From the “climate change is the greatest” file we hear that the measures needed to combat climate change, far from bringing pain, open up a whole new world of prosperity and human fulfilment. Again. This time from the University of Sydney, or so the byline claims, writing in SciTech Daily. The idea here being that far from allowing us to continue to prosper without fossil fuels, alternative energy will allow us to realize prosperity stank anyway. Like the sort of person who says “Correctly solving climate change means dismantling all the systems of oppression that caused it in the first place. It’s not a matter of choosing between say, Black lives matter or Climate Justice. Climate Justice is black lives matter.” Which was a Film & TV undergrad at NYU, incidentally, so pretty much a climate scientist.
Supposedly “SciTechDaily offers the best intelligent, informed science and technology coverage and analysis you can find on a daily basis, sourcing a huge range of great writers and excellent research institutes.” But we’re not totally sold on the basis of this piece, in which the U of S managed to put the matter in language not even a computer could love, though to be fair at least it’s not childlike in its simplicity. “The first comprehensive comparison of ‘degrowth’ scenarios with established pathways to limit climate change highlights the risk of over-reliance on carbon dioxide removal, renewable energy, and energy efficiency to support continued global growth — which is assumed in established global climate modeling.”
Translated into English, it means those people promising we can ditch fossil fuels and not get poor are peddling moonshine. But luckily getting poor would make us happier. Turns out we didn’t need all that stuff anyway. Aka “You’ll own nothing. And you’ll be happy.” But it won’t be delivered by a drone.
The masterminds behind this vision seem to be “Mr. Lorenz Keyßer, from ETH Zürich whose Master’s thesis is on degrowth” and doesn’t even have his MSc yet and “global leader in carbon footprinting Professor Manfred Lenzen, from the University of Sydney’s center for Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) in the School of Physics” who has a PhD in nuclear physics. (So all together now: “You’re not a climate scientist”.) And Keysser says ““Our simple model shows degrowth pathways have clear advantages in many of the central categories; it appears to be a significant oversight that degrowth is not even considered in the conventional climate modeling community.”
Oversight is one word for it. Shtum is another. Because if people were told that in fact the Green New Deal means a massive drop in living standards it might cause controversy. But these authors think it should not.
Once again we find ourselves in a world where all utilities are maximized simultaneously, if not exactly the way we expected. Thus “A ‘degrowth’ society could include:/ A shorter working week, resulting in reduced unemployment alongside increasing productivity and stable economic output./ Universal basic services independent of income, for necessities i.e. food, health care, transport./ Limits on maximum income and wealth, enabling a universal basic income to be increased and reducing inequality, rather than increasing inequality as is the current global trend.” See we work less and get more; forget that nonsense about “the sweat of your brow”.
This vision reverses the Fall. And brings in communism: naturally “a just, democratic and orderly degrowth transition would involve reducing the gap between the haves and have-nots, with more equitable distribution from affluent nations to nations where human needs are still unmet — something that is yet to be fully explored.” So you’ll own nothing. And it will be redistributed. Opening up a whole new era of meaningful existence.
Man. Makes you glad climate change came along so we could all stop thinking having stuff we earned would make us happier than being dependent on handouts to subsist.
It’s worth noting that two professors in Maclean’s warned recently that by contrast “Climate action is going to create too many jobs”. Apparently not aware of Henry Hazlitt’s point that increasing the amount of work necessary to have any given amount of stuff is a sign of getting poorer not richer: “Why should freight be carried from New York to Chicago by railroads when we could employ enormously more men, for example, to carry it all on their backs?”. Or, indeed, simply by taxing gasoline until it becomes unaffordable for trucks.)
So there is an important truth lurking somewhere in this very dry version of the Whole Earth Catalogue: the orthodox prescription for an energy transition without pain is built on sand. Aka “The over-reliance on unprecedented carbon dioxide removal and energy efficiency gains means we risk catastrophic climate change if one of the assumptions does not materialize; additionally, carbon dioxide removal shows high potential for severe side-effects, for instance for biodiversity and food security, if done using biomass. It thus remains a risky bet.”
You ain’t fooling. For instance California is now asking people to use less energy from 4:00 to 9:00 PM because, well, the wind and solar can’t cope. “From 4 to 9PM, energy demand is high, and less wind and solar power is available. By using less electricity during these hours, you can ensure that your energy is coming from cleaner sources.” Uh, that’d be your lack of energy, wouldn’t it? Given that the heading on this advice is “Power Down 4 to 9PM”. And who does anything power-intensive from afternoon to evening, other than barbarians who cook dinner, do laundry or use entertainment systems?
You’d think it was obvious. Especially after the Deputy Secretary-General of China’s National Development and Reform Commission recently blurted out “Because renewable energy (sources such as) wind and solar power are intermittent and unstable, we must rely on a stable power source.” But people can be very stubborn about cherished beliefs; hence NBC recently blamed the spate of carbon monoxide poisonings in Texas during the ice storm not on the failure of renewable energy that drove people to try to coax heat out of cars or charcoal grills, or the failure to predict cold weather due to endless talk of global warming, but to the state’s failure to mandate CO alarms (and racism).
So if we follow the advice of apostles of the Green New Deal like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, who we suspect is on her 13th minute of fame or so, we will end up somewhere very different from where we are, but also very different from where they say we’ll end up. Which is worth knowing, and even writing in English.
One gets the impression that these people think the wealth of wealthy people is just a number with a lot of zeroes in a bank account somewhere, so all you have to do to redistribute it more fairly is shift some zeroes to people who have none. Presto! Problem is, real wealth is almost entirely tied up in productive resources: plant & equipment, railroads & trucks, computers & servers, farm land & fishing boats, etc. Before you can redistribute it, you have to teach the poor how to use it and manage it, or else it will just go idle and everyone loses. But that's what we already do: we educate people so that their labour is more productive, and if they are prudent they can acquire more capital resources to use and manage. Isn't that how Bill Gates and Warren Buffet got so rich in the first place?
Economics in one sentence: Wealth is created when, and only when, resources are shifted to higher-valued uses.