Category Archives: Book reviews

Book review: Limits to Growth, the 30‐year update

Book review: Limits to Growth, the 30‐year update, By Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows

Review by Alex Coulton

The content of the 30 year update is well researched and rich in detail. The scrupulous approach aimed at achieving complete transparency clearly illustrates the boundaries of the arguments and theories advanced. Today we have irrevocable proof that limits to growth do exist; fish stock depletion, hole in the ozone layer, depletion of conventional oil reserves and Climate Change are but a few examples. Whilst reading this book I had a recurring feeling of three scientists, who are tired of repeating themselves, tired of hearing the same criticism and frustrated by the inaction of world’s leadership. Looking back in time, the amazing success of the original publication is made clear by the vehement criticism that is received (Eastin, J & al, 2010; Turner G. 2008; Wendy, B. 1998, Aligica, P.D. 2009). It seems that the critics are split in two categories. Most were based on an incorrect portrayal of the content of the book and revolved around short‐term validation of predictions (Eastin, J & al, 2010). For others, Limits was an attack on the existing paradigm and became a deep ideological struggle.

What was very clear to me was that this book and the World3 model are an exercise in futures studies using predictions based on what the authors perceive as being critical trends. This has often been used by critics to discredit the theories put forth in the book. In response, the authors refute that they make any predictions. Wendy, B (1998) highlights this beautifully: ‘The authors of Limits struggled mightily to objectively justify their conditional predictions even as they denied that they were making predictions’ even though he refers to the original publication, this still holds true today. What is more important to me, and a belief to which I abide, is Wendy, B’s (1998) explanation that validates the use of predictions as a necessary and unavoidable tool in futures studies and that these predictions cannot be taken as factual. ‘To test the accuracy of a prediction by whether or not it turns out to be true is often misleading as an indicator of the validity of a prediction.’ Hence even though the book does make broad predictions these are not to be taken literally. They are an indication of the plausible future; they highlight trends and their possible outcomes. Another common critic is about the choice of boundaries. The highly aggregated nature of the World3 model lumps a lot of parameters in five key categories: population growth, non-renewable resource depletion, industrial output, pollution generation and agricultural output.

Additionally, no effort was made to model other factors such as politics or international relations and for instance makes no allowance for wars, regional or cultural differences. The authors highlight all these ‘caveats’ and the reasons for their decisions in depth. I will pursue my argument along other lines. In Scenario Planning it is critical to identify: the driving forces and the trends that respond to the precise questions that you are exploring (Lindgren, M., Bandhold, H. 2003). This process is limiting, it is not designed to be all encompassing or all knowing, on one hand because that is not possible and on the other because it would make the scenarios too complex to build and communicate. So as system scientists, the Authors and modellers have very astutely and successfully identified key trends and key driving forces in order to explore human growth. I personally support this approach for another reason. Complexity rarely brings clarity; the IPCC’s climate change model is not more able than World3 in predicting the future (even though, as we have seen above, the aim is not to actually predict the future) and the IPCC’s work has come under much criticism as well. By limiting the scope of the World3 parameters that affect our growth the authors have to clearly communicate the notion of exponential growth, and the underlying problems it represents. Foresight, scenario planning and other such techniques are now widely used by government, corporations and institutions and I feel that understand these tools adds a lot of credibility to the Authors’ approach revealing much of the criticism to be nothing more but detraction. This distortion of the Authors’ message by critics as well as proponents was illustrated when ‘Ecologist Paul Ehrlich wagered with economist Julian Simon that, with 1980 as a baseline, by 1990 market prices for cooper, chrome, nickel, tin and tungstend would dramatically increase, while Simon predicted that they would fall. Ehrich lost the wager (…)’ (Eastin, J & al, 2010).

The problem with my ‘world view’ is that although it is closely aligned to ‘Limits to Growth,’ I am very detached from the Authors’ realities and consequently the struggle that they have been involved in over nearly 40 years. Aligica, P.d. (2009) allowed me to gain a better understanding of the ‘competing perspectives’: The bi-polar ideologies held by the Limits to Growth Authors (Neo-Malthusianism movement) and the ‘free market supporters’ amongst who’s ranks Julian Simon’s figures prominently. Aligica, P.D. (2009) states: ‘With it [Limits to Growth] a new tradition was born. And in this respect it is no exaggeration to say that Simon [James] (…) with authors such as Herman, Kahn, created a counter-tradition by reaction systematically to what they considered to be the errors and even fabrications (…).’ Two points are worth highlighting here. The ‘systematic’ nature of the criticism and the reference to traditions. Lines were being drawn in the sand and you were either on one side or the other. Suffice to say that it does not set the scene for an objective analysis of the issue and therefore did not promote a constructive debate. This does great injustice to all the great minds involved. In many ways one could equate the ‘counter-tradition’ as a repeated misinterpretation of the message and vice versa. A positive feedback loop? ‘The limits to growth’ discourse about resources and population has been dominated by the concept of fixity or finiteness of resources (Aligicia, P.D 2009), in this Simon James is correct. The discourse has been dominated by resources limits however; this was only a small part of a much larger message which mostly got lost in the entrenchment. The authors of Limits to Growth do not suggest that humans do not have the creativity to overcome the stated limits (that are more than just resource based) as James suggests, but that within the current system structure they will not have time to overcome these due to the nature of the speed of exponential growth rates and the inherent delays in the system. To put it simply, market penetration of new technologies is measured in decades as does, for example, brokering international agreements to tackle pollution problems. Hence our Authors are indirectly rooting for many of James’ theories by advocating for time for them to prosper. Another key contention surrounds the ‘free market.’ James’s views are again well portrayed by Aligica, P.D (2009): ‘many people resist the idea that markets are the best mode of coordination and social distribution’ and these inadvertently link back to accusations of Marxism. Ironically, Karl Marx’s just so happened to be one of the most vocal critics of Malthus (Schoijet, M., 1999). Our Authors do not dismiss markets as the best mode for coordination and social distribution. Markets are an integral part of their strategy however they were, and still are, incapable of safeguarding us from the relationship between exponential growth rates and system delays that create overshoot. As our Authors highlight, even economists have been clamouring for many years for ‘internalizing the externalities’. Again, we can see that the opposing factions have much more common ground than they themselves perceived or where maybe willing to admit to. Another point of critique was the proposal of a ‘preferable’ future. This is unavoidably a subjective process which in the words of Wendy B (1998), ‘it (Limits to Growth) is an effort to better the human condition, to help create a human future more desirable than the future that probably would occur if humans keep doing what we were then doing.’. This introduction of values into the scientific method was highly criticized by James who says ‘Science, in the measure it deals with facts and nor with values, can hardly decide where there is a case of overpopulation or one of under-population (…) whether the growth rate is too fast or too slow’ Aligica P.d. (2009). It is unlikely that objectivity can ever be reached in the context of social sciences however putting forth a ‘preferable’ future is part of the ‘futures’ exercise (Wendy, B. 1998)!

Finally, Ekins, P. (1992), states ‘one of the most comprehensive rebuttals came from a team at Suisse University’s Science Policy and Research Uni (Cole et al., 1973). They criticised the relationships in Meadows’ model, the assumptions on which model was based and the emphasis on purely physical parameters.’ I would argue that in doing so they inadvertently validated the work of Limits to Growth, a work that did not just attempt to put forth a new vision for the world but to stimulate debate and reflection about how we intended on pursuing our futures. The Suisse team mitigated the limits to growth with ‘exponential increases in available resources (through discovery and recycling) and the ability to control pollution’ (Ekins, P. 1992). Recycling and introducting pollution control measures is vindicating the need to mitigate against uncontrolled growth again, time is the issue. Evolution? The incompatibility of the perceived message of Limits to Growth and the ‘free market’ proponents were brought together in the Brundtland report and the concept of ‘sustainable development.’ In my view the actual message in the 30 year update advocates for just that and so it seems did the original book (even though the terminology did not exist at the time). One could have imagined that this middle ground, a combination of sustainability and development, would settle the matter. This has been far from the truth. The ideological divide was brought into the very definition of ‘Sustainable development’. Schwarz, P.M & al. (2009) do a brilliant job at highlighting these entrenched views whilst Wilson, E.O. (2002) depicts the rift between environmentalists and economists. These deeply entrenched views are well ingrained in society and have been shaping the world of politics since the first publishing of Limits to Growth but are in fact part of a much larger debate.Today the climate change science denialists who dominate the Republican Party in the United States are the latest development in this war. In a recent article entitled Capitalism vs. The Change, Klein, N. (2011) reports that for the Heartland Institute’s president Joseph Bast ‘Climate change is the perfect thing…its the reason why we should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway’ revealing the bigger picture in which this struggle is set.

Concluding remarks.

The first edition of Limits to Growth has had a deep seeded impact on society. On one sidethere has been a gradual shift in society’s perception towards a long term reflection on our actions as the principle of ‘sustainable development’ gains ground. On the other, the rift between the Authors (and their proponents) and their critics could hardly be more dramatic. Klein, N. (2011) highlights this wonderfully in the following sentence: ‘Many of our culture’s most cherished ideas are no longer viable. These are profoundly challenging revelations (…) This is the crucial point to understand: it is not opposition to the scientific facts of climate change that drives denialists but rather opposition to the real world implications of those facts’ and although this is specifically about climate change, the arguments are one and the same. Hence, those who oppose it, oppose it despite the clear and concise argument because they are emotionally predisposed to disliking it even though as we find more and more evidence that limits do exist resistance to change only intensifies. Because of this, the 30 year update completely falls short of its aim although this does not reduce the importance of the Author’s message or their impact on society.

Book review: The Vanishing Face of Gaia, by James Lovelock.

Reviewed by: Rodrigo Sanchez M., November 2011, Cambridge University.

The very word Gaia may be sufficient to scare away prospective readers of this book (Peter Schroeder, Physics today) but make no mistake: This is a scientific book, far from unfounded public opinions and politics driven media debates over climate change, pitifully frequent nowadays.

James Lovelock, 91 years old, is an independent scientist and a lifelong inventor. In 1961 he was engaged with NASA and its program of planetary exploration studying the composition of the Martian atmosphere for detecting life forms. He is the author of more than 200 scientific papers, distributed almost equally among topics in Medicine, Biology, Atmospheric Science and geophysiology. Lovelock was the first to detect the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere, by inventing an electron capture detector back in 1957.

The Gaia theory establishes that earth climate self regulates, and that the biosphere affects and transform the environment, implying that the Earth and all its living forms behave as an integral living being. This implies an extraordinary complex system. This theory places man away form the ownership of the Earth to one of its many species, an uncomfortable position for many.

Nowadays science is divided into sets of well-differentiated and specific disciplines. However, this reductionist approach seems to be not suitable for dealing with complex problems such as climate change. The Earth climate problem in no exception to this approach, and scientist in general seem to lose the sight of the problem as a hole. Consequently, holistic systems science seems to be an emergent era.

Gaia theory complicates specific science elegant explanations and troubles independent scientific territories. Logically, this is an important reason of why this theory has irritated so many scientists and it has taken a long time for recognising it. The author thinks that this delay and the current reductionist approach of science in general, convenient for personal aggrandizement, could bring deadly consequences.

Lovelock makes a call, not to abandon the Cartesian way of thinking that has served the world so well, but to take the integral Gaia science seriously. He believes that the scientific world tends to live on the theory and models, missing good observers as Darwin was. He recognise this branch of science as the most important. Through the reading you will found interesting insights on how scientific theories evolve till becoming generally accepted.

He doesn’t propose a tangible solution to deal with the complexity of the climate change problem, but the value of this work relies in making the important step of uncovering the deficiencies of actual science.

Parables between his ideas, history and personal experience makes this reading easygoing. Nevertheless, the reader wont lose a pleasant tension created by the thought-provoking nature of Lovelock reasoning and proposals. But not everything is idyllic in this book.

In the first chapters the author has a very pessimistic posture over the future of humanity and life on Earth. His harsh posture becomes annoying when you realise that many of his negative predictions are not consistent or unfounded. In fact the authorrecognize that his pessimism is due to counteract the wrong belief of governments and businesses that climate change is easily and profitably reversible. Though his noble intention, this fact becomes a negative point for the book. Although he strongly criticise the credibility of International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, when basing his negativeness he relies on them “IPCC report predicting a lack of water in many parts of the world by 2030”. Also he ventures to predict future climate even on specific pieces of land, after disapproving all current models and methods.

On the other hand Lovelock scares the reader with strong and well founded evidence, for example how the current Earth warming can’t be fully perceived yet, as the heat is mainly absorbed by the fast melting ice poles and the gradual sea temperature rise. But what will happen when there isn’t enough ice on the Earth to absorb the heat excess? A sudden movement to a hot state and bursting temperature rise seems to be very rational.

Lovelock argues for a faster movement towards a hot earth than the IPCC predicts. Through feed back loops, currently ignored by models, climate changes could occur at an astonishing speed, and rush towards hot states. An example of the above is the melting of the ice poles: as they melt, more heat is absorbed by the earth, which at the same time increases the ice melting. He criticizes actual models, as they fail to include this non-linear relationship between variables. Also he point out that observations are not being taken into account as most scientist seems to be sucked into their models. Observers scientists have measured sea level and temperature rising 1.6 and 1.3 times faster than the last IPCC prediction.

Climatology is mainly based on geophysics and geochemistry and climate change models don’t include physiological respond of ecosystems of land and oceans. This omission hides essential feedback loops, leading to incorrect predictions. James brings to mind that climatologist should be modelling Gaia instead of modelling atmospheric physics only.

Lovelock’s negativeness places the world in a situation where policy making should be equally focused on adaptation than in climate change mitigation. But if we are failing to predict the climate of the future, how are we going to plan any adaptation to it? I am more inclined to believe in a gradual process of adaptation in response to unknown changes, as man has done in his migratory history.

As you progress in reading the intentional pessimistic attitude of Lovelock seems to start dissolving together with the repetitive characteristic of his writing. Thus opening space for a rich and wide range of scientific reflection over different elements of the climate change issue, making clear that is much more than mere CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and its related warming. For example: Acidification of the oceans, due to human waste, makes the seas decrease the amount of CO2 that they can absorb, generating another important feedback loop.

In the Eocene epoch (millions of years ago) a geological accident released a huge amount of CO2 in the atmosphere enough to warm the earth up to 8 °C and took around 200,000 years for Gaia to return to the previews state. Geological records suggest that 55 million years ago the Arctic basin was tropical in temperature with abundant vegetation. Fourteen thousand years ago sea level rose 100 meters. Two billions years ago plant population growth produced a massive climate change in the earth by  ́polluting ́ it with Oxygen, condemning anaerobic ecosystems to and underground life. Like plants we could not avoid reaching an overpopulated state, so should we feel guilty?

The facts presented by Lovelock can make the reader question deep preconceptions,

as it happened to me: If we are just a specie in the Gaian auto-regulated system, aren’t our actions and impacts on the environment integral part of Life and a manifestation of its intelligence? The solutions we are planning to take aren’t part of the self-regulative intelligent power of Gaia also. If so, shouldn’t we do what we instinctively think is better and stop worrying? At the end all would be in the hands of Life, or Gaia.

Back to the book, you will find it ‘eyes opening’ in energy matters, as it contains groundbreaking ideas that reveal his quality as a scientist.

No alternative renewable energy source has yet made a significant impact on energy supply. He accuses the attractiveness of this energy sources to be linked with the benefits produced by subsidies and interrelated with the pressure of a fashionable green ideology. He thinks that this same force is responsible for penalizing clean nuclear energy. Subsidies generate more advertisement on still expensive green energy, generating a feedback loop ending in a growing unfounded trust over these solutions. He accuses green energy to be still to premature for mass implementation and affirms that probably it will take at least 10 years of technology and industry development to make a global impact with solar and tidal energy. Lovelock predicts that the wind energy agenda for England will be remembered as the great killer of this century and looks at the green ideology as a blind way of thinking instead of the life saving of the world. Nevertheless, he intelligently thinks of wind power as good energy source for desalinating water, another issue we will have to deal with.

Lovelock accuses a falsehood around Nuclear energy. The latter has been responsible of 100 dead since it’s operating in the world, much less than those caused by the fossil fuel generation industry. He sees wind energy as a weak solution, because its intermittent and it needs a constant back-up, commonly fossil fuel generation, when not producing. He uses this and other evidence to end in a well-founded conclusion that wind energy in the UK should be abandoned in favour of nuclear energy.

The author explores solutions to predicted problems of food scarcity and living space. He goes through some technological dreams as food synthesis from carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water. Not to crazy considering that a similar product, Qourn, is already commercialized in the supermarket. Lovelock dreams of high-tech compact civilizations able to manage global scarcity of food, water and space.

About geoengineering , you will discover its not new. Human became geoengineers as soon as they discovered fire. Plants also have been geoengineering the planet by changing the atmosphere composition since millions of years. However this solution is described as a double-edged sword, as it could be an excuse for continuing business as usual and with very dangerous side effects like ocean acidification due to uncapped CO2 emissions. I share his point of view that we are still to ignorant for using intentional geoengineering, and I aggregate that if we haven’t been able to reach tangible results in international CO2 reductions then why should we think that we could plan a global geoengineering policy?

Considering actual models and its characteristic uncertainty, I don’t share the opinion that geoengineering could serve as a solution to survive until something better is available, as its effects and side effects are impossible to quantify in a Gaian complex system. In 1991 Pinatubo eruption injected enough aerosols into the atmosphere to cool the temperature of the earth by 3 degrees, so at what extent should we plan, or believe we plan our future climate? Time will tell, but I don’t think we have reached enough maturity as specie.

Lovelock recalls that to understand Gaia requires and instinctive familiarity with the

dynamics of systems. Moreover he speaks about the importance of natural intuition, and thinks that we haven’t yet starting to develop the intuition of Gaia because it haven’t been important, till now, to the natural selection of our specie. It seems that our concern for the impact we are causing on the environment has not been honest enough, an as the author affirms, this could be because no consequences are visible yet. Nevertheless, natural catastrophes seem to condensate in time over the last decades.

Powerful statements in line with his holistic approach are expressed towards the end of the book: “We will fail to react correctly to changes and events until we intuitively recognize the Earth as a living organism”. I totally share this point of view, since we seem to have lost the intuition that makes other animals instinctively escape to the hills before a tsunami. Buffaloes, goats, dogs and flamingos don’t play with complex climate models, but were found unharmed in tsunami events where thousands of people perished (National Geographic).

For Lovelock, the modest experience of learning the old names of flowers from the farmland where he grew was a fundamental catalyst to develop this intuition, which goes beyond numbers.  ̈ We have the intelligence to begin to expand our minds to understand life, the universe and ourselves….but are quite unable to live with one another or with our living planet. ̈ (E.O Wilson).

Finally Lovelock goes farther than you could think, suggesting deep questionings as: What separates an illusion from what we perceive as reality in our minds? In this way, reminding us that our impression of the world is limited to what mind makes with what it gets from our senses.

Totally recommendable reading if you want to understand the climate change problem and its implications from a scientific point of view, and form your own informed opinion. Considering that we completely depend in natural systems, that we are depleting natural resources at a higher rate than they recover and that population is growing day by day. I recommend this book for all backgrounds.

If we are intrinsically part of Gaia, does anthropogenic climate changes exist elsewhere than in our minds? Should we feel proud if being able to win our imaginary battle versus climate change, stealing from the self-regulatory intelligence of Life? Has the life of Gaia an intrinsic finality? Find your own answers and enjoy the reading.

The Green Paradox: Programme for an Illusion-Free Climate Policy

Hans-Werner Sinn (2008), Das grüne Paradoxon: Plädoyer für eine issusionsfreie Klimapolitik (The Green Paradox: Programme for an Illusion-Free Climate Policy), Berlin: Econ

Reviewed by Ray Galvin

Cambridge University

ray.galvin@gmx.de

Most of the literature on climate change mitigation explores what can broadly be termed ‘demand-side’ solutions. These aim to reduce global demand for fossil fuels by improving energy efficiency, generating renewable energy, or changing consumerbehaviour. It is assumed that each tonne of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) saved through such means will follow through into a tonne less CO2e emitted worldwide, and that even if only a minority of countries reduce their CO2e emissions, or even if yours is the only country to do so, this will make a difference to climate change. Every little bit helps.

Hans-Werner Sinn is one of a small number of academics who disagree. The only way to guarantee a reduction in CO2e emissions from fossil fuels, he argues, is to proactively keep them in the ground, or at least drastically reduce their extraction rate.Since by far the major portion of global CO2e emissions comes from the burning of fossil fuels, restricting their supply – the amount that can be extracted – should be the focus of our climate change mitigation endeavours.

Sinn has strong credentials as one of Germany`s leading economists. Professor of economics at Munich`s LMU and President of the German Institue for Economic Research, his contributions have covered topics such as the theory of economic risk, business cycle theory, and the efficient allocation of economic resources. Though speaking from a broadly orthodox basis, he parts company with both mainstream and radical-green thinkers on the key question of what is useful and what is a hindrance to genuine climate change mitigation.

The core of Sinn`s argument for supply-side climate change mitigation was presented in English, in heavily mathematical form, in International Tax and Public Finance1.A sketchy account may be found in his speech to the 8th Munich Economic Summit, Climate and Energy: Right Goals, Wrong Approach?2 But it is in this 470 page book, Das grüne Paradoxon (The Green Paradox) that the details of his argument are fleshed out and expressed in language that non-economists can easily follow.

There are three main pillars to Sinn´s argument. The first concerns the psychology and business economics of ownership of fossil fuel resources; the second the business habits of fossil fuel consumers; and the third the realistic limitations of technical solutions to climate change mitigation.

Firstly, he argues, owners of fossil fuel reserves generally want to maximise their long-term profits. Since their extraction costs are just a few percent of their selling price, they can drop the price so as to increase their sales to ecological ‘sinners’whenever a green-minded country reduces its demand by increasing its energy efficiency or its supply of renewable energy. Hence, demand reductions by greenminded OECD countries do not translate into one-to-one supply reductions. They are highly likely to be partially or even completely offset (depending on the elasticity of demand) by increased demand as the price falls.

Further, this is exacerbated by the business psychology inherent in ownership of fossil fuel reserves. If owners foresee a future where more and more countries will gradually go green, and fear that at some future date (such as the oft-mentioned 2050) they will have no markets for their fuels, good business sense tells them to sell as much as they can as early as they can, to avoid being left with useless stocks in a few decades` time.This is exactly the reverse of what the climate needs, yet, Sinn argues, it is just what current polices are causing.

The only solution, says Sinn, is to effectively ambush the owners of fossil fuel reserves with a sudden, enforceable pact among all countries to reduce their demand on a strictly, globally agreed trajectory. Only a certain amount of fossil fuel, based on the tonnage of CO2e it would produce, would be permitted to be extracted each year, and this would diminish, year by year, on a clearly defined path. Reserve owners would have no choice but to follow this path. An international controlling body – Sinn suggests the UN – would distribute permits to countries on an agreed basis, and their governments could auction them, or in some other way distribute them, to their consumers. Like the current EU carbon certificates, they would be internationally tradeable, but unlike the EU certificates they would cover all fossil fuel.

Two important consequences would follow. Firstly, the price of fossil fuels would fall, as reserve owners competed with each other for sales in the diminishing market. Consumers, of course, would pay more overall, as they would have to compete among each other for the certificates. But governments would reap a windfall from the auctioning of the certificates, and this money could be distributed to offset hardship to low income people due to rising fuel prices. Secondly, fossil fuels would be locked up in the ground, to be extracted gradually over whatever time span was deemed safe for the climate. Owners of fuel reserves would have a lower income, but one that would last far longer into the future, than the current situation allows.

The second strand of Sinn’s argument concerns the business habits of fossil fuel consumers, or at least those he calls the ‘sinners’ – the USA, China, and all other countries that have either not participated in the Kyoto process or were exempt from its restrictions. Because, currently, there are no restrictions in these countries as to how much fossil fuel one may buy or consume, the law of supply and demand operates freely here. If the international price falls due, say, to German or British successes in reducing their demand, the sinners can get cheaper fuel and so will buy more. Their increased demand puts upward pressure on the price, until an equilibrium is again reached. The net effect is that global fossil fuel usage is not reduced, or hardly reduced at all. Of course, there are many other factors influencing the day-today price of fossil fuels, but the most significant dynamic is ever-increasing demand as developing countries industrialise.

It follows that under the current global regime, all the efforts being put into technological and regulatory solutions to fossil fuel demand in the developed countries are, in Sinn`s view, no use at all in combating climate change.

The third strand of Sinn`s argument concerns these technological and regulatory measures. For example, in a cogently argued chapter (pp. 204-251) he takes issue with biofuels. Using well-sourced date he argues that these produce almost as much, if not as much, CO2e as they save. Further, they compete with food production for arable land and agricultural resources. For the first time in history, he points out, the price of basic foodstuffs is now directly coupled to the price of fossil fuel. It is not merely that food growing requires fossil fuel for tractors and fertiliser. It is that a particular set of agricultural resources (land, fertiliser, expertise) can now be used interchangeably for either food or fuel production. The world’s poor now have to compete with the rich countries’ petrol tanks for their daily bread. This will get worse if policymakers continue to pursue biofuels as a means to combat climate change.

In a further section (pages 297-304) Sinn challenges the view that carbon capture and storage is a valid demand-side alternative. Assuming it works and can be madeeconomically viable, the obvious problem is disposing of the enormous volumes of liquefied CO2 it produces. For coal power this is 5 times as much volume as the fuel burnt; for oil 3 times as much. It cannot be stored near populated areas because if it leaks on a windless day it can asphyxiate everyone in low-lying areas. It must be held secure for hundreds of thousands of years because, unlike nuclear waste, it never decays. The idea that we can safely store the gargantuan volumes of CO2 our power stations will produce over the next few hundred years is, Sinn argues, simply fantastical.

Sinn contrasts this with nuclear energy, where the most advanced reactors produce relatively small volumes of waste, which needs to be kept secure for tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands of years.

In further chapters he takes issue with Germany’s penchant for renewable energy, particularly wind turbines and solar photovoltaics. In Germany the feed-in tarrif requires power companies to buy all this energy, and at high prices set by regulation.But wind power is so unreliable and out of synch with consumer demand that its real market value is tiny, and when the wind blows at the wrong time power companies often have to pay other countries to take it. Meanwhile, photovoltaics produce minuscule amounts of energy for the billions of euros of subsidy poured into them annually. A country that relied on these sources for its electricity would have a substandard system that could never support a modern industrial economy.

The irony, as Sinn sees it, is that so much of today’s climate policy is doing nothing tosave the climate. It is severely misdirected. The only way to mitigate climate damage due to fossil fuel consumption is to act directly to keep the fossil fuels in the ground.

What is especially important about this book is that, even if Sinn’s economic arguments turn out to be wrong, his basic idea still stands. The argument can be set out as a syllogism:

1. The burning of fossil fuels is a sufficient condition to cause dangerous climate change;

2. The extraction of fossil fuels is a necessary condition for them to be burnt;

3. All fossil fuels that are extracted are subsequently burnt.

4. Hence, the extraction of fossil fuels is also a sufficient condition for them to be burnt.

5. THEREFORE: The extraction of fossil fuels is both a necessary and a sufficient condition to cause dangerous climate change.

In other words, we will only arrest climate change if we keep fossil fuels in the ground, or at least control their rate of extraction to suit what the climate can manage.Regardless of what we think of the effect, on global fossil fuel demand, of OECD countries reducing their own demand, arresting climate change is guaranteed if we act directly and successfully to keep fossil fuels in the ground. It would seem sensible, then, to direct all our policy efforts toward this goal. This is the challenge Sinn leaves us with.

Reponse to Lomborg ‘Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming’

Some Reviews of Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming by Bjorn Lomborg (Knopf/Cyan-Marshall Cavendish: 2007. 272 pp./256 pp. $21/£19.99)

Partha Dasgupta’s Review on Bjorn Lomoborg: Available in Nature, Vol 449|13 September 2007

Kevin Watkins’s review
http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=9810

Eban Goodstein’s review
“The place is somewhere in Turkey, 5,200 years ago. Noah has just gotten word about an upcoming episode of abrupt climate change, and he and his family are hard at work building an ark. The plan is to take on board mating pairs of every living thing of all flesh, every creeping thing of the ground, in order, as God put it, to keep them alive.

Up walks a man who introduces himself as an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School. He says, “Noah, you have to stop. We’ve run the numbers and they don’t add up. I agree that there may be a few days of rain, but if you really want to help future generations, don’t build the ark. Grow the economy!”

http://www.salon.com/books/review/2007/08/29/cool_it/index_np.html