Tuesday, December 29, 2009

DK elsewhere: the costs of slowed development

I found this post about the CRU documents on Luke Marsden's blog, and also found a commenter who advocated slowing our technological advance.
So what if we turned out to have less energy resources than we had hoped for the next 20 years , do we really need to develop as fast as we do ? If we play it safe we literaly have all the time in the world so whats the rush ?

Naturally, I couldn't resist leaving a reply.
So what if we turned out to have less energy resources than we had hoped for the next 20 years , do we really need to develop as fast as we do ? If we play it safe we literaly have all the time in the world so whats the rush ?

We in the Developed World have no particular rush, no. But, for those in the Developing World, more energy means fewer dead people. In just one example, more electricity means more fridges; more fridges mean more vaccines can be stored, and for longer; more and longer-lasting vaccines mean better immunisation programmes; better immunisation programmes mean fewer dead people.

Now, if you turn around and say to me, "who cares. They're only ignorant Africans," then I shall have a modicum of respect for your honesty. If that isn't your view—and I would hope that it is not—then you need to go away and rethink how all of this energy doesn't just make a comfortable life for us here in the West, but also how it can save millions of lives elsewhere.

You might not be in any hurry, but then it isn't you or your family dying of entirely preventable diseases for want of the energy to run a fridge.


This is a crucial point that too few people—pampered as we are in the West—seem to appreciate: every delay in advancement, every throttling back of energy production, every penny put onto the cost of electricity means more dead people—and these are deaths that needn't have occurred.

There is a human cost beyond being able to leave your TV on standby all night.

The stupid thing is that even if anthropogenic climate change is occurring, the measures that we are currently adopting are not the only ones—or even the best ones—recommended by the IPCC. The IPCC SRES A1 family of scenarios are arguably far more plausible than the A2 or B2 families (which our politicians are currently adopting)—and, in my opinion, they are certainly more desirable. [Emphasis mine.]
The A1 storyline is a case of rapid and successful economic development, in which regional average income per capita converge - current distinctions between "poor" and "rich" countries eventually dissolve. The primary dynamics are:
  • Strong commitment to market-based solutions.

  • High savings and commitment to education at the household level.

  • High rates of investment and innovation in education, technology, and institutions at the national and international levels.

  • International mobility of people, ideas, and technology.

You can see why our (still) hidebound and power-greedy governments may not like this scenario, can't you? And yet it is surely the scenario—embracing, as it does, both economic globalisation and global co-operation—that is the most plausible (in that economic globalisation is happening at a great rate) and the most desirable (in that we aren't wasting energy and money in killing each other)?
The transition to economic convergence results from advances in transport and communication technology, shifts in national policies on immigration and education, and international cooperation in the development of national and international institutions that enhance productivity growth and technology diffusion.

In the A1 scenario family, demographic and economic trends are closely linked, as affluence is correlated with long life and small families (low mortality and low fertility). Global population grows to some nine billion by 2050 and declines to about seven billion by 2100. Average age increases, with the needs of retired people met mainly through their accumulated savings in private pension systems.

The increase and then inevitable decline in population is something that I have highlighted for all of you Malthusian fantasists out there...
The global economy expands at an average annual rate of about 3% to 2100, reaching around US$550 trillion (all dollar amounts herein are expressed in 1990 dollars, unless stated otherwise). This is approximately the same as average global growth since 1850, although the conditions that lead to this global growth in productivity and per capita incomes in the scenario are unparalleled in history. Global average income per capita reaches about US$21,000 by 2050. While the high average level of income per capita contributes to a great improvement in the overall health and social conditions of the majority of people, this world is not necessarily devoid of problems. In particular, many communities could face some of the problems of social exclusion encountered in the wealthiest countries during the 20 th century, and in many places income growth could produce increased pressure on the global commons.

Energy and mineral resources are abundant in this scenario family because of rapid technical progress, which both reduces the resources needed to produce a given level of output and increases the economically recoverable reserves. Final energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) decreases at an average annual rate of 1.3%. Environmental amenities are valued and rapid technological progress "frees" natural resources currently devoted to provision of human needs for other purposes. The concept of environmental quality changes in this storyline from the current emphasis on "conservation" of nature to active "management" of natural and environmental services, which increases ecologic resilience.

Doesn't this sound like a decent world to live in? Everyone gets richer (including the Developing Nations) to the point at which the concepts of rich and poor are almost eliminated, the environment is protected and people live both longer and healthier lives. It is certainly the most attractive of the scenarios, to my mind: read the A2 and B1 scenarios and B2 scenarios too.

I must stress that these aren't some bullshit that I have invented: these are the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios. I must further stress that these are not mere sidelined curiosities either: all of the predictions of what will happen to the planet up till 2010 are built off these SRES story lines.

For me, personally, the issue of whether AGW is actually occurring is, obviously, a subject of heated debate. But regardless of the science, these SRES models have been assembled to provide realistic option models of human progression.

Now, I happen to believe that the A1 family are the best scenarios that we could choose from these. Which is why it is the A1 family—those scenarios based on free trade, peaceful co-operation and technological advances—that the UK Libertarian Party adopted as policy from the party's inception.

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