Get ready for a massive renewable energy boom


Renewables will be the fastest growing source of energy between now and 2040, according to new projections from the Energy Information Administration.

The EIA forecasts that from 2012 to 2040, solar, wind, and geothermal production will nearly double, rising 97 percent. The next closest projection is for natural gas, which is expected to grow 56 percent.

Of course, renewables make up a small proportion of global power generation. So even after all that growth, renewables are estimated to account for a measly 3.8 percent of total energy production in 2040, compared with 38 percent for natural gas.

But this is actually an extremely conservative estimate. Renewables — and especially solar — aren’t really like other energy sources. Non-renewables are energy-rich fuels, but there is only a finite supply in the ground. This means that prices are unpredictable and subject to large spikes that badly damage the economy, as occurred in the 1970s and the 2000s.

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Is Global Warming a Blessing in Disguise?

This is highly speculative analysis, but looking at the most recent climate data, I can’t help but think that this is more evidence that anthropogenic global warming is averting an ice age:

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There can be no doubt that in recent years that there has been a large uptick in temperature, probably related to the sharp uptick in carbon dioxide levels. Temperatures have returned to levels last seen during the peak of the most recent interglacial period, 6,000 to 8,000 years ago Analysis by climate scientists has tended to focus on the disruptive effects that this may have — sea level rise, glacier loss, drought, etc.  What’s striking about the extended timeframe data, however, is the gradual downward slope over the last 6000 years — the Earth’s climate was changing in the opposite direction when humans began offsetting this by burning fossil fuels. It does not seem unreasonable, given the evidence of a longer-term glaciation cycle, that had humans not started to emit massive quantities of greenhouse gases, that the cooling trend would have continued. Burning fossil fuels seems to have had a powerful countercylical effect.

Falling temperatures and increased glaciation may have made it very difficult for human civilisation to continue to progress. The fossil record suggests humanity has existed in various forms for four million years, and there is evidence that non-anthropogenic climate change — including glaciation — has been a disruptive force in the past. So it seems increasingly likely to me that the countercylical climactic effects of the industrial revolution may have been supportive to the continued existence of human civilisation. Furthermore, had the anthropogenic emissions occurred at a different time — say, during a time of cyclical warming — the probability of catastrophic effects may have been much higher, because the effects would have been cumulative. That doesn’t mean that the current trend may not have catastrophic effects in the long run, especially if emissions and greenhouse gas levels continue to grow.

I look forward to decreasing reliance on fossil fuels, and decreased carbon emissions. As solar power and nuclear power (etc) become cheaper and more efficient (inevitably eclipsing fossil fuels, whose extractable quantities are naturally limited) carbon emissions should gradually decrease. Given that we have already experienced significant countercylical warming, that is probably a good thing. Indeed, we may have gone too far already, and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (perhaps even to pre-industrial levels) may be necessary. But given the pre-existing trend of falling temperatures, we must take seriously the possibility that anthropogenic global warming has averted big problems.

Environmentalism & the One Child Policy

Could you accept a One Child Policy in America, or your home country?

That’s the suggestion of Roger Short :

As Global Warming makes its presence increasingly felt all around the world, more and more people are beginning to accept it as a reality. But there remains a major credibility gap; people have yet to draw the obvious conclusion that since Global Warming is the result of human activities, too many people will only exacerbate the problem. Thus, the developed world must curb its profligate use of non-renewable energy and the developing world its exponential population growth, if we are to arrest Global Warming in the years to come.

Although [the One Child Policy] has been condemned by most of the Western world for denying couples their reproductive freedom, it has had spectacular benefits for China as a whole. Not only did it halve the birth rate, but there were amazing reductions in maternal and infant mortality. With excellent availability of Chinese-made oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, no-scalpel vasectomies and condoms, and safe back-up aspiration abortion, China has led by example. If only India, or Pakistan, or Nigeria, or even the United States could follow suit, the world would breathe more easily in future.

The trouble is — once we get beyond the brooding apocalypticism — there is a raft of evidence that anthropogenic global warming — historically, from agriculture, and more recently from industry — has had a flurry of benefits.

From the BBC:

Human emissions of carbon dioxide will defer the next Ice Age, say scientists.

The last Ice Age ended about 11,500 years ago, and when the next one should begin has not been entirely clear.

Researchers used data on the Earth’s orbit and other things to find the historical warm interglacial period that looks most like the current one.

In the journal Nature Geoscience, they write that the next Ice Age would begin within 1,500 years – but emissions have been so high that it will not.

Now, staving off the threat of huge glaciation broadly looks like a good thing. And if we absolutely need to reduce CO2 emissions  — just high enough to prevent another ice age, just low enough to prevent a runaway spiral of global warming — then surely there are much, much better ways to stabilise the CO2 levels in the atmosphere than forcibly reducing population. Carbon-scrubbing trees are one viable solution. Another is biochar. So too is reforestation, and urban forestation.


And if we do ultimately require legislation, surely a law to enforce tree-planting is preferable to a law that obliterates reproductive freedom — surely the most basic of human rights?

Not to mention the various benefits of a higher human population. More people means more potential output — both in economic terms, as well as in terms of ideas. Simply, the more people on the planet, the more hours and brainpower we can put into inventing and producing cleaner technologies. After all, the expansion of human capacity was precisely how humanity overcame the short-sighted and foolish apocalypticism of Thomas Malthus who wrongly predicted an imminent population crash in the 19th century.

Those calling for One Child Policies are simply suffering from a lack of imagination, and an astonishing naiveté. America’s drug laws have disproportionately affected ethnic minorities — four times as many blacks are jailed than whites for drug offences, even though whites use illegal drugs just as much as blacks. Can we honestly expect that a One Child Policy would not be applied in just as racist a way as the drug laws, and just as racist a way as America’s eugenics laws once were? After all, China’s rich and her political insiders routinely flout the One Child Policy. Wouldn’t an American one child policy just be an assault on the reproductive rights of the poor and ethnic minorities?

Yes — we should think about the manner in which we interact with and impact upon our environment. But more restrictions on freedom are not the answer — technology and development is the answer.

The Shape of Global Parasitism

A couple of days ago Buttonwood over at The Economist touched on my favourite topics: the growth of the Western service industry, the death of Western manufacturing, and the deep interconnectedness of the global economic system. His hook was that most claims of parasitism are at best not-straightforward, and at worst are unfounded. From The Economist:

Are all manufactured goods intrinsically superior to services? Would you rather have a wig or a haircut? Just as there is only so much food we can healthily consume, there is only so much physical stuff we need. We have service-dominated economies because people like to consume services from TV programmes through video games to leisure activities like eating out. When General Motors sells a car, the chances are that it is selling it to someone who works in the services sector; so who is the parasite in this situation?

At the national level, we can say that most countries cannot produce all the things they need (or at least desire). Britain, for example, needs food from abroad. So it needs industries that can export stuff in order to generate the earnings that pay for imports. Here the bankers start to look a lot more valuable; Britain’s invisible earnings from financial services are highly valuable.

A more realistic question might be “would I rather have a factory making hair clippers, or a cabal of lawyers, financiers and bureaucrats who readily declare themselves too-big-to-fail and hose themselves down in taxpayers’ liquidity?”

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