physics weighs on climate

“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.”

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Garrett says his study’s key finding “is that accumulated economic production over the course of history has been tied to the rate of energy consumption at a global level through a constant factor.”

That “constant” is 9.7 (plus or minus 0.3) milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar. So if you look at economic and energy production at any specific time in history, “each inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar would be supported by 9.7 milliwatts of primary energy consumption,” Garrett says.
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“Viewed from this perspective, civilization evolves in a spontaneous feedback loop maintained only by energy consumption and incorporation of environmental matter,” Garrett says. It is like a child that “grows by consuming food, and when the child grows, it is able to consume more food, which enables it to grow more.”

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He says the idea that resource conservation accelerates resource consumption – known as Jevons paradox – was proposed in the 1865 book “The Coal Question” by William Stanley Jevons, who noted that coal prices fell and coal consumption soared after improvements in steam engine efficiency.

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Garrett says often-discussed strategies for slowing carbon dioxide emissions and global warming include mention increased energy efficiency, reduced population growth and a switch to power sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide, including nuclear, wind and solar energy and underground storage of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. Another strategy is rarely mentioned: a decreased standard of living, which would occur if energy supplies ran short and the economy collapsed, he adds.

“Fundamentally, I believe the system is deterministic,” says Garrett. “Changes in population and standard of living are only a function of the current energy efficiency. That leaves only switching to a non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power source as an available option.”

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full article from this mash-up

interesting that by taking a physics perspective, he steps outside the bounds of the normal view of climate change and its relation to the economy. we are always assuming that certain parts of our equations are true, leaving no room for fundamentally shaking our ideation of change and limiting what we have to work with. instead of reworking things form ground up, we always get stuck tweaking.

its the economy stupid. through and through. but what does that really mean…?