Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

Scientist Befuddled By Climate Change

Carbon emissions

A scientist, William J Ripple (who he? – Ed) tells us what really needs to be done about climate change. There’s a little phrase in there that should act as a warming. One of those big, red, flashingtopofthecopcar warning signs.

ecological economics

Or, in context:

transitioning to a carbon-free economy using ecological economics,

Ecological economics is that corner of economics that we know doesn’t work. It fails at the most basic level – it insists that economic growth is dependent upon the consumption of resources. As this is something not true – simply not true, it’s a complete error – the rest of the conclusions drawn from it are invalid.

Economic growth is the addition of value. We can even recast this within the language used by ecological economics itself, the difference between quantitative growth and qualitative growth. Standard economics agree that both of these can be growth because they are both the addition of value. Quantitative growth is feeding more stuff through the value addition process. Qualitative growth is adding more value to whatever we’re feeding through that process.

The ecological economics insistence is that we cannot, any longer, have quantitative growth. OK, sure, I think they’re wrong and all that but that’s not the point here. They then go on to insist that qualitative growth is the only thing we can have. Well, OK, again, perhaps I disagree but that’s another matter. The point that is true is that this is still economic growth by the normal economic definitions. We’re adding more value – it’s growth.

This truly is a gross misunderstanding of economics here. For our basic contention in the subject is that we live in a universe of scarce resources. Further, we’d like to decide how those scarce resources are to be allocated in order to maximise human utility over time. Cool. So, now we say that some more resources are limited in supply. OK, how has this changed our basic logical set up? It’s not changed it in the slightest, has it? We’ve just assigned values to some of the components of our societal equation, not changed the equation nor the manipulation of it in any manner.

This logical failure then pollutes everything else said by those who make it. For example:

Finding the solution to this problem is the focus of the World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency report I co-authored last year.

OK, in that report we get this:

Economy
Excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere. We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly. Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.

Population
Still increasing by roughly 80 million people per year, or more than 200,000 per day (figure 1a–b), the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity. There are proven and effective policies that strengthen human rights while lowering fertility rates and lessening the impacts of population growth on GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. These policies make family-planning services available to all people, remove barriers to their access and achieve full gender equity, including primary and secondary education as a global norm for all, especially girls and young women (Bongaarts and O’Neill 2018)

We’ve got to stop pursuing affluence. We’ve also got to constrain fertility and thus population growth. And yet the one thing we know constrains fertility is growing affluence.

All the rich countries already have falling populations baked into the society. We’ve actually solved this problem already – if problem it is.

If you properly understand growth as being adding value – and that’s all it is – then you don’t end up tied in these knots. So, we face more constraints upon the scarce resources we can add value to, or use to add value. Hmm, OK, bit of a bummer but how are we going to continue to add value with this slight tightening of our choices in what we already agree is a universe of scarce resources?

Because economic growth, that expansion of affluence, is how we’re going to reduce fertility, isn’t it?

The important difference here is between environmental economics – studying the environment and our impact upon it using the standard tools and descriptions of economics – and ecological economics – misunderstanding economics in order to screw shit up.

A handy guide. When someone uses the phrase “ecological economics” they’re wrong. The correct reaction to someone doing so is to emit a high, keening, wail until they go away, back to their mother’s basement.

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Total
5
Shares
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
12 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Pat
Pat
4 months ago

Even if his economics were right- I agree with you BTW
The politics are impossible. As with the whole environmental approach it totally ignores what the Chinese are doing, and proposes no measures likely to affect Chinese policy. The Chinese continue to build coal fired power stations. They are plainly seeking affluence. And have reversed their one child policy to encourage more babies, admittedly without much success to date.
Unless and until the Chinese actively go along with the project it will fail utterly.
Unless of course the goal is Chinese hegemony.

Steve
Steve
4 months ago
Reply to  Pat

Add India, add Africa, add anywhere else still to catch up. Stupid is as Stupid does.

Nila24
Nila24
4 months ago
Reply to  Pat

How do we know so much about Chinese and their policies, I wonder. Reading the same old Guardian that is always wrong? Chinese do care about ecology, perhaps increasingly more than we do. The have most EVs in the world already. They restrict new ICE registrations and place a restriction on when can you drive one if you have it. If you read Tim longer you would know that clean air is “luxury goods” and people want more of it as they become richer – as Chinese obviously are. The second effect of becoming richer and not having all your… Read more »

Pat
Pat
4 months ago
Reply to  Nila24

The Chinese currently are building new coal fired power stations at a rate of knots. The Indians aren’t far behind. With no carbon capture or storage, but hopefully better scrubbing for nitrogen and sulphur emissions which cause the actual pollution affecting their cities. The pollution is if anything worse than we experienced in the 1950s. Their CO2 emissions will therefor rise considerably even if the noxious emissions fall. They are a long way from wanting the luxury of pretending to control the climate. I suppose I can forgive you for thinking that such information is available in the Gruaniad, you’re… Read more »

Spike
Spike
4 months ago

“Ecological economics” is misguided on a more basic level: the assumption that economics (which, as a science, tests hypotheses with measurement) is to be subordinated to shifting “ecological” whims, in the source, including “gender equity” (currently, the notion that we have a duty to cross-dressers to play along). Up next, White Supremacy? Ripple may have a degree but he is no scientist.

Spike
Spike
4 months ago
Reply to  Spike

PS — Specifically, asserting that a (faulty) scientific observation is a problem and in fact an emergency, is leaving the realm of science while still wearing your science hat (to shush your adversaries).

MrVeryAngry
MrVeryAngry
4 months ago
Reply to  Spike

“(which, as a science, tests hypotheses with measurement)” Not exactly. Econ not a ‘science’ as in physics say. Econ is testing hypotheses with observation of human action and logic.

But that’s splitting hairs here as ecological economics is not logical. Eco it may be. Econ it ain’t. 

Thomas Knapp
4 months ago

Great piece. Value being subjective, self-perceived “affluence” obviously doesn’t map exclusively to increased resource inputs. The big difference between an inexpensive, but reasonably well-made, pair of sneakers like mine, and an expensive pair of Nikes that some consider a mark of prestige/affluence, isn’t the material inputs, it’s the shape of the swoosh on the side. Environmentalists would likely get more buy-in by emphasizing different subjective valuations — that is, imagining and promoting different versions of “affluence” that get them where they want to go by moving people to buy different (or, yes, less) stuff — than by scolding people for… Read more »

Steve
Steve
4 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Knapp

They can recognise reality when they have to. I remember years ago Greenpeace making the case for oil-fired aircraft carriers, given the USN wasn’t going to give up being the USN. It was actually a good case too.

Snarkus
Snarkus
4 months ago

I am often puzzled by the use of term “excessive extraction”. Who decides what is appropriate ? A group of bureaucrats who have no skin in the game ? Market forces driven by demand ? Add in the non-substitution myth and I see another order to live in poverty and discomfort. No thanks, I did not like my cold childhood.

Boganboy
Boganboy
4 months ago
Reply to  Snarkus

It’s certainly the order to live in poverty and discomfort that I have no time for. Though of course in Brissy it was the heat of summer rather than the cold of winter that was the problem.

Phoenix44
Phoenix44
4 months ago

I want my economic policies to be the best. But since they aren’t, I’m going to change what “best” means.

12
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x