Monday, April 22, 2019

From Uneconomic Growth to a Steady-State EconomyFrom Uneconomic Growth to a Steady-State Economy by Herman E Daly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lucid, timely, wise and important; the writings of this book clearly embody much great thought, and I find they inspire much additional thought.

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Why our Earth is unlike Venus, and comparing two ways to keep it this way.

     The surface temperature of Venus melts lead, while Earth’s supports life, and water. While Earth is farther from the sun, this explains only part of the temperature difference. (1) The greenhouse effect and the different amounts of greenhouse gases in their atmospheres explains most of the surface temperature difference between Earth and Venus and explains why Venus is on average hotter than Mercury even though Mercury is closer to the sun.
     Earth avoided Venus’s fate, so far, despite starting with similar amounts of carbon (2) , by reacting carbon dioxide (CO2) with mafic rock. (3) Mafic rocks are rich in magnesium and iron, and underlie most of our ocean floors, and form Earth’s mantle, but are rarer atop continents. Most of Earth’s CO2 has reacted with such rocks already, yielding the carbonate rocks that store most carbon on Earth. (4)
     We increasingly have too much CO2 in our air and oceans now to keep the climate we rely on for our food. (5) The recent increase in air’s CO2 got here by our burning fuels for energy. (6) ‘Unburning’ these fuels would require energy we now don’t have, since we used it already. (7) But the reaction between these mafic rocks and CO2 is energetically favorable. (8) It occurs spontaneously whenever water, mafic rock and CO2 come together, requiring no further energy. So to react these rocks with this CO2, we need to bring them together.
      Should we bring the CO2 to the rock, or the rock to the CO2? Reasonable proposals differ on this. For example, let’s compare two carbon dioxide reduction (CDR) approaches: Olaf Schuiling’s Enhanced Weathering (EW) of olivine, a mafic rock, compared to a combination of David Keith and others’ Direct Air Capture (DAC), linked to Juerg Matter and others’ Injection(I) of CO2 into basalt rock, permanently forming carbonate rock. We’ll term the joint DAC and I process (DACI).
     Schuiling proposes bringing the rock to the CO2. Grinding the mafic olivine rock speeds the reaction between them. In part he suggests ground olivine substitute for limestone in agricultural use, because, while both will reduce soil acidity, olivine will also eventually bind with CO2 as carbonate rock at the ocean’s bottom, after CO2 in rainwater, as carbonic acid, dissolves that olivine.
     Bringing the CO2 to the rock, DAC’s CO2 would be injected in basalt. In DACI, first, Keith and others’ two-part process extracts CO2 from air. Then Matter and others’ injection (9) would combine this CO2 with Icelandic basalt permanently as carbonate rock.
     It is not fair to assume that this DACI combination would be a commercially viable process, as this combined process is neither a stated goal of DAC nor of basalt injection. But without attaching CO2 basalt injection to DAC, comparing it to EW would also be unfair, as EW sequesters CO2 permanently as rock, while DAC without injection merely isolates it in labile gaseous form, liable to leak out and renew troubles, and basalt injection assumes a stream of gaseous CO2, unlike EW’s starting point of CO2 dissolved in air. Thus we will compare DACI and EW processes with similar initial conditions and results: from CO2 in air to CO2 in rock.
     But how best compare these? Straight-forward economic analysis, while tractable, ignores non-monetized costs; like pollution’s effect on health, and reliance on non-renewable resources; and mis-monetized costs; like USA’s vast oil exploration subsidies. How should we evaluate and contrast these two distinct CDR approaches? We need a method to weigh different proposals’ costs and benefits to Earth, not to the individual human actors performing CDR.
     One cost measure is the amount of sunlight energy used up in every step needed and sufficient for each proposal, and a measure of benefit is the amount of sunlight energy acquired or saved by the proposal. Developed and used in the fields of environmental accounting and ecological engineering to rate multiple proposals, this approach compared differing methods, with varying environmental impacts, which addressed the same situation. (10)
     Let’s approach these two CDR proposals with this environmental accounting method to guide us.
1. “ The CO2-rich atmosphere [of Venus] generates the strongest greenhouse effect in the Solar System, creating surface temperatures of at least 735 K (462 °C; 864 °F) . [12 ] [58 ] This makes Venus's surface hotter than Mercury 's, which has a minimum surface temperature of 53 K (−220 °C; −364 °F) and maximum surface temperature of 693 K (420 °C; 788 °F) , [59 ] even though Venus is nearly twice Mercury's distance from the Sun and thus receives only 25 % of Mercury's solar irradianc e .” Wikipedia Venus entry, 2018-June 20th .
2. f
3. Earth’s carbonate rock contains about 60 million gigatons carbon, while dissolved in the oceans as carbon dioxide is 38,400 gigatons carbon, with air containing 720 gigatons carbon., citing doi:10.1126/science.290.5490.291
4. Same as footnote #3 .
5. .
6. .
7. No energy conversion is perfectly efficient, and we already used up the energy we got from burning the fuels. Thus reversal of fuel oxidation requires more energy than was first liberated .
10. Table 12.1 Evaluation of Alternatives for Pulp Paper Wastes in North Florida, OdumHT 2007 Environment, Power and Society For the Twenty-First Century :359.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Some investors consider more than their own financial returns, considering investment’s environmental sustainability and social responsibility, as well as corporate governance. Each of such ‘ESG’ investing strategies have now been shown to actually enhance returns:
Furthermore, the risk of total loss of capital in ESG investing has been shown to be quite comparable to money otherwise invested:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Realizing Our Economic Maturity.


In our individual lives, growth precedes a long period of maturity, which is recognized as both the goal of growth and as a process itself. To mature is both to achieve a certain size and to achieve a certain standard of behavior.

Economic Maturity?

Our  physical economy can’t grow forever on our finite earth. Despite those feeling a healthy economy must always grow, nothing healthy grows forever - such cancerous growth wouldn’t fit on this planet. Common sense heeds calls for healthy economic maturity, yet many economists fail to understand.

    Economic Growth with Physical Maturity?

    Some claim society can become mature physically while continuing to grow economically, but we know economic growth without physical growth as inflation. There’s the sound argument that value can grow separate from physical growth; a growth in quality versus quantity. Does conceding this surrender to full separation of economic growth from physical growth? Certainly products can improve in value apart from changes in product mass. But the needed research changes the physical world, and thereby increases entropy. Real value intrinsically has a physical component. Yet this physical component may even shrink with growth in quality, value and economy. One can distinguish between such massless economic development and economic growth which intrinsically involves physical increases. Would such economic development with physical maturity satisfy the economic requirement for ‘growth’? Can such development be systematically massless, or does the needed physical exploration cost render even economic development intrinsically linked to physical growth? In any event, ‘economic growth’ is too imprecise a term for increases in value with physical maturity.


Here the word can have two meanings; first, to achieve; second, to become aware of something. Both meanings fit; economic maturity might be achieved in our city, and we might become aware of economic maturity and it’s appropriateness.

Why Realize Economic Maturity?

    What’s wrong with economic growth forever? The problems with this fiction are many:
    1) It won’t fit. Our earth, having a definite size, can sustain a limited physical economy. More industry than this degrades the environment upon which that industry relies. Others argue that economic growth need not accompany physical growth, but isn’t that merely inflation? Stagflation, where inflation accompanies no growth, shows that these two are separable, but stagflation isn’t economic health. Eventually sanity calls for economic health without physical growth. But when should we begin to consider what amount of economic activity is mature? Perhaps, as air’s carbon pollution exceeds limits of climatic stability, upon which our food supply depends, now is not too early.

    2) Economic growth promises social equality, but has delivered increasing inequality consistently instead. Piketty showed that growth accompanied worsening inequality thoughout Western economic history. If growth doesn’t give poor folks a better chance, why bother? Why crowd things; things needed by us and our children?

    3) Accepting false limits weakens, but accepting real limits can strengthen by focusing limited resources where real, but limited, opportunity exists. Clear language can help us distinguish false from real limits, and false from real opportunity.

How Do We Realize Economic Maturity?

In one meaning of ‘realize’; to understand and acknowledge, we might realize economic maturity (in the sense of physical maturity), when we see that it has grown to it’s ultimate desirable size.

In another meaning of ‘realize’; to achieve, we might realize economic maturity (maturity in the sense of full ethical development) by seeing beyond preoccupation with growth; with economic ‘bigness’ to better, more ethical measures, based on qualities, not quantities.

Do societies have lifespans? Every society that previously existed did. What limits that lifespan? What extends that lifespan? What does a society need to ‘live’? Let’s ask the students of history; the historians.

How to better equality without overgrowth has been explored by prominent ecological economists Herman Daly, Joshua Farley, Hazel Henderson and in recent work by Tim Jackson. Let’s apply this wisdom to understanding how we can better our real fate.

Saturday, March 03, 2018


Robocalypse: What’s not to like about the elimination of  all human labor with robots? Isn’t it good to eliminate labor with productivity?

In the pre-industrial world, filled with fossil fuels, minerals and ores, and empty of people and pollution, those before us brilliantly eliminated much labor using these resources and new techniques. And it fit: the techniques proliferated, the population burgeoned and the inevitable pollution dissipated at first. Techniques were key to this transformation, inspired and rewarded by patents, and by research and development tax write-offs, and quantified by measuring labor productivity. Such a central and celebrated measure was soon referred to simply as ‘productivity’, and expected to grow forever.
So the world filled with people and pollution, while emptying of the easiest-to-access resources. At first, negligible resources were used up in transforming resources into products, yet eventually, coal might be mined from such difficult-to-access seams so rocky that machinery breaks faster than the coal dug can repair it. This exemplifies the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) reaching zero, where net energy returns have dwindled to nothing. At that point it is easier to stay home than to work and burn all the mined coal just to mine, repair and clean up after that very mining. Another way to zero EROEI is through increasingly risky and polluting mining or oil drilling, where cleaning up the inevitable seems unaffordable, and is worse than the resources extracted are good.
In our world today, still filling with willing workers, pollution and problems, while emptying of easy-to-access resources, we can all be better off by increasing resource productivity while sacrificing labor productivity. We can employ many more, pollute much less and conserve our dwindling limiting resources. This can clearly help the worst-off. But what of the majority? It turns out that even the best-off of us can benefit by opportunity broadly increasing, since we are all measurably stressed by the fear of poverty and healthily reassured by greater equality of social opportunity, as documented in The Spirit Level.
Instead of the Robocalypse sparing us lives of drudgery, further elimination of labor worsens our lives, and misses the chance to make the best use of what we have the least of.
But isn’t this Robocalypse inevitable? It may be, but why hurry to meet it? Instead, we can slow the evolution of labor-eliminating techniques by lessening revenue loss via tax write-offs for research and development, and for further extraction of fossil fuels we can’t afford to burn.
Hat tips to Herman Daly, Hazel Henderson, Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett and others.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Air Repair via ways of least cost, waste, disruption and uncertainty.

1) The least possible cost is negative; carbon removal that is profitable independent of the carbon removed.
2) The least disruptive carbon removal methods may already escape notice.
3) The least uncertain technologies already exist and work now.
4) The least wasteful methods waste nothing while reducing earlier existing waste.
Hence let’s consider existing, profitable, efficiency-enhancing yet unnoticed carbon removal methods.
Reducing atmospheric carbon inevitably takes energy. Indeed, in storing energy, life reduced carbon, and in getting some of that energy back, we humans are oxidizing carbon.
The least disruptive energy source may well be existing sunlight already hitting earth, yet not inducing photosynthesizing much.
Two large regions now catching sunlight that don’t photosynthesize much are deserts and High-Nutrient-Low-Chlorophyll (HNLC) ocean regions.
Supply of limiting nutrients can allow greater productivity, where and when other nutrients supplied can not.
Provision of limiting nutrients to plants and/or plankton may be the greatest photo-productivity increase opportunity worldwide.
Deserts are dry due to climate. HNLC regions are unproductive due to oddities of water chemistry in oxygen-rich environs.
Deserts cover 10% of earth’s dry land, while HNLC waters stretch across 1/5th of the oceans, Dry land covers nearly 30% of earth, while water covers about 70%.
10% of 30% is 3%; 20% of 70% is 14%, 4.8-fold more, hence, opportunities for engaging sunlight energy in carbon reduction in HNLC waters may exceed those in deserts.
Are there existing unnoticed profitable activities that increase photosynthesis in HNLC waters?
Phytoplankton in HNLC waters typically photosynthesize so little because low iron levels limit their conversion of sunlight in three ways:
1) Low iron directly constrains photosynthesis, since iron irreplaceably catalyzes photosynthesis in multiple ways.
2) Ongoing iron additions to HNLC waters are tiny.
3) Iron rapidly precipitates out of oxygen-rich waters, due to surprising oddities of chemistry.
What existing profitable activity brings iron to HNLC waters without notice?
1) On the Georges Bank, a once-rich fishing region, fully 4% of these water’s iron content came to Georges Bank every year as trace iron in fishing fleet engine fuel, according to
2) Energy output is the driving objective of fuel consumption.
3) Iron in fuel additives catalyzes more complete oxidation of fuel carbon, reducing soot while increasing energy output, in matching counterpoint to iron's catalysis of carbon reduction in photosynthesis.
4) Some iron picrate fuel additives have proven profitable by increasing energy output of marine engines.
5) FPC is a prominent iron picrate fuel additive company worldwide.
6) The world’s shipping fleet burns about 300 million tons of fuel oil each year.
7) FPC’s current fuel additive treatment levels, of 50 ppb Fe, optimize individual ship owner profitability.
8) The Redfield ratio describes marine life’s ratio of use of sea nutrients, and predicts which nutrient’s low levels will limit sea life growth. It addresses carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. Sea life uses C:N:P in the ratio of 106:16:1. The original Redfield ratio has been extended to describe another limiting nutrient, namely iron, after the discovery of iron’s importance in limiting sea life. The extended Redfield ratio is still under exploration, and is estimated to be C:N:P:Fe = 106:16:1:~0.001.
9) If 300 millions tons of marine fuel oil were treated with 50 ppb iron, and a fifth of this iron fell on HNLC waters, catalyzing photo-productivity, (at an extended Redfield ratio of C:N:P:Fe = 106:16:1:0.001), this iron would induce 1.5 million tons of carbon removal from air via HNLC waters’ increased photosynthesis.
Perhaps marine fuel can be treated with higher levels of iron, to optimize, not ship owner profitability, but global carbon removal.
1) The upper acceptable limit on treated fuel’s iron content may be maintaining existing fuel ash levels in tests at about 0.01%, or 100 ppm,.
2) Increasing fuel iron content via treatment to 50 ppm, instead of 50 ppb, might increase carbon removal in HNLC waters 1,000-fold, while perhaps negligibly affecting fuel ash content.
3) Expanding fuel treatment at these higher levels to the entire worldwide shipping fleet’s fuel usage of ~300 million tons fuel oil per year might increase carbon dioxide removal in HNLC waters to 5,500 million tons; carbon removal there to 1,500 million tons, to ~4% of annual human carbon release, and to more than the current carbon release of the entire worldwide shipping fleet’s fuel usage.

1) Mapped here are shipping densities worldwide.

2) “HNLC conditions occur in remote, offshore areas of the
subarctic north Pacific, subtropical equatorial Pacific, and Southern Ocean...” EldridgeML 2004: 19
3) Much shipping crosses to and from Asia and North America via‘Great Circle’ routes, between Asian manufacturing and USA consumers. Perhaps this shipping traverses the subarctic North Pacific.
4) Perhaps FPC targeting those ships traversing subarctic North Pacific waters for fuel treatment at the higher 50 ppm level would restore much carbon fixation/reduction while using existing infrastructure in profitable ways.