Sunday, November 29, 2009

Is global warming unstoppable?

Via:  Science Daily

ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2009) — In a provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions -- the major cause of global warming -- cannot be stabilized unless the world's economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.

"It looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in carbon dioxide emission rates," says the new paper by Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences.

Garrett's study was panned by some economists and rejected by several journals before acceptance by Climatic Change, a journal edited by Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider. The study will be published online the week of November 23.

The study -- which is based on the concept that physics can be used to characterize the evolution of civilization -- indicates:

  • Energy conservation or efficiency doesn't really save energy, but instead spurs economic growth and accelerated energy consumption.
  • Throughout history, a simple physical "constant" -- an unchanging mathematical value -- links global energy use to the world's accumulated economic productivity, adjusted for inflation. So it isn't necessary to consider population growth and standard of living in predicting society's future energy consumption and resulting carbon dioxide emissions.
  • "Stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions at current rates will require approximately 300 gigawatts of new non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power production capacity annually -- approximately one new nuclear power plant (or equivalent) per day," Garrett says. "Physically, there are no other options without killing the economy."

Getting Heat for Viewing Civilization as a "Heat Engine"

Garrett says colleagues generally support his theory, while some economists are critical. One economist, who reviewed the study, wrote: "I am afraid the author will need to study harder before he can contribute."

"I'm not an economist, and I am approaching the economy as a physics problem," Garrett says. "I end up with a global economic growth model different than they have."

Article continues here.

Read the paper at here.  Should be read in conjunction with that oldie-but goodie, “Finite-time singularity in the dynamics of the world population, economic and financial indices” found here.

Moral: Prepare for a lower standard of living.


  1. Did you miss the articles about hackers who found and disseminated information which indicates that the numbers supporting global warming appears to have been manufactured?

    I'm not disagreeing that we'll have a lower standard, but it's getting colder, not warmer.

  2. The author's main point is that the CO2 accumulation is essentially unstoppable; whether that implies unstoppable global warming is another issue in principle.

    The Sornette & Johannsen article suggests, however, that the faster than exponential growth of population and product (both requiring energy) over human history is reaching a point of "impossible to continue along current trajectory," implying a phase change to lower growth. It will be the greatest watershed in human history. It's probably under way.