Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Since the development of a proposed contraction and convergence formula in the early 90's, things have changed. In the intervening 20 years, the relatively backward nation of China has moved from the category of a developing country to the second largest GDP on the globe with an economic system that's the biggest expression of crony capitalism in history. China has done this with a monolithic governmental banking system that operates purely in the interests of expanding Gross Domestic Product with export trade, as Japan did in the post WWII economy, except without the structure of the Marshall Plan. What this has done in the globalized economy is create a massive leveraging of Chinese economic influence into a global powerhouse, albeit with internal instability, pollution and toxic emissions that threaten to destroy the local environment.

The extreme ramp-up of energy development using coal to manufacture the world's solar panels and the myriad products of trade using an undervalued yuan to expand exports has moved China into first world status. It has also made up for tremendous amounts of carbon emissions; it has far overshadowed all other countries in its growing emissions and apparently intends to maintain this status quo. Thus, China now shares the obligations of the United States and Europe in the emissions reductions scenario.

China's responsibility for climate change is discussed in a book by Paul Harris. It describes China's contribution to global warming and analyzes its policy responses. Contributors critically examine China's practical and ethical responsibilities to climate change from a variety of perspectives. They explore policies that could mitigate China's environmental impact while promoting its own interests and meeting the international community's expectations. Mr. Harris has also explored this issue at a climate change conference at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, in June of 2009.

The conference paper outlines a new paradigm of sustainable cooperation with other countries around the globe in order to bring emissions under control.The dimensions of Chinese carbon governance will also need to work coherently together across scales if contraction and convergence towards a national cap is to be implemented properly and cohesively, without further exacerbating problems around the distribution of harms and benefits, particularly to poorer regions. China's current methodology of moving resources and people across its vast countryside reflects the old World Bank paradigm of development at all costs: physical, ecological and social. China's Guizhou province will move two million people out of its mountains and barren terrains before 2020, Guizhou Deputy Gov. Chen Yiqin said this month, as Xinhua reported. The province plans to move 100,000 people in 2012, and the plan is key to the Guizhou's supposed work against poverty. But the government is relocating these massive populations of Chinese without consideration of the social, economic and ecological impacts of these strategies, which are considerable yet not "on the books".

Such is the error of creating huge scenarios based upon an outmoded measure like GDP. It fosters destructive behaviors that are justified by accounting machinations. The same bookkeeping tricks that brought the global financial system to its knees. The time has come to create a different set of values that measure the integrity of the processes, the value of its citizens and resources of the land, such that the world can restore its natural properties and avert the worst of the climate change impacts, which have already begun.

It is imperative that China take its place at the table with the largest players and implement its contraction on par with the US and Europe, and abandon its headlong emissions growth fueled by coal sources. It has achieved the global position its government has sought, and along with that comes the responsibilities of protecting the planetary systems and resources that give sustenance to life.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


A proposal on the table from the Global Commons Institute provides a strategic way of reducing global carbon emissions in time to prevent runaway climate change: Contraction and Convergence (C&C). C&C was established and has been on the record as a formal well-supported position at the UNFCCC since 1996. A briefing, explanation and chart are here.

Back in the mid-1990s, Aubrey Meyer, in developing the case for C&C, set down a model for analyzing the implications of any proposal aimed at informing policy makers on how best to organize at the UNFCCC to limit the ravaging consequences of climate change. On a clear axis of time-dependency, this covered the key elements:

[a] the rate of accumulation of the carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere;

[b] the various rates at which the emissions contribute to that globally [contraction]; and,  within that,

[c] shares converging internationally on the global per capita average arising under any rate of contraction (with or without a population-based year set for any year chosen within the contraction process).

As you can see from the above chart, the principle is that all countries contract in a coordinated way in order to limit the temperature change that is generated by carbon emissions. In 1996, CGI's goal was to keep the temperature increase below a further 0.5 degrees C in 2060 with zero emissions at that point, so that carbon is limited to 350 ppmv in 2100, the original C&C intervention at COP-2 1996 Geneva. While this principle was supported, that rate wasn't, so the slower rate of 450 ppmv was proposed.This hasn't been adopted, while we quarrel, and temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 degrees C. We've already passed 350 ppmv and are nearly at 400 ppmv in 2012, and are still pouring out carbon. So now we have a global emergency.

In reacting to this situation, James Hansen has inspired a group of activists who are positioned now on climate change with 'extreme urgency'. This is further supported by his recent article in the Washington Post. Last year Dr Hansen, together with 14 other leading experts in various disciplines relevant to global climate change, concluded that 1 degree C since 1900 is the danger limit for avoiding future planetary climate catastrophe. We are at O.8 C today. Previously Dr Hansen has published that in order to avoid planetary climate catastrophe the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has to be held below 350 ppm. Today it is 393 ppm and rapidly rising.

Recently, after being criticized by European leaders after the May climate talks in Bonn, Todd Stern of the US State Department qualified its support for a U.N goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels in 1900, and made it clear that all countries must reduce carbon emissions forthwith, not just first-world countries. This is a key statement, because it throws out the political carbon allocation derived from GDP analytics, and retreats from historical support of C&C (pg. 13, Equity and Survival)

Bill McKibben's recent article in Rolling Stone has since triggered much public debate about how to address the reduction of global carbon. The debate is contentious because of the importation of the GDP measure into the allocation formula in order to amplify the carbon emission reduction in a "polluter pays" scenario, which was part of the Copenhagen and Cancun agreements. As I've discussed before, this is not based upon science, but rather imports political agendas into the contraction allocation formula. Two of the discussed GDP - based scenarios in the chart above are:

[1] the red curve is the McKibben formula for no more than 154 Gt C "Maximum permissible", but using GDP allocations to create negative emissions for the USA by 2025 within the 1Gt C/yr from 2010, arriving at  0 emissions by 2040. Bill claims that 2 degrees C by 2100 is a safe temperature increase, but notes that there's only 154 allowable Gt C left before we exceed planetary limits.

[2] the yellow curve is the GDR curve which is nearly twice that at 267 Gt C., requiring negative emissions entitlements in the US by 2025, created by GDP allocations. In other words, allows overall more carbon but hits the US much harder. It's now preferred by McKibben, and also by Jeffrey Sachs, who at the same time was a co-author of the Hansen Paper from which McKibben drew his 154 Gt C. The original source of this is Hansen's Carbon Budget of 166 Gt C [i.e. reducing @ -6%/yr from 2010].

The third allocation calculation that is very immediate and urgent is one that is a straight emissions reduction per capita, with no GDP "adjustments". It reflects the urgency that is created because we're already committed to an apparent 2° C by 2100 by not having done anything. That much climate change is now considered dangerous, and so an immediate reversal is necessary:

[3] the grey curve is Peter Carter's 2012 emergency energy conversion and food security budget: virtual zero carbon emissions in 10 years with negative carbon to follow. 1Gt C per year from 2010 arriving at  0 emissions by 2020, in order to restore the 350 ppmv level of carbon in the environment at 2050. That's essentially where we are today with our extreme climate events. If you've done the real math, you know that it means massive reductions in carbon emissions, energy use and global stranded investments.

An interactive chart showing many options is here. You will see that under the IPCC scenario we never get back to the planet we used to have in 1950, when global warming had already started at about 310 ppmv.

Humankind's legacy must rapidly shift to a model of sustainable development and re-establishment of the natural processes that we have eroded.  We are near the end of our planet's ability to support our civilization.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The GDP Chimera

A fiscal "measurement" being tossed about these days as a means of allocating global carbon emissions allowances with respect to climate change is unfortunately not an accurate or reliable means of establishing parity in these emission goals. Gross Domestic Product is actually made up of many financial banking ledger tricks, between countries as well as global regions. It is ultimately a political tool. Inasmuch as GDP has been used as part of a "broad brush" look at consumption via the I-PAT formula, that is only an assumed relationship. This is a balance that fluctuates wildly and shifts with the flows of capital between corporations and governments, and is highly subject to interpretation. Further, it is based upon a growth fallacy that is fundamentally unsustainable. GDP is measured in value terms set by the market, not by physical reality, which is what carbon emissions are all about.

As an example of the feedback loops embedded in GDP, let's look at how China is pumping up its GDP in order to create wealth for buying resources from other countries. At the Yangtze River, near the town of Luohuang, another dam is proposed. This section of the river belongs to a nature reserve created to protect hundreds of species of fish, including the Chinese Paddlefish. When built, the Xiaonanhai Dam will destroy the reserve, flooding it, creating an enormous reservoir. At around five billion dollars, the dam is one of Chongqing's largest investment projects. Critics say Bo Xilai championed the project to help the city achieve historic GDP growth numbers, thereby securing himself a spot in China's top leadership, but with seriously destructive actions that negate the environmental commitments.

China is also a huge importer of coal. As a result of this consumption demand, western USA ports are figuring out how to increase their transit supply lines to export coal to China, which is the only big remaining market for coal. This of course simply balloons the whole carbon problem out of control, and is also utterly destructive to the existing local communities that would get mowed under by these giant infrastructure systems tailored to expand oil-fueled transport for their profit. This is the vicious cycle unleashed by the GDP economic model, and it feeds on itself to destruction, very similar to the fiscal banking collapse that we've experienced in the last few years, where none of the risk was priced into the model. This kind of risk exclusion is what the climate deniers are engaging in.

GDP is a disincentive if it's used to allocate carbon quotas because it discourages profitable investment and development of clean energy technologies. Why spend money developing profit if it's counted against a country or region's old industries that have already paid out on their investments? That also discourages pollution controls and regenerative development if it creates an additional obligation to fund technologies and infrastructure in third-world countries, at the cost of NOT reducing the biggest carbon emissions in the major leading countries. Additionally, third world countries should not be burdened with GDP-generated obligations if their profits and industry create a profitable reduction their carbon emissions and per capita energy use. This focuses on the principle of the "common good" as a primary human goal.

The measurement of energy use itself and carbon emissions is the only straightforward way to tackle the factors driving climate change: it can be objectively measured and calculated by the activities that drive the emissions. That ties it to the land itself and becomes a form of land value tax. If these criteria are set across the global economy, then they are simple to track and transparent with satellite and industrial production measurements that are externally verifiable. This creates rewards for restoration of ecology and reduction of consumption. Farmland becomes more viable, and pristine forests and tundras, even arctic areas, become extremely valuable in their natural state. And therefore there is no need to "consume" it.

This creates a level playing field so that the corporations, which are now far wealthier than many countries, have no where to run. It holds all activities accountable and measured against common agreed-to standards. Enforcement is achieved with cooperative global data sharing, with a fair means of rewarding industries that reduce carbon emissions. That means oil, gas, coal and shale extraction are heavily impacted, while farming is protected, renewable power is promoted, and natural resources are highly valued and conserved. That, in turn, makes it possible to reward population reduction and ecological restoration; the inverse of our current accounting system inherited from the old world of superstition and fear.

A comprehensive article on changing the value system from the GDP is here from Orion Magazine.

Update 5/23/15: The Paradox of Wealth  GDP measurements become everything, despite the fact that such measurements are concerned only with economic value added, and not with the entire realm of material existence.

Update 8/21/16:  GDP is a financial construct at its heart, a political and philosophical abstraction (from John Mauldin)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dead Ahead

US rainstorm maps dating back to 1948 show how the changing weather patterns anticipate a very dry southwestern USA in the foreseeable future. This climate change is heading straight for California and its major water and energy infrastructures. A summary of a report by the California Energy Commission and Natural Resources Agency that combines the work of dozens of research teams and will lay the foundation for a climate change adaptation strategy for the state is due out by the end of this year. The slide presentation of this study is here at Mercury News.

What's great about this study is that it examines many aspects of climate change impact, from energy and water to how high-elevation hydropower is particularly vulnerable to climate change and reduced snowpack. It also warns of deteriorating ecosystems and higher fire danger, more risk to our natural resources. Water is indeed the most critical resource for human civilization, as prehistoric habitation collapse has shown us.

This public policy document will seriously impact the statewide planning processes in the state going forward, particularly the critical Bay Delta Plan, which is still undergoing major disputes, mainly with the issue of draw down of water from the Delta for Southern California water supplies.The two water tunnels that would accomplish this are part of Governor Brown's controversial input into the Conservation plan. The chair of the Delta Stewardship Council, Phil Isenberg, has some cogent points laid out in his analysis of this proposal. The Stewardship Council was created by the legislature in 2009 to provide a balanced oversight of water plans for the California delta.

Another group, Restore the Delta, has a focus on preservation of the natural processes in the Delta. This is a group of local activists that got together in 2006 to give voice to this issue, and have proven very influential in state public policy. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of water policy and management, which is vastly complex in a state that developed at top speed over the last century. There are 3 main water sources coming into the Southern California region serving different geographic urban areas:

Los Angeles Aqueduct - constructed in 1908-1913

Colorado Aqueduct - constructed around 1940

California Aqueduct- constructed in the 1970s

There's also a mare's nest of agricultural water rights all throughout the central valley and Southern California, designed and built around the wettest years (1905 - 1924) on record in the region. So this system can't deliver the anticipated water quotas from historic periods, let alone the water needed to preserve the natural systems and supply the current urban areas of Southern California.

This is the resource and climate challenge that the human global impact has for all of us. Dead ahead.