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Chapter Nine - What is Meant by a Low Carbon Economy?

The term low-carbon (and net-zero) economy is used often by politicians and has gained common parlance but what do we mean by it?  In its simplest, it is an economy less reliant on fossil fuels for energy.  A low-carbon economy will not simply be an economy powered by wind turbines, nuclear power stations and solar panels, with electric cars and high-speed trains, but will be vastly different from  the one of today with new social norms (such as in our attitude towards travel) and technologies deployed (whether traditional or futuristic) to reduce our carbon-based energy use.  A net-zero economy is one where there is also some carbon sequestration.  And to give the reader some idea of the challenge ahead, the World Resources Institute has stated that all buildings must be net zero carbon by 2050... but fewer than 1% are today.  Alternatively, achieving net zero carbon globally by 2050 is the equivalent of building one new nuclear power plant every day for the next 3 decades!

Much has…
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Chapter Eight - Drawdown

Technology and Innovation

Technology, as we have seen, has played a critical role in shaping the modern world, paticularly in the last 250 years.  It has been central to our enjoying continued economic growth over that period; raising enormously our standards of living.  We do, however, require continued innovation to help solve the climate crisis.  Not only do we need to deploy existing technologies but also we need to invent new ones.

It is important, therefore, to ensure that technology advancement continues.  We cannot allow the economy to stagnate.  We need continued incentives for entrepreneurs to innovate and bring products to market.

The view now is that technology and innovation are realised within systems where there is also an active government intervention.  They cannot be left to markets alone although markets remain a powerful force.  Since we need to accelerate the process of innovation, we should focus our resources to create such an environment.  The U.K. government, …

Chapter Seven - The Need For Technology To Fill The Gap

Naturally, examining the issue of population reduction is contentious - and very probably unrealistic. It is  not even entirely clear whether or not it would be successful since selecting the 'victims' would be a very difficult choice to make.  As history has shown, wars, pandemics and other social ills would not kill in sufficient numbers to 'solve' the climate crisis.  A global war followed by a  worldwide pandemic on a scale of The Black Death might approximate but the randomness of those affected could disrupt severely the functioning of civilisation and might even propel us into a new Dark Age where technologies are abandoned.  We cannot afford for this to happen.

A more humane approach to population number is to assume that the central U.N. projections of 0%p.a. for the West and 0.8%p.a. for the R.O.W. remain unassailable although by 2050 the total population figure could be 1bn less as a result of education and family planning measures.  We must, therefore, rev…

Chapter Six - Population Reduction

It is hard to imagine what events would kill off large segments of the population (P in The Kaya Identity).  Many people think that war would be one solution but in fact this has killed relatively few in the past.  World War I, for example, accounted for over 16 million deaths (10m military and 7m civilians) while World War II resulted in 70-85 million casualties (about 3% of the then 1940 world population of 2.3bn).

Leading Causes of Death

New diseases, surprisingly, also kill relatively few.  HIV has so far accounted for 70 million infections (mostly in sub-Saharan Africa) with 35 million deaths.  In 2018 this equated to 770,000 deaths.  Tuberculosis killed 1.6 million.  Influenza 646,000.  Malaria 435,000 each year with a predominance of children, which has motivated the Bill Gates Foundation to focus on this disease.  Poliomyelitis killed 350,000 in 1988 but today accounts for very few mortalities despite its reemergence.  Smoking, the cause of multiple diseases, kills 8 million e…

Chapter Five - The Relationship Between Economic Growth And Climate Change

To examine the relationship between economic growth and climate change we need to return to the Kaya Identity introduced in Chapter 1.  The two are related insofar as, unless low or zero carbon technologies are promoted, carbon emission reduction means economic growth constraint.

Global CO2 emissions disaggregated
Victor (2008), a Canadian environmental economist, divided the world into high income countries (HIC) and medium/low income countries (MIC/LIC) (roughly equivalent to the Annex A and non-Annex A countries of the Kyoto Protocol (1997)) or, for simplicity, the West and Rest Of the World (ROW) and used World Bank data to populate the following tables for historic average changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations and related variables for the period 1972-2002.  He considered the key variables of CO2, Population, GDP/Capita, Energy/GDP and CO2/Energy.  In Table 5.1, the percentages refer to the amount the variable has increased or decreased per annum.
Table 5.1: Global CO2 emissio…

Chapter Four - Economic Growth

Definition

Economic growth (which is G or g in the Kaya Identity), is defined as the increase per capita of gross domestic product (GDP).  It is, typically, reported as the annual change in real GDP; that is allowing for inflation.

Components

Economic growth is driven primarily by improvements in productivity; essentially the ability to produce more goods and services with the same inputs of labour, capital, energy and materials aided by technology advancements.

Short-run vs. Long-run

Economists distinguish between short-term economic stabilisation (the business cycle) and long-term economic growth.  The long-run path of economic growth is one of the central questions in economics since increases in GDP are, generally, equated to increases in standards of living.  Small differences in growth rates can result in big differences when compunded over years.  For example, an 8% growth rate leads to a doubling of GDP within just 10 years.  Differences in growth rates between countries can sim…

Chapter Three - What is Meant by Controlling Climate Change?

I'm writing this a fortnight earlier than planned in order to give readers the chance of a summer-break free from the thoughts of Climate Change.  We all need a rest!

Dangerous Climate Change

Based on best available scientific evidence, it is clear than increases in CO2, and other greenhouse gas CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), which consitute F in the Kaya Identity (see earlier), result in temperature elevation.  The relationship between the two is known as climate sensitivity.  It is accepted by most scientists that a CO2 doubling (from pre-industrial 280ppm to 550ppm) will probably lead to a roughly 3C temperature rise.  Dependent on the emission scenario, the IPCC calculated a range of between 1.5C and 4.5C.  Unfortunately, this is far from exact since fossil records estimate that climate sensitivity could be as high as 6C (Hansen).

Are temperature increases dangerous?  The overriding consensus is a resounding yes.  There is no question that biomes, including pathogenic specie…