There are, as you will have noticed, a number of different views around how we go about solving climate change. From those who think it’s all nonsense and my, hasn’t Al Gore got fat? to those who insist that only the immediate overthrow of capitalism, the return of medieval peasantry, can possibly save us all.
Personally I tend to prefer reading the reports that are issued by the IPCC: no not the ones on climate science as I have difficulties working out the difference between a kW and a MWh. So the intricacies of radiative forcing and the like are not for me.
However, the IPCC process does also issue economic reports and those I find fascinating. They have to issue economic reports, of course, for those climate models I have no hope of understanding need to know what emissions will be. Emissions obviously being determined by what technology how many people are using to reach what standard of living. Thus we need estimates, models, of how many people there will be, how rich they’ll be, what technologies they will use, to be able to generate the emissions numbers for the climate scientists to put into their models.
The IPCC process has just released their first update to these models since 2000. The overview paper is here. I’m not going to delve into all of the details (for which readers will no doubt than me) I just wanted to make a few general points with the use of a couple of their graphs.
As a handy guide, “RCPnumber” should be interpreted thusly: the higher the number after the RCP the closer we are to boiling Flipper as the last humans fight on the desert shores of Antarctica. The lower the number the more we can say, “Phew, we dodged the problem”. More specifically, RCP2.6 means CO2 peaks out at 490 ppm and then declines. RCP8.5 means it gets to 1370 ppm and perhaps keeps going leading to that dolphin BBQ.
Note please that I don’t have to believe these numbers, you don’t, no one has to believe any of this at all. However, we do need to realise that these are the numbers which are being fed into the climate change models (perhaps more accurately, that these are the numbers that will be) and thus produce those IPCC reports. Which means that anyone taking the outputs of those IPCC reports seriously needs to take these inputs seriously.
My general points can be made quite simply with the aid of two of their charts.
We know very well that there’s a connection between economic growth and population size. Richer countries on average have lower fertility rates so as the world becomes richer fewer children are born. So more economic growth leading to peaking and declining population really isn’t a surprise at all.
However, look at that light green line. The RCP 2.6 one, the “whew, we dodged it” one. The highest economic growth model leads to the lowest level of emissions considered. Less economic growth leads to higher emissions.
Note again that these are not my assumptions. They are those of the IPCC process. Which is something of a body blow to those telling us that we must cease economic growth if calamity is to be averted: the very assumptions built into the whole proof that climate change is something we should worry about say exactly the opposite. Economic growth is the way out, not the problem.
By the way, the assumption there about the rate of economic growth, from a roughly $50 trillion global economy in 2000 to a roughly $300 trillion one in 2100. That’s not all that far off the growth rate we had in the 20th century.
The second chart:
This is how much energy we’re going to use and where we’re going to get it from. We need to be more parsimonious in our use of energy, yes. We need to use less of it per unit of GDP (which is known as “energy intensity” and their desired decrease in that isn’t far off what the advanced economies already manage) but we don’t actually need to use less of it overall. Less oil, yes, but we can near double our energy consumption and still hit that “we missed the problem” sweet spot. It’s also amusing to note what a small role for solar and wind power is necessary to hit that target.
Again, I want to point out that these aren’t my assumptions, they’re not made up out of whole cloth by some denialist, these are the assumptions which the very scientists who tell us about climate change themselves think are the driving forces and likely outcomes.
Which leads to a very interesting conclusion indeed. We don’t have to stop economic growth at all, we can quite happily have around the same amount of it that we had in the 20 th century. So that’s a large number of the Green Miserablists shown to be wrong. We don’t have to reduce or even severely limit our energy consumption: we just have to get the growth in our consumption from other than the usual sources. A large number of the Energy Miserablists shown to be wrong there too.
Or, to boil it right down, the IPCC is telling us that the solution to climate change is economic growth and low-carbon energy generation.
That’s absolutely all we have to do.
Or as I pointed out at book length recently, a globalised market economy with a carbon tax will do just fine.