Friday, December 18, 2020

Downhill for All Involved

Downhill for All Involved 

Global underwriters and insurers now risk vast losses from the climate crisis.(1)

 “Recent research from Cambridge University…warns that if climate change is left unchecked, catastrophic losses on property investments from disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding will triple over the next 30 years… the resulting losses to the insurance industry could cause a global financial crisis.”(2 Forbes 2019-5-22) 

Can we protect our global economy by fixing our damaged climate? Who has means and motive? Are there lessons within history? 

HISTORY: In the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin and others founded a house fire insurer in Philadelphia, which raised rates on more hazardous homes, and refused to insure the riskiest.(3) In 1777, Anthony Hill swept Philadelphia chimneys for this ‘Philadelphia Contributorship’.(4) This chimney sweeping exemplifies a significant step, by fledgling American insurers, beyond merely avoiding or pooling risk, to risk reduction. 

In 1893, William H. Merrill midwifed the safety-troubled electrical industry into the behemoth we know today, after the young engineer started working for insurance underwriters. They hired him to inspect electrical set-ups at the Chicago World’s Fair grounds for the Fair’s opening. Merrill, just graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), proposed Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to test and certify fire safety for the insurance underwriting industry. Rejected at first, he later succeeded in convincing underwriters to start this.(5) 

So ended an era of deadly, catastrophic fires that scarred USA’s young cities. For example, The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed about 275 people and caused $222 million dollars of damage, equivalent to $4.6 billion 2018 dollars.(6) It accompanied three other fires that week, in Peshtigo, MI, Port Huron, MI, and Urbana, IL which killed more than 2,200.(7) Today we again suffer the devastating effects of fire - not from burning houses, but from burning fossil fuels. The resulting carbon dioxide ruins the climate that our food system depends on, and for which our buildings were designed. 

WHAT CAN BE DONE? The Stern Review of 2006 (8) estimates annual climate crisis containment costs to be 2% of World Gross Domestic Product (WGDP),(9) with damages thus avoided at 5% of WGDP.  In 2019, WGDP totaled about $87 trillion,(10) hence annual climate crisis containment costs would near $1.74 trillion a year. 

The Drawdown Review of 2020 forecasts the cost and benefits of climate preservation in two scenarios.(11) The first scenario forecasts $22.5 trillion in initial investments stopping 994 gigatons of CO2 or equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, with lifetime costs running to -$95.1 trillion and lifetime profits of $15.6 trillion. Note: Lifetime costs are negative – beyond just the direct profit to investors, more than four times the investment value would be returned to society. These reviews describe how it could be cheaper to fix rather than suffer a ruined climate; indeed, so much cheaper that, in the Drawdown analysis, it’s actually profitable. 

APPROACH: Many have struggled to contain Earth’s climate crisis. But who has both the motive of understanding this climate crisis, and the means to contain it? We at risk are numerous; many have the motive which understanding provides. However most of us lack the means to preserve our climate; within the few with the means, there are fewer still understanding this climate risk and their ability to contain it. 

With about $27 trillion dollars in assets,(12) do the world’s underwriters and insurers have the means to control the climate crisis? If four decades of climate crisis containment were invested in at once, at a cost of $69.6 trillion, according to the Stern Review, underwriters and insurers would need to borrow $42.6 trillion, but stand to gain from the $174 trillion in climate damage costs avoided over those forty years. And the insurance industry now has enough for the Drawdown’s first scenario’s investments. 

How might this occur? A global underwriter consortium might set standards that would identify carbon-neutral or -negative provision of goods or services. Policies might then specify that to receive insurance, underwriter’s insurers and customers must only use carbon-neutral or -negative goods and services that meet that standard; while also specifying direct investment into climate protection, and out of climate destruction, by underwriters, insurers and customers. This first part mimics Underwriters Laboratories’ success, the second could adhere to Stern and Drawdown Reviews’ prescriptions. 

Much can be done affordably; it costs more to suffer climate crisis than to avoid it; and the insurance industry has both means and motive to protect our climate. A corollary of ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ might be: ‘With all your eggs in one basket, protect that basket.’ 

1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/energyinnovation/2019/05/22/the-global-insurance-industrys-6-billion-existential-threat-coal-power,  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/21/climate-change-could-make-insurance-too-expensive-for-ordinary-people-report 

2 https://www.forbes.com/sites/energyinnovation/2019/05/22/the-global-insurance-industrys-6-billion-existential-threat-coal-power/ citing https://www.cisl.cam.ac.uk/business-action/sustainable-finance/climatewise/news/investors-and-lenders-need-better-tools-to-manage-climate-risk-to-homes-mortgages-and-assets-finds-new-research. 

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia_Contributionship 9/14/20 

4 http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/contributionship/timeline.cfm 10/11/20 

5 https://www.ul.com/sites/g/files/qbfpbp251/files/2019-05/EngineeringProgress.pdf 

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chicago_Fire 9/13/20 

7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_town_and_city_fires 9/13/20 

8 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Review 9/13/20 

9 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Review 9/13/20 

10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal 

11 https://www.drawdown.org/drawdown-framework/drawdown-review-2020 page 88.

12 https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=INSIND

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Andro Linklater quote

"At one period in my life, I believed passionately in...egaltarian ideals, and lived for longer than was sensible on communes in the United States and Europe, farming unproductive steeply sloping fields locked away in the mountains unwanted by their original owner. The experience offered a salutory lesson in understanding how ownership of the earth shapes the way society is organized. The most attractive qualities of a primitive commune, sharing the labor and the rewards, turned out to be its most destructive. It was not the group, but the individual who actually plowed the field, dug the ditch, milked the goats, and made the granola. Over time, it became obvious that some performed these tasks better, or more slowly, or more lazily, than others, and so the tasks either had to be organized with rigid efficiency to spread the burden fairly, or... dissensions... boiled up and tore the community apart.... Far from being able to dispense with government, equal ownership entailed a surprising intensity of organization and policing of personal foibles." Andro Linklater, 2014, Owning the Earth: the Transforming History of Landownership. London, Verso.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Presuppositions of Policy - Daly and Farley continue EE Chapter 3 - Ends, Means and Policy

The Presuppositions of Policy Ecological economics is committed to policy relevance. It is not just a logical game for autistic academicians. Because of our commitments to policy, we must ask: What are the necessary presuppositions for policy to make sense, to be worth discussing? We see two. First, we must believe that there are real alternatives to choose from. If there are no alternatives, if everything is predetermined, than it hardly makes sense to discuss policy – what will be, will be. If there are no options, then there is no responsibility, no need to think. Second, even if these are real altenatives, policy diologue would still be make no sense unless there were a real criterion of value to use for choosing between the alternatives. Unless we can distingish better from worse states of the world, it makes no sense to try to acheive one state of the world irather than another. If there is no value criterion, then these is no responsibility, no need to think. In sum, serious policy must presuppose (1) non-determinism – that the world is not totally determined, that there is an element of freedom that offers us real alternatives; and (2) non-nihilism – that there is a real criterion of value to guide our choices, however vaguely we may perceive it. The fact that many people engaged in discussing and making policy reject one or both of these presuppositions is, in A. N. Whitehead’s term. “the lurking inconsistency,” a contradiction at the basis of the modern worldview that enfeebles thought and renders action halfhearted. If we even halfway believe that purpose is an illusion foisted on us by our genes to somehow make us more efficient at procreation,(17) or that one state of the world is as good as another, then it is hard to get serious about real issues. And ecological economics must be serious about real issues. As Whitehead noted, “scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”(18) Determinism and Relativism The preceding section may seem pretty obvious and consistent with common sense. What is the point in stating the obvious? The point is that many members of the intelligentsia deny non-determinism or non-nihilism, yet they want to engage in a policy dialogue. It is not just that we disagree about exactly what our alternatives are in a particular instance or about what our criterion implies for a concrete case – that’s part of thee reasonable policy dialogue. The point is that determinists who deny the effective existence of alternatives, and nihilists or relativists who deny the existence of a value criterion beyond the level of subjective personal tastes, have no logical basis for engaging in policy dialogue – and yet they do! We cordially and respectfully invite them to remember and reflect deeply upon their option of remaining silent – at least about policy.(19) One may well agree with the logic of our position – that policy rules out determinism and nihilism – but argue that there are so few real determinists and nihilists around that in effect we are kicking at an open door or attacking a straw man. We hope this is true. However, one leading biologist, Paul R. Ehlich, who has contributed much to ecological economics, recently wrote a book with this stated purpose.(20) “to give an evolutionist’s antidote to the extreme hereditary determinism that infests much of the current discussion of human behavior – the idea that we are somehow simply captives of tiny, self-copying entities called genes” (p.x). In other words, Ehrlcih felt that the influence of the hard-line determinists is sufficiently toxic to require a 500-page antidote, even if a rather mild and general one. A stronger and more specific antidote was thought necessary by Wendell Berry, who took particular aim at the influential writings of Edward O. Wilson, especially his recent book Consilience. Berry deserves to be quoted at some length.(21) "A theoretical materialism as strictly principled as Mr. Wilson’s is inescapably deterministic. We and our works and acts, he holds, are determined by our genes, which are determined by the laws of biology, which are determined ultimately by the laws of physics. He sees that this directly contradicts the idea of free will, which even as a scientist he seems unwilling to give up, and which as a conservationist he cannot afford to give up. He deals with this dilemma oddly and inconsistently. First, he says that we have, and need, “the illusion of free will”, which he says further, is “biologically adaptive”. I have read his sentences several times, hoping to find that I have misunderstood them, but I am afraid that I understand them. He is saying that there is an evolutionary advantage in illusion. The proposition that our ancestors survived because they were foolish enough to believe an illusion is certainly optimistic, but it does not seem very probable. And what are we to think of a materialism that can be used to validate an illusion? Mr. Wilson nevertheless insists upon his point; in another place he speaks of “self-deception” as granting to our species the ”adaptive edge”. Later, in discussing the need for conservation, Mr Wilson affirms the Enlightenment belief that we can “choose wisely”. How a wise choice can be made on the basis of an illusory freedom of the will is impossible to conceive, and Mr. Wilson wisely chooses not to try to conceive it.(p.26)" We have learned from personal conversation with Wilson that he considers the question of how one squares scientific determinism with purposeful policy to be the “mother of all questions.” Mutual humility in the face of mystery and paradox is more easily expressed, and understood, in friendly conversation over wine and dinner than in dry academic print. No one can, in practice, live by the creeds of determinism or nihilism. In this sense, no one takes these creed seriously, not even the advocates themselves. So we tend to discount any effect on policy of these doctrines. However, may open-minded citizens halfway suspect that the learned scholars who publicly proclaim these views might know something that they do not. Maybe I really am just a robot controlled by my selfish genes; maybe purpose really is just an epiphenomenal illusion; maybe better and worse really are just meaningless terms for lending undue authority to subjective personal preferences to class-based, gender-based, or race-based interests. The fact that determinist or nihilist views cannot consistently be lived out in practice by individuals does not mean that their existence, lurking in the back of the collective mind, is not capable of disabling policy. In the introduction, we referred briefly to the difficulty some ecologists have in dealing with policy, the messy world of human affairs. To the extent that the ecologist , like some biologists, is a determinist, policy of any kind kind would be silly. Such an ecologist would necessarily be more laissez-faire that the most extreme free market economist. Hence our view that ecological economics is not simply a matter of bringing the light of ecology to dispel the darkness of economics. There is that to be sure, but the is also some darkness within ecology that economists do not need to import. Perhaps we should take some cues from modern physics, just as traditional economics takes cues from nineteenth-century mechanical physics. Quantum indeterminacy and chaos theory have upset the “scientific “ foundations of determinacy. And many of our greatest modern physicists, those who have best come to understand the physical matter underlying the scientific materialism paradigm, increasingly question its ability to provide any ultimate truths. For example, Einstein points out that scientific knowledge “of what is does not open the door directly to what should be.” He goes on the ask, “What should be the goal of our human aspirations? The ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source.”(22) In Schrodinger’s words, “The scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts our experience in a magnificently consistent order, bu it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near our heart, that really matters to us – we do not belong to the material world the science constructs for us.”(23) Policy students, including the economists, implicitly assume that the world offers more than one possibility to choose from and that some choices really are better than others. This is also true of course, for ecological economists, who, while continuing to take biology and ecology seriously, must not fall into the traps of determinism or nihilism that seem to have ensnared some in those disciplines. To be sure, not every conceivable alternative is a real alternative. Many things really are impossible. But the number of viable possibilities permitted by physical law and past history is seldom reduced to only one. Through our choices, value and purpose lure the physical world in one direction rather than the other. Purpose is independently causative in the world. Sidebox 3-1: Determinism in the History of Philosophy Materialism, determinism and mechanism are closely related metaphyical doctrines about the basic nature of reality. If you study the history of philosophy, you will see that they go back to Epicurus, Democritus and Lucretius, over 2,000 years ago, and these doctrines are still very much with us today. It would be arrogant for two economists to think that they can resolve this ancient puzzle but also naive to think that we can sidestep it, since economics is unavoidably about choice. If choice is an illusion, what does that say about economics? Because humans are part of reality, it follows that if matter in motion is all there is to reality, then that is all there is to humans as well. Since the motions of matter are determined by mechanical laws, it follows that the same laws ultimately determine human action. This ‘Determinism’ rules out free will – it means that our purposes are not independently causative in the world. Only mechanical motion of matter is causative. Purposes, intentions, values, choices are all dreams or subjective hallucinations. They are effects, not causes. ‘Nihilism’, the rejection of all moral values, is the ethical consequence of of the materialist, determinist cosmology. Things are what they are, and you can do nothing about it because your will and purpose have no power to change things. You can have no responsibility for what cannot be otherwise. For Epicurus this was a great relief – much better than worrying about the gods anger and retribution, about responsibility and guilt and punishment. Relax, don’t worry, do your best to enjoy life. Nothing can really hurt you, because when you are dead, that’s the end of you no longer suffer. This view is still very much alive in the modern secular world, although it has a long history of conflict with Christianity, Judaism and Islam, as well as other philosophies that reject materialism as an adequate view of reality. They insist that good and evil are as real in our experience as matter and that humans have at least some capacity for choice between them. To ignore our direct experience of good, evil and freedom is considered anti-empirical and against the deeper spirit of science. It is not our intent to convert you either to or from Epicurism, Christianity, or any other position. Maybe you do not yet have any position on this question. But logic does have its demands, and no doctrine is exempt from them. Even the early materialists recognized the contradictions involved in a doctrine that ruled out freedom, novelty and choice. Epicurus tried to restore a modicum of freedom in an ad hoc manner by introducing the notion of the ‘clinamen’ – the idea that atoms swerved from their determined motions for unexplained reasons and that this was the source of novelty, and perhaps some degree of freedom. Our advice is to be skeptical of any easy answer to a problem that has been around for 2500 years and also to be humble in the face of any logical contradictions that you cannot resolve. The Ends-Means Spectrum: Ultimate means and the ultimate ends are two extremes of an ‘ends-means spectrum’ in the middle of which economic value is determined. In everyday life, it is our mid-range ends and means that interact, not their ultimate origins in the realms of the spirit or the electron. We wi9ll discuss this intermediate, mid-spectrum interaction in our consideration of the function of markets and relative prices (see Chapter 8). But for now it is useful to think of the entire ends-means spectrum depicted in Figure 3.1. The economic choices that exist in the mid-range of the spectrum are not illusory. They are not totally determined by material causes from below, nor are they rendered meaningless by an absence of final cause from above or the presence of a predestining final cause. As we shall discuss later, prices, relative values, are determined by supply and demand. But supply reflects alternative conditions of relative possibility, of the reality of ultimate means, while demand reflects independent conditions of relative desirability, rooted in perceptions of the ultimate end. In it’s largest sense, humanity’s ultimate economic problem is to use ultimate means efficiently and wisely in the service of the ultimate end. Stated in this way, the problem is overwhelming in its inclusiveness. Therefore, it’s not hard to understand why in practice it has been broken up into a series of sub-problems, each dealt with by a different discipline, as indicated on the right side of the ends-means spectrum [diagram]. At the top of the spectrum, we have the ultimate end, studied by religion and philosophy. It is that which is intrinsically good and does not derive its goodness from any other instrumental relation to some other or higher derivative. Needless to say, it is not well-defined. As noted earlier, there are unacceptable consequences from denying its existence, but the dimness of our vision of the ultimate end is part of the human condition and requires a great deal of mutual tolerance. Th error of treating as ultimate that which is not is, in theological terms, idolatry. At the bottom of the spectrum is ultimate means, the useful stuff of the world – low-entropy matter-energy, which we can only use up and cannot create or replenish, and whose net production cannot possibly be the end result of any human activity. The ultimate end is much harder to define than the ultimate means our current approximation to the ultimate end, unfortunately, seems to be economic growth, and part of the critique of economic growth is that our devotion to it has become idolatrous, worshiping a false god, so to speak, because it is not really ultimate. But it is not easy to formulate a central organizing principle of society that does not border of idolatry. To reiterate, since we are forced by scarcity to choose which of our many intermediate ends will be satisfied and which will be sacrificed, we must rank our intermediate ends. Ranking means establishing priority. Priority means that something goes in first place. That holder of first place is our operational estimate of the ultimate end. It provides the ordering criterion for ranking other intermediate ends. Second place goes to whatever is nearest to or best serves first place, and so on. This ranking of intermediate ends relative to our vision of the ultimate end is the problem of ethics. Economists traditionally take the solution to the ethical problem as given and start their analysis with a given ranking of intermediate ends, or with the assumption that one person’s ranking is as good as another’s, so that ethics is indistinguishable from personal tastes. At the bottom of the spectrum, physics studies ultimate means, and technics studies the problem of turning ultimate means into artifacts specifically designed to satisfy each of our intermediate ends. Economists also habitually assume the technical problem to have been solved; that is, technology is taken as given. Thus, the remaining segment of the spectrum is the middle one of allocating given intermediate means to the service of a given hierarchy of intermediate ends. This is the significant and important economic problem, or rather political economic problem, quite distinct from the ethical or technical problems. The middle-range nature of the problem of political economy is significant. It means that, form the perspective of the entire spectrum, economics is, in a sense, both too materialistic and not materialistic enough. In abstracting from the ethical and religious problem it is too materialistic, and in abstracting from the technical and biophysical problem it is not materialistic enough. Economic value has both physical and moral roots. Neither can be ignored. Yet many thinkers are attracted to a monistic philosophy that focuses only on the biophysical or only on the psychic root of value. Ecological economics adopts a kind of practical dualism. Dualism is not as simple as monism, and it entails the mysterious problem of how the material and the spiritual interact. That is indeed a large and enduring mystery. But on the positive side, dualism is more radically empirical than either monism, refusing to deny or ride roughshod over the inconvenient facts just to avoid confronting a mystery.(24)

Friday, September 11, 2020

Ends and Means: A Practical Dualism

Herman Daly and Joshua Farley: Ecological Economics 2nd edition: Chapter 3: Ends, Means and Policy Ends and Means: A Practical Dualism "Ecological economics has at least as much in common with standard economics as it has differences. One such important common feature is the basic definition of economics as the study of the allocation of scarce means among competing ends (though we will explain in later chapters why focusing on scarce resources is necessary but not sufficient). There are disagreements about what is scarce and what is not, what are appropriate mechanisms for allocating different resources (means) and how we rank competing ends in order of importance – but there is no dispute that using means efficiently in the service of ends is the subject matter of economics. Using means in the service of ends implies policy. Alternatively, policy implies knowledge of ends and means. Economics, especially ecological economics, is inescapably about policy, although the rarefied levels of abstraction sometimes reached by economists may lead us to think otherwise. Economic anthropologist Karl Polanyi states “The substantive meaning of economics derives from man’s dependence for his living upon nature and his fellows. It refers to the interchange with his natural and social environment, in so far as this results in supplying him with the means of material want satisfaction.” If economics is the study of the allocation of scarce means in the service of competing ends, we have to think rather deeply about the nature of ends and means. Also, policy presupposes knowledge of two kinds: of possibility and purpose and of means and ends. Possibility reflects how the world works. In addition to keeping us from wasting time and money on impossibilities, this kind of knowledge gives us information about trade-offs between real alternatives. Purpose reflects desirability, our ranking of ends, our criteria for distinguishing better from worse states of the world. It does not help much to know how the world works if we cannot distinguish better from worse states of the world. Nor is it useful to pursue a better state of the world that happens to be impossible. Without both kinds of knowledge, policy discussion is meaningless.(1) To relate this to economic policy, we need to consider two questions. First, in the realm of possibility, the question is: what are the means at our disposal? Of what does our ultimate means consist? By “ultimate means” we mean a common denominator of possibility or usefulness that we can only use up and not produce, for which we are totally dependent on the natural environment. Second, what ultimately is the end or highest purpose in whose service we should employ these means? These are very large questions, and we can not answer them completely, especially the latter. But it is essential to raise the questions. There are some things, however, that we say by way of partial answers, and it is important to say them. Means ‘Ultimate means’, the common denominator of all usefulness, consist of low-entropy matter-energy.(2) Low-entropy matter-energy is the physical coordinate of usefulness, the basic necessity that humans must use up but cannot create, and for which the human economy is totally dependent on nature to supply. Entropy is the qualitative physical difference that distinguishes useful resources from an equal quantity of useless waste. We do not use up matter and energy per se, (First Law of Thermodynamics), but we do irrevocably use up the quality of usefulness as we transform matter and energy to achieve our purposes (Second Law of Thermodynamics). The capacity for entropic transformations of matter-energy to be useful is therefore reduced both by the emptying of finite sources and by the filling up of finite sinks. If there were no entropic gradient between source and sink, the environment would be incapable of serving our purposes or even sustaining our lives. Technical knowledge helps us to use low entropy more efficiently; it does not enable us to eliminate or reverse the direction of the metabolic flow. Matter can of course be recycled from sink back to source by using more energy (and more material implements) to carry out the recycling. Energy can be recycled only by expending more energy to carry out the recycling than the amount recycled, so it is never economic to recycle energy – regardless of price. Recycling also requires material implements for collection, concentration and transportation. The machines used to collect, concentrate and transport will themselves wear out through a process of entropic dissipation, the gradual erosion and dispersion of their material components into the environment in a one-way flow of low-entropy usefulness to high-entropy waste. Any recycling process must be efficient enough to replace the material lost to this process. Nature’s biogeochemical cycles powered by the sun can recycle matter to a high degree – some think 100%. But this only underlines our dependence on nature’s services, since in the human economy we have no source equivalent to the sun, and our finite sinks fill up because we are incapable of anything near 100% recycling. Information: The Ultimate Resource? There is a strong tendency to deny our dependence on nature to achieve our purposes. Among the more explicit denials is that from George Gilder: (4) “Gone is the view of a thermodynamic world economy, dominated by “ natural resources” being turned to entropy and waste by human extraction and use. … The key fact of knowledge is that it is anti-entropic: it accumulates and compounds as it is used. … conquering the microcosm, the mind transcends every entropic trap and overthrows matter itself.” According to The Economist, George Gilder is “America’s foremost technology prophet” who’s recommendation can cause the share price of a company to increase by 50 percent the next day(5). If Gilder is really that influential, it simply proves that stock prices are often based on erroneous information and irrational expectations. To cast further doubt on Gilder’s ‘Gnostic’ prophecy, one need only recall the aphorisms of Nobel chemist Frederick Soddy, “No phosphorus, no thought,”(7) and of Loren Eisley, “the human mind .. burns by the power of a leaf.” As Kenneth Boulding – one of the pioneers of ecological economics – pointed out, knowledge has to be imprinted on physical structures in the form of improbable arrangements of matter before it is effective in the economy. And low entropy is the quality of matter-energy that increases its capacity to receive and retain the improbable imprint of human knowledge. For example, to receive the imprint, a typical computer microelectronics plant producing 5000 wafers per day generates some 5 million liters of organic and aqueous solvent waste (i.e. high entropy) per year,(8) in addition to the raw materials and energy used. With regard to retaining the imprint, recent estimates suggest that the information economy in the U.S. consumes 13% of the electricity we use as a nation, and this level in increasing rapidly. (9) Furthermore, as important as knowledge is, it is misleading to say it grows by compounding accumulation. New dollars from compound interest paid into a bank account are not offset by any decline in old dollars, that is, the principal. Yet new knowledge often renders old knowledge obsolete, as we saw in our discussion of scientific revolutions and paradigm shifts. Do the scientific theories phlogiston(10) and the ether (11) still count as knowledge? And when knowledge becomes obsolete, the artifacts that embody that knowledge become obsolete as well. Again, the IT economy is the best example. According to the US EPA, Americans purchased some 65 million computers and monitors loaded with toxic materials in 2007 and stored or disposed of 72 million. This is just part of the 1322 tons of toxin-laden computer products that reached the end of life that year.(12) For every three computers that enter the market, two become obsolete. The corollary of Moore’s law – that computer speed will double every 18 months while prices fall – is that brand-new IT devices are never far from becoming electronic waste. This is hardly anti-entropic. Physicists will not be surprised, because they have never found anything that is anti-entropic. As E. J. Mishan noted, technological knowledge often unrolls the carpet on increased choices before us by the foot while simultaneously rolling it up behind us by the yard(13). Yes, knowledge develops and improves, but it does not grow exponentially like money compounding in the bank. Furthermore, new knowledge need not always reveal new possibilities of growth; it can also bring serious harm and reveal new limitations. The new knowledge of the fire-resisting properties of asbestos increased its usefulness; subsequent knowledge of of its carcinogenic properties reduced its usefulness. New knowledge can cut both ways. Finally, and most obviously, knowledge has to be actively learned and taught every generation – it cannot be passively bequeathed like an accumulating stock portfolio. When society invests little in the transfer of knowledge to the next generation, some of it is lost, and its distribution often becomes more concentrated, contributing to the growing inequality in the distribution of income, as well as to the general dumbing-down of the future. Waste as a Resource? The common view among economists and many others is that waste is just a resource we have not yet learned to use, that nature supplies only the indestructable building blocks of elemental atoms, and that all the rest either is or can be done by humans. What counts to economists is value added by human labor and capital – that to which value is is added is thought to be totally passive stuff, not even worthy of the name natural resources, as evidenced by Gilder’s putting the term in quotation marks. Natural processes, in this view, do not add value to the elemental building blocks – and even if they did, man-made capital is thought to substitute for such natural resources. The brute fact remain, however, that we can only get so much energy from a lump of coal, we cannot burn the same lump twice, and the resulting ashes and heat scattered into nature’s sinks really are polluting wastes and not just matter-energy of equally-useful potential, if only we knew how to use it. Eroded topsoil washed to the sea and chlorofluorocarbons in the ozone layer are also polluting wastes on a human timescale, not just “resources out of place.” No one denies the enormous importance of knowledge.(14) But this denigration of the importance of the physical world, and exclusive emphasis on knowledge as our ultimate resource, seems to be a modern version of Gnosticism. It appears to be religiously motivated by a denial of our creaturehood as part of the material world, by the belief that we have, or soon will have, transcended the world of material creation and entered an unlimited realm of esoteric knowledge, albeit technical now instead of spiritual. Thus, even in the discussion of means we are pushed out of the purely biophysical realm to consider alternative religious philosophies, including most prominently the revival of the ancient Christian heresy of Gnosticism. Ends: We argued earlier that there is such a thing as ultimate means and that it is low-entropy matter-energy. Is there such a thing as an ‘ultimate end’, and if so, what is it? Following Aristotle, we think there are good reasons to believe that there must be an ultimate end, but it is far more difficult to say just what it is. In fact we will argue that, while we must be very dogmatic about the existence of the ultimate end, we must be very humble and tolerant about our hazy and differing perceptions of what it looks like. In an age of pluralism, the first objection to the idea of ultimate end is that it is singular. Do we not have many ultimate ends? Clearly we have many ends, but just as clearly they conflict and we must choose between them. We rank ends. We prioritize. In setting priorities, in ranking things, something – only one thing – has to go in first place. That is our practical approximation to the ultimate end. What goes in second place is determined by how close it came to the first place, and so on. Ethics is the problem of ranking plural ends or values. The ranking criterion, the holder of first place, is the ultimate end (or its operational approximation), which grounds our understanding of objective value - better or worse as real states of the world, not just subjective opinions. We do not claim that the ethical ranking of plural ends is necessarily done abstractly, a priori. Often the struggle with concrete problems and policy dilemmas forces decisions, and the discipline of the concrete decision helps us implicitly rank ends whose ordering would have been too obscure in the abstract. Sometimes we have regrets and discover that our ranking was not in accordance with a subsequently improved understanding of the ultimate end. Like scientific theories, desirable ends should also be subject to empirical testing and falsification. Neoclassical economists reduce value to the level of individual tastes or preferences, about which it is senseless to argue. But this apparent tolerance has some nasty conseque3nces. Our point is that we must have a dogmatic belief in objective value, and objective hierarchy of ends ordered with reference to some concept of the ultimate end,however dimly we may perceive the latter. This sounds rather absolutist and intolerant in modern devotees of pluralism, but a little reflection will show that it is the very basis of for tolerance. If A and B disagree regarding the hierarchy of values, and they believe that objective value does not exist, then there is nothing for either of them to appeal to in an effort to persuade the other. It is simply A’s subjective values versus B’s. B can vigorously assert her preferences and try to intimidate A into going along, but A will soon get wise to that. They are left to resort to physical combat or deception or manipulation, with no possibility of truly reasoning together in search of a clearer shared vision of objective value, because, by assumption, the latter does not exist. Each knows his own subjective preferences better than the other, so no “values clarification” is needed. If the source of value is in one’s own subjective preferences, then one does not really care about the other’s preferences, except as they may serve as a means to satisfying one’s own. Any talk of tolerance becomes a sham, a mere strategy of manipulation, with no real openness to persuasion.(15) Of course, we must also be wary of dogmatic belief in a too explicitly defined ultimate end, such as those offered by many fundamentalist religions. (16) In this case, again, there is no possibility of truly reasoning together to clarify a shared perception, because any questioning of revealed truth is heresy.” ISBN: 978-1-59726-681-9 2011

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.

View all my reviews

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.
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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. http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/77/12/6973.full.pd 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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_cycle, citing doi:10.1126/science.290.5490.291
4. Same as footnote #3 .
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_effect .
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_effect .
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 .
8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180605103437.htm
9. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6291/1312
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: https://www.db.com/newsroom_news/2016/ghp/esg-and-financial-performance-aggregated-evidence-from-more-than-200-empirical-studies-en-11363.htm
Furthermore, the risk of total loss of capital in ESG investing has been shown to be quite comparable to money otherwise invested: https://insight.factset.com/the-hidden-risks-of-csr-esg-and-sri-investing.