The European Union unveiled a road-map to a low-carbon future today. It effectively positions the bloc at the vanguard of global efforts on climate change.
The aim is to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent, boost renewable energy – including steep increases in solar and wind power generation – to 20 percent of supply, and improve energy efficiency by 20 percent – all by 2020. (It’s being called “Triple-20”). Part of the new plan is to fortify Europe’s existing cap-and-trade system with more auctioned permits (giveaways in the original scheme led to windfall profits for polluters and minimal emissions reductions).
The broader objective is to demonstrate to the world that jobs and growth are not dependent on carbon.
Europe is leading on this too: Acknowledging that the longer-term benefits of a low-carbon economy would be enormous.
As EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso put it, “Europe can be the first economy for the low-carbon age. There is a cost, but it is manageable. To the European Parliament, which will vote on the plans shortly, he made the brilliant point that “every day the price of oil and gas goes up, the real cost of the package falls.”
I agree that the EU has some great ambitions but assuming that cutting carbon emissions while not cutting growth is any closer to a sustainable future is a bit naive. Wind and Solar may be renewable but they certainly aren’t limitless.
“Wind and Solar may be renewable but they certainly aren’t limitless.”We are nowhere near the limits possible from either wind or solar. So what is the point of writing that? It is a bit silly to even imagine that we could ever utilize all possible wind and solar potential. The only limit on our ability to utilize wind and solar is the technical issues of maintaining a stable electric grid with intermittent sources of energy. Depending on the region, most current models project that wind could handle 20% to 30% of the electric grid. Solar could perhaps handle in the range on 10% to 25%. For wind and solar, the issues are technical. They are not supply.
The broader objective is to demonstrate to the world that jobs and growth are not dependent on carbon. This dovetails onto the ‘Price on Priceless’ thread and allows contextualization and clarification. Implicit in the italicized statement is that ‘growth = good’ or ‘growth is expected to continue’. Growth is not a given. We tenuously exist on a sphere of finite dimension. To continue resource exploitation to fuel growth by infinite substitutions is a macroeconomic fallacy. There are limits to growth, even though a considerable fraction of our population refuses to believe this due to the tenets of their ideology. The reality-based economists who attempt to analyze at what point/when our growth will stop call the choices in the post-stop period ‘hard landing’ or ‘soft landing’.
The purpose of the EU program is to try to produce a strategy of transition from a carbon based energy economy to a non-carbon energy. The key argument by opponents has been that the higher costs will cost jobs. Why is there so much resistance among environmentalists to an effort that should be applauded? We could only dream of having a government in the USA that was so ahead of the curve in terms of promoting low carbon or zero carbon forms of energy.
I forget who said this, but I love the aphorism that “politics is the art of the possible”. In this instance, I think the EU’s strategy is to accept that it will be much easier to persuade people to sign on to an environmental platform that accommodates economic growth than one which asks them to do without. It’s far less a judgement about which is the right or better track than about which platform can be pursued by politicians who want re-election. If that sounds excessively cynical, bear in mind that holding on to power is not only in politicians’ self-interest, but also essential to their policies staying in force for long enough to achieve anything.
I forget who said this, but I love the aphorism that “politics is the art of the possible”. I learned a much more succinct definition – politics: who gets, who pays. When the people lead, the leaders will follow.
What’s wrong with cutting [wealthy nations’] growth?
The first challenge of cutting or limiting growth is resolving the question: who gets what and how much? One of the attractions offered by the concept of economic growth is that we never have to address questions of fair distribution of wealth and income, since, in theory, there will always be more for everyone.I think (also stolen straight from Herman Daly) that the area to focus on is the differentiation of qualitative from quantitative growth. As I see it, the future of sustainable economies will be reducing materials and energy flows while increasing the intelligence by which materials and energy are applied and where intelligence comes from things like human and social capital.
What’s wrong with cutting [wealthy nations’] growth?unemployment, crashing stock market, pension funds imploding from negative returns, homelessness, etc.Intentionally cutting growth has consequences. It is not a lightly made decision. The central bankers know this. It is easy for some armchair quarterback on the internet blog to causually suggest it. There are no consequences to you suggesting it here. In the real world it entails serious consequences. It might mean that you lose your job, your home in foreclosure and you homeless on the street. Are you still eager to cut growth?I am not writing this to in any way indicate that I favor mindless growth at all costs. I do not. But I also recognize that slashing GDP by 10% has some very devasting side effects for the average person.
As I see it, the future of sustainable economies will be reducing materials and energy flows while increasing the intelligence by which materials and energy are applied and where intelligence comes from things like human and social capital. I’m…unoptimistic that intelligence can be applied to problems effectively. I’ve been in too many bureaucracies to think otherwise, and I’m an adherent of Tiebout’s 80:20 rule.