices and institutions, which is the sort of thing I'd expect WS to write.

2. At last, the maestro writes: Steffen nonsense.


PaulS said...

OT, but on a popular subject for you: Have you noticed the European carbon price has trebled in the past 12 months? After declining since 2009 and being flat since 2011. Looks like a big recent increase in demand for burning fossil fuels. Must be that neoliberal economy kicking into gear.

Phil said...

So what is the future like?


"The concern is that the consequences of rapidly rising atmospheric CO2 levels can be expected to be similar: ocean acidification, oxygen depletion of the oceans, hydrogen sulphide poisoning and disruption of food chains through the killing off of photosynthesisers in the ocean.

Studies of ancient mass extinctions such as the one at the end-Triassic inform us of the possible consequences of our own CO2 crisis."

Tom said...

Have you corresponded recently with MT on this subject?

Tom said...

Well, I am getting somewhat weary of trotting out my 'famous' Lukewarmer List of Solutions (modest carbon tax, tech transfer, Fast Mitigation... etc.).

So let's talk about solar, since you mentioned it. It has been growing rapidly from a very small base. If we assume the global rate of growth slows as the technology matures and something close to saturation of the easiest markets happens, we would expect growth rates to decline to something around 10% per annum. If the solar market can maintain that level of growth, by about 2075 we won't really need anything else to keep the lights turned on.

We'll still want fossil fuels for air and sea transportation. But solar to date is really the story of the lilies on the pond, the grains of rice on the chessboard.

Hence the real, if somewhat unlikely, goal for those concerned most about climate change is to insure that the enabling technologies for solar (smart grids, storage) get adequate support.

Hank Roberts said...

One worry about solar PV -- whether people can actually manufacture them successfully. Time will tell.

Phil said...

We have always been at war with Eastasia.


Phil said...

I don't know much about Australian politics. A big shakeup just seems to have happened, and climate policy seems to be the stated reason. Again. Short and random list of sources.




David B. Benson said...

Phil Hays --- I know something of Australian politics. I opine that the issue is more energy policy, with the great increases in electricity prices being a major factor in a country where air conditioning is highly prized.

Obviously that is connected to climate policy but a major factor is that the old coal burning electricity generators are being replaced by wind turbines and solar panels. This is not working out well Down Under.