Swans Commentary » swans.com November 15, 2010  



The Economy Is Not Coming Back
Part III: The Reasons it Shouldn't


by Gilles d'Aymery





Read the first part of this essay, "A Short History of the Maelstrom."
Read the second part of this essay, "The Reasons it Won't [come back]."


"This meeting is part of the world's efforts to address a very simple fact -- we are destroying life on Earth."

—Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program, Nagoya, Japan, October 18, 2010

"We are nearing a tipping point, or the point of no return for biodiversity loss. Unless proactive steps are taken for biodiversity, there is a risk that we will surpass that point in the next 10 years."

—Ryu Matsumoto, Japanese Environment Minister, Nagoya, Japan, October 18, 2010 (1)


(Swans - November 15, 2010)  The first part of this long essay presented an abridged history of the road to the current deep socioeconomic crisis that some observers had predicted, even though no one could pinpoint the exact timing of the implosion. The second part submitted that there are objective factors that explain why the economy is not going "to come back" any time soon. But, more importantly, profound and intensifying environmental and ecological crises militate in favor of not having the economy revert to the shape and form it had. Some of these crises are the object of this third part. In short, to return to business as usual will lead to collective suicide, which Mother Nature will trigger in the not so distant future.

According to the WWF (2) 2010 Living Planet Report, "human demand outstrips nature's supply." "In 2007," the report states, "humanity's Footprint exceeded the Earth's biocapacity by 50%." The Global Footprint Network (GFN) has calculated that on August 21, 2010, the world reached Earth Overshoot Day -- that is, "the day of the year in which human demand on the biosphere exceeds what it can regenerate." As GFN president Mathis Wackernagel stated: "If you spent your entire annual income in nine months, you would probably be extremely concerned. The situation is no less dire when it comes to our ecological budget. Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and food shortages are all clear signs: We can no longer finance our consumption on credit. Nature is foreclosing." Though these environmental organizations are promoting policies that are essentially based on demographic and increasingly economic Malthusianism -- independent researcher Michael Barker has written in-depth analyses, particularly in regard to the WWF, in these pages (3) -- they do acknowledge the gravity of the situation. As the WWF report states, "An overshoot of 50% means it would take 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people used in 2007 and absorb CO2 waste. ... CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are far more than ecosystems can absorb." In other words, the world, or to be more precise, some parts of the world, over-produces and over-consumes natural resources that are being depleted at an exponential rate. That's the main reason for not having US (and other rich nations') households "spend again at pre-crisis levels." (4) The socioeconomic paradigm built on capital accumulation, perpetual material growth, and financial profits for the infinitesimal few must be not just overhauled but buried, and replaced by an equitable new arrangement that takes into account all natural ecosystems.


Fossil fuels


Fossil fuels have been feeding the materialistic economic paradigm, whether under capitalism or socialism, since the early 1800s. Their use increased moderately between 1850 and 1950, thereafter shooting up like a rocket. (5)

According to the US Energy Information Administration, "in 2007 primary sources of energy consisted of petroleum 36.0%, coal 27.4%, natural gas 23.0%, amounting to an 86.4% share for fossil fuels in primary energy consumption in the world." Today, worldwide transportation depends on oil for 90 percent of its needs. There is not one sector of the economy that is independent of fossil fuels. From 1990 to 2008 the global consumption of fossil fuels has increased as follows: oil: 25 percent, with a stabilization since the beginning of the economic crisis; coal: 48 percent; and natural gas: 54 percent. (6)

With these few facts in mind, where does the world stand in regard to fossil fuels?




Since the beginning of the current latent depression, as oil consumption has flattened or slightly decreased, the topic of peak oil has by and large disappeared in the mainstream media. Were it not for the Blogosphere (7) that keeps bringing facts of oil depletion to the fore, one would believe that everything is fine and dandy -- and, anyway, the alarmists are deemed radicals (right or left) and as such are discounted. However, what to make of Charles Maxwell, a senior energy analyst at Weeden & Co. -- certainly not a "radical" -- who has written and talked extensively about The Gathering Storm? (8)

Or what about Robert Hirsch? Swans readers may recall Hirsch's 2005 report "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management" that was highlighted on January 29, 2007, in the dossier, "Energy Resources And Our Future," by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. In that report, Hirsch, an oilman par excellence, showed the dire challenges the world faces and how to possibly mitigate them. What happened to that report is best explained by Hirsch himself, which he did in a potent interview (in English) with the French Le Monde on September 16, 2010 (the report was shelved by both the Bush and Obama administrations).

Still, Hirsch remains adamant. In The Impending World Energy Mess, co-authored with Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling (Apogee Prime, October 2010), Hirsch makes the case that oil production is on the decline; that no quick fixes are available; and that societal priorities will have to change drastically.

The research done by the British Chatham House, the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security, the German military analysis, and other US military reports, like the "2010 Joint Operating Environment" (pdf) shows that oil-consuming countries are bracing themselves for the decline of oil and the risks of conflicts it will engender. But for a few scientists supported and financed by energy conglomerates and pro-growth lobbies, the scientific community has by and large reached the conclusion that the decline of oil was not reversible -- a conclusion reached as early as 1998 by the Paris-based International Energy Agency though this crucial information was left out of its annual World Energy Outlook report under pressure from powerful players. (9) Keep in mind that peak oil does not mean the end of oil, as some doomsayers claim. It denotes the end of cheap oil on the one hand and on the other the physical (and economic) inability to find new reserves proportionately to the oil being consumed.

Peak oil deniers and advocates of abiogenic oil need to ponder why oil companies take so many risks to hunt for oil deep in the seas for poor and marginal results in oil supplies, all the while causing recurring ecological disasters, or engage in such environmentally-destructive projects as the Canadian oil sands -- one of the worst ecological projects in the entire world that is bound to destroy the boreal forest in an area the size of Florida, devour hundreds of million cubic meters of fresh water and 600 million cubic feet of natural gas every day, and dramatically increase the emissions of carbon dioxide while yielding a relatively low energy return on investment (EROI), or energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) -- that is, the amount of energy needed to produce energy. (10) In other words, the world is using more and more energy to produce less and less of it at an ever faster-growing financial and environmental cost.

But since a picture is worth a thousand words, readers may want to look at the superb photographic work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, which is exhibited on the Web site of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (11) Paul Roth, the curator of the exhibition, wrote in the catalog:

.....Edward Burtynsky shows the man-made world—the human ecosystem—that has risen up around the production, use, and dwindling availability of our paramount energy source. The mechanics and industry of extraction and refinement; the development, products, and activities associated with transportation and motor culture; and the wreckage, obsolescence, and human cost that lies at the End of Oil. These photographs are about man, and what he has made of the earth. (12)

In 1980 the worldwide production of petroleum (in thousand barrels per day) was 63,963.116. It went up to 66,217.937 in 1990, and reached 85,477.530 in 2008. (13)


Natural gas


Natural gas is generally seen as both abundant and less polluting than oil and coal, which is factually correct. However, what the proponents of natural gas do not mention is the huge environmental consequences of its extraction, especially when using hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, that take up huge amounts of water and chemicals and contaminate ground water. Fracking, as a June 2010 Vanity Fair report indicated, has become a "colossal mess." The real environmental costs of extracting natural gas are widely underestimated or ignored by the proponents of using this fuel as a "bridge to the future." (14)

Whatever T. Boone Pickens's proselytizing and the lobbying of vested interests to expand the use of this "clean fuel," we face, in the words of Professor Francis Shor, "a toxic cancer," which will lead to "an unprecedented assault on the environment that may very well doom future generations of residents of the United States to a slow, but sure, toxic death." (15)

In 1980 the worldwide production of natural gas (in billion cubic feet) was 53,375. It went up to 73,788 in 1990, and reached 109,789 in 2008.




According to Greenpeace (16) "coal is the largest driver of global warming pollution on the planet and a primary driver of toxic air pollutants like mercury and nitrogen oxide. But coal combustion also results in millions of tons of solid waste in the form of coal ash and scrubber sludge." Whether through Mountaintop removal mining or traditional in situ extraction, the environmental impact on humans and natural ecosystems is ominous. China, the largest producer and consumer of coal for the country's generation of electricity by a factor of 3:1 in relation to the USA (the second largest), is a case in point. (17)

A September 15, 2010, report (18) by Greenpeace, "The True Cost of Coal," notes:

China depends on coal for more than 70 pct of its energy needs.

For the last 8 years China has added new coal plants once a week in average. It has 1,400 coal plants.

The combustion of 4 tons of coal produces 1 ton of ashes. China produces 375 million tons of ashes a year, 2.5 times more than in 2002.

Greenpeace estimates that only 30 percent of these ashes are recycled. Environmental accidents similar to the 2008 Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant spill in Tennessee (19) are prone to increasingly happen.

Coal, in a nutshell, is the most polluting fuel (air, water, soil, and animal species) that ought to be phased out as quickly as possible. Instead, production and consumption are increasing exponentially.

In 1980 the worldwide production of coal (in thousand short tons) was 4,181,850. It went up to 5,346,680 in 1990, and reached 7,271,749 in 2008.

What these fossil fuels have in common is their significant production/consumption growth over time, which brings to mind the Exponential Expiration Time that Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, popularized in his famous 1978 presentation, "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy" -- a presentation he has revised and augmented over the years. Bartlett has often bemoaned human "inability to understand the exponential function" and the general ignorance of the "doubling time." -- "The growth in any doubling time is greater than the total of all the preceding growth!" (20)

Missing from his paper, however, is another trait that these fossil fuels share.


Emissions of carbon dioxide


According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), China passed the U.S. to become the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2007. In 2008 (the year of reference for this article), China emitted 6,533.544 million metric tons of CO2 and the U.S. 5,832.819. However, these numbers are distorted, as they do not reflect the amount of CO2 the U.S. has "exported" toward China and other emerging economies through the relocalization of parts of its manufacturing sector (which this research has been unable to estimate). Neither are these figures taking into account the respective emissions per capita. In this latter case, the U.S. emits almost 4 times (3.92 to be precise) as much as China. (21) Still, these two countries emitted 40.7 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions in 2008.

More ominous is the worldwide growth of CO2 emissions in the past three decades. In 1980 (the farthest back the EIA statistics go), total emissions were 18,488.253 million metric tons. A decade later, in 1990, they were 21,677.327. By 2000, they had reached 23.876.592; and by 2008, 30,377.313. To put this growth in perspective, suffice it to note that in a mere 28 years the emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by a sheer 64.31 percent!


Climate change and global warming


According to an October 28, 2010, report by the French Sciences Academy, "Climate Change" (PDF, in French), (22) "the concentration of CO2 has been increasing continually since the middle of the 19th century, due principally to industrial activities, going from 280 parts per million around 1870 to 388 ppm in 2009. (Climatologists show that the safe upper limit is 350 ppm.) The rate of growth measured since 1970 is about 500 times higher than the slow growth observed in the last 5,000 years. ... The origin of this growth is for more than half due to the burning of fossil fuels, and the rest is due to deforestation and in a small part the production of cement." (p. 4) Sea levels, the report states, have risen 0.7 mm per year between 1870 and 1930, and began rising faster ever after, reaching a current 3.4 mm per year. Land glaciers and sea ice sheet, from Greenland to Antarctica, are all melting and receding rapidly. (23)

Correlated with the rise of carbon dioxide is the increasing acidification of the oceans that has taken place in the past 30 years or so. The depletion of oxygen in the seas is creating ever-larger ocean dead zones. More troubling yet, starting in 1950 phytoplankton, the very basis of the food chain, has declined by 40 percent, which will affect "everything up the food chain, including humans."

Surely, the "merchants of doubt," like Fred Singer, William Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Patrick Michaels, who are backed by some of the biggest polluters on the planet, will keep questioning and dismissing the science as they used to do for the ozone hole, acid rain, and even the dangers of smoking. Cordula Meyer calls them "The Traveling Salesmen of Climate Skepticism" in "Science as the Enemy" (Der Spiegel, October 8, 2010) (24) For these people more research must be done and no action is warranted -- a message that is compliantly passed on in the MSM. (With a twinkle of irony, even rambunctious muckrakers join those professional skeptics!) (25) Like peak oil deniers, climate change Homo ignoramus are a species that are hard, if not impossible, to break, although one would wish they'd become extinct sooner rather than later. At the very least, one would hope that in the economic realm of this piece, they would acknowledge human-made destruction of the oceans, like plastic garbage and the depletion of fisheries.


Accumulation of plastic in the oceans


Last July, the Sea Education Association (SEA) of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, reported having found a huge plastic garbage patch, possibly the size of Texas, in the North Atlantic gyre that rivals the northern Pacific "superhighway of trash" that Charles Moore discovered in 1997. Another one has been found in the Indian Ocean, and according to SEA chief scientist Giora Proskurowski, the south Pacific and south Atlantic are affected as well. Scientists estimate that 200 species are put at risk by this plastic garbage and no one knows how long it will take to have humans affected through the food chain. But effects are there to be seen.

Here again, a picture is worth a thousand words. Chris Jordan, the Seattle-based photographer, has documented extensively in his "Message from the Gyre" the damages that our throwaway consumerist culture inflicts on the animal lives. In light of Jordan's photographic documentation, no additional word is needed to depict the insanity of the current socioeconomic system.


The destruction of fisheries


If the scallops may become a past palate-endearing delight in relatively short order due to the acidification of the oceans, the heavily subsidized fishing industry is working against the clock to literally exterminate all fish stocks around the globe. As late as the nineteen nineties, fisheries were considered limitless. Meantime the stocks of halibut, cod, sole, yellowtail flounder, and hake have been utterly depleted. The bluefin tuna is getting closer and closer to extinction due to overfishing and "The Black Market in Bluefin." In a fascinating, and must-read August 2, 2010, New Yorker essay, "The Scales Fall," Elizabeth Kolbert tells how cods were once believed to be inexhaustible (they have essentially disappeared). Kolbert notes:

In 1964, the annual global catch totaled around fifty million tons; a U.S. Interior Department report from that year predicted that it could be "increased at least tenfold without endangering aquatic stocks." Three years later, the department revised its estimate; the catch could be increased not by a factor of ten but by a factor of forty, to two billion tons a year.

"Peak fish," Kolbert writes, took place in the late 1980s when "the total world catch topped out at around eighty-five million tons, which is to say, roughly 1.9 billion tons short of the Interior Department's most lunatic estimate." She adds: "For the past two decades, the global catch has been steadily declining. It is estimated that the total take is dropping by around five hundred thousand tons a year."

Daniel Pauly, a professor at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia, warns that we are "[sliding] toward a marine dystopia." He notes that "[I]n the past 50 years, we have reduced the populations of large commercial fish, such as bluefin tuna, cod, and other favorites, by a staggering 90 percent." Pauly insists that the world is witnessing an "aquacalypse." (26) He states that "[F]ish are in dire peril, and, if they are, then so are we"; and concludes that "governments [must free themselves] from their allegiance to the fishing-industrial complex."


In guise of a conclusion


There is a direct relation between our neoliberal socioeconomic system based on capital accumulation and over-production and the destruction of the earth's ecosystems. So the statement Mike Whitney made on July 6, 2010, ("Government spending must increase to make up for the slack in demand and reduce unemployment. That means larger budget deficits until households have patched their balance sheets and can spend again at pre-crisis levels.") appears to be poorly thought out or particularly irresponsible in light of the damages the policy he advocates would inflict on the environment. From peak oil to peak fish, from CO2 emissions to the extinction of species, from global warming to climate change, all indicators point in the same direction. The pursuit of limitless growth as currently designed is nothing less than a suicidal pact that Mother Nature will in the not so distant future trigger.

It must be noted that the partisans of new-Keynesian demand stimulation through government spending -- people like Dean Baker, Michael Hudson, Paul Krugman, et al. -- rarely, if ever, take into consideration in their research and advocacy the natural world and the ecological consequences of the neoliberal order. Is it because they all reason from within, and are active supporters of that paradigm?

But again, the socioeconomic paradigm built on capital accumulation, perpetual material growth, and financial profits for the infinitesimal few must be not just overhauled but buried, and replaced by an equitable new arrangement that takes into account all natural ecosystems. Humanity needs to build a new socio-ecological paradigm. Such a transformation can only be attained through revolutionary thinking and processes.


[ed. This article and its accompanying notes contain over 100 links. They were all valid as of November 13, 2010.]


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1.  Both statements were made at the opening session of the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan.

According to Der Spiegel, "20 percent of the planet's 380,000 plant species are in danger of becoming extinct, primarily due to habitat destruction. [...] Of 5,490 species of mammals, 1,130 are threatened and 70 percent of the world's fish population is in danger from over-fishing."

In a nutshell, Mother Earth is facing a mass extinction of natural species and habitats due to human activities that overwhelmingly originated in the materially rich Northern Hemisphere, which has been scarifying the biosphere ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  (back)

2.  The WWF, which was formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, was created in 1961 in Gland, Switzerland. It is one of the largest environmental NGOs with over "1,300 conservation projects around the world." It promotes free-market corporate environmentalism and advocates neoliberal solutions to mitigate the many ecological crises that the world faces -- what Michael Barker calls "eco-imperialism."  (back)

3.  See Barker's research on these organizations (and more), particularly "The Philanthropic Roots Of Corporate Environmentalism," Swans Commentary, November 3, 2008.  (back)

4.  See Part II of "The Economy Is Not Coming Back," Swans Commentary, October 18, 2010.  (back)

5.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Global_Carbon_Emissions.svg  (back)

6.  See a picture on Der Spiegel to visualize the increase of fossil fuels consumption in only 18 years.  (back)

7.  E.g., the Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum, Hubbert Peak of oil Production, etc.  (back)

8.  See his recent interview with Wally Forbes, of Forbes magazine (not a particularly leftist publication!), "Bracing For Peak Oil Production By Decade's End." Says Maxwell:

"The use of petroleum in the world is now up to about 30 billion barrels per year. The rate at which we have found new supplies of petroleum over the last 10 years has fallen to an average of only about 10 billion barrels per year.

"We're obviously in an unsustainable situation. We are now using up a greater number of barrels that we have found in the recent past and that we have reserved in the ground. We are now beginning to use it up relatively quickly -- with scary consequences for the future."  (back)

9.  See "How the global oil watchdog failed its mission," by Lionel Badal, Oil Man (a Blog from Le Monde), May 18, 2010. See also "Peak oil alarm revealed by secret official talks," by Terry Macalister and Lionel Badal, The Observer, August 22, 2010.  (back)

10.  In the 1930s one barrel of oil yielded 100 barrels; that is, the EROI was 100:1. By the 1970s the EROI was down to 30:1. Today, it is closer to 11/18:1 (in the U.S.) and 20:1 worldwide. See the March 2010 report by the Oil Drum. In comparison, the Canadian oil sands' EROI is about 5.2:1 (see http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3839). Worse, US ethanol based on corn yields an EROI of about 1.25:1 (one unit of energy consumed to produce 1.25 unit of energy -- and the calculation does not even take into account the economic and environmental costs of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone generated by fertilizer run-off from corn-producing Midwest agribusiness through the Mississippi River, or the dramatic rise in the price of food stuff, which has so negatively impacted US neighbors in Mexico.  (back)

11.  Some of the pictures have also been published on the Web site of Foreign Policy. (One needs to log on to the site because the article and the pictures have been archived.)  (back)

12.  Oil, the catalog for the exhibition, was published by Steidl/Corcoran in 2009. Excerpts can be seen on the Web site of Edward Burtynsky where this excerpt was found.
See http://edwardburtynsky.com/Oil_Book_Gallery/

Furthermore, a 2006 documentary, Manufactured Landscapes, featured the work of Burtynsky. To learn more about this documentary and view more pictures, see http://pingmag.jp/2007/04/12/manufactured-landscapes/.  (back)

13.  Except where indicated all the figures used in this piece come from the US Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics -- a very comprehensive set of worldwide statistics by country and geographical zones regarding production and consumption of fossil fuels, electricity, renewables, emission of carbon dioxide, and other key indicators.

Here are some 2008 stats worth keeping in mind:

(CO2 emissions are for year 2008; primary energy consumption is for year 2007.)

Total CO2 emissions for 2008: 30,377.313 (Million Metric Tons)

CO2 Emissions from the Consumption of Petroleum (Million Metric Tons)

USA: 2,435.952
All Europe: 2,193.769
Japan: 572.862
Russia: 373.394
All Africa: 455.341
China: 1,000.439
India: 384.390

C02 Emissions from the Consumption and Flaring of Natural Gas (Million Metric Tons)

USA: 1,271.699
All Europe: 1,119.080
Japan: 200.124
Russia: 908.287
All Africa: 261.741
China: 151.117
India: 84.943

CO2 Emissions from the Consumption of Coal (Million Metric Tons)

USA: 2,125.168
All Europe: 1,344.736
Japan: 441.203
Russia: 447.701
All Africa: 391.251
China: 5,381.998
India: 1,025.549

Total Primary Energy Consumption (Quadrillion Btu)

USA: 101.554
All Europe: 85.002
Japan: 22.473
Russia: 28.355
All Africa: 14.546
China: 73.219
India: 17.255

(For comparison: In 2000, the U.S. consumed 98.5 Quads: See "United States' Gargantuan Energy Appetite," by Gilles d'Aymery, Swans Dossier, October 21, 2002.)  (back)

14.  See the [T. Boone] PickensPlan.  (back)

15.  See "Frick-Fracking Away, Or Frackicide," by Francis Shor, Swans Commentary, November 15, 2010.  (back)

16.  See "Coal ash is a global problem," Greenpeace, September 15, 2010.  (back)

17.  While Greenpeace focuses its attention on China and in so doing may inadvertently (or willingly) add to the fashionable China-bashing that is currently taking place in Western political circles and media, it should not be forgotten that on a per capita basis, the U.S. consumes 3,460.5 thousand short tons versus 2,469.14 in China (2009) -- and even the per capita consumption should be carefully examined since high and low consumptions are very dependent on social classes.  (back)

18.  "The True Cost of Coal - An Investigation into Coal Ash in China." The full report in PDF format can be downloaded from
http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/Global/usa/planet3/publications/gwe/2010/coal-ash2010-ENG-RPT.pdf  (back)

19.  "On December 22, 2008, in the US state of Tennessee, the retaining wall of a five-hectare ash pond collapsed, spilling 500 million gallons (2 million cubic meters) of coal ash. The spill destroyed houses, polluted the earth, rivers, and air, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. According to the Tennessee Valley Authority, owner of the Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant, the ash covered more than 160 hectares of roads and lands, affecting an area greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill." The True Cost of Coal, p.5.  (back)

20.  While his presentation is most valuable and worth pondering, it has a major weakness: Professor Bartlett falls into the ideological trap of demographic Malthusian catastrophe -- like so many Western ethnocentric scholars and others (politicians, pundits, etc.) do time and again. The ecological conundrum is not related or correlated to population growth -- there is plenty of food, water, and land for the world to take in more people. It has to do with the ratio of production/consumption per capita. Evidently, the world cannot emulate the US model of "growth" -- see the ecological footprint of national populations worldwide (The U.S. has an average ecological footprint of 8 global hectares per capita compared to 2 for China) -- but the U.S. could and should develop a different model that would put needs before profits and embark on an entire retooling of its productive forces. China cannot be blamed for following a path to development that mimics that of the U.S. and other so-called wealthy nations ("so-called" because they are all essentially bankrupt). As said with some humor as early as 1996, get rid of the hypocrisy whereby the U.S. and other "advanced" nations want to keep their way of life all the while denying other nations to follow the same destructive path to "wealth" and China, as well as most countries in the world, will respond positively.  (back)

21.  While quite a telling indicator, CO2 emissions per capita is also a skewed indicator because it does not differentiate among energy users. For instance, the US armed forces' emissions; or wealthy Americans (e.g., Bill Gates) with very large estates and constant traveling with private jets; or owners of suburban McMansions driving around in their gas-guzzler SUVs; or, again, more modest households. Still here are a few examples of per capita emissions of CO2 in million metric tons for 2008: USA: 19.2 -- Russia: 12.3 -- Germany: 10 -- Japan: 9.5 -- UK: 9.4 -- France: 6.5 -- China: 4.9 -- India: 1.3 -- All of Africa: 1.1.

This tends to demonstrate the erroneous advocacy of demographic Malthusians. Compare the emissions of CO2 by the African continent (967.8 million inhabitants in 2008) to India's (1,140.6 million) and the U.S. (304 million). Once again, it's not the number of people that drives the dire ecological and economic challenges the world must confront. It's the ratio of production/consumption per capita.  (back)

22.  A summary of the report is available in a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation (also in French).  (back)

23.  "The Arctic is sending us perhaps the clearest message that climate change is occurring much more rapidly than scientists previously thought. In the summer of 2007, sea ice was roughly 39% below the summer average for 1979-2000, a loss of area equal to nearly five United Kingdoms." See 350.org.  (back)

24.  As Meyer writes, "[T]he professional skeptics tend to use inconsistent arguments. Sometimes they say that there is no global warming. At other times, they point out that while global warming does exist, it is not the result of human activity. Some climate change deniers even concede that man could do something about the problem, but that it isn't really much of a problem. There is only one common theme to all of their prognoses: Do nothing. Wait. We need more research."  (back)

25.  For instance, Alexander Cockburn, the publisher and co-editor of the center-right-leaning libertarian newsletter and Web site CounterPunch, contends that the science is flawed and the results doctored by a bevy of scientists that are lining their pockets with ever-increasing grants from the government and private foundations.  (back)

26.  See "Aquacalypse Now: The End of Fish," in The New Republic, September 28, 2009.  (back)


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Published November 15, 2010