A LOVESalem foreign correspondent (from Bellingham, WA) writes:
With one minor exception, this well-written article is my public presentation in a nutshell. We cannot burn carbon we don't have, and carbon we cannot burn cannot contribute to global climate change. Furthermore, stimulus to make tons of green widgets at a time of declining energy supplies cannot succeed unless we deliberately reduce energy use (and economic activity) elsewhere in the 'economy.' Bad things are already happening in the world because of human-induced climate change, and I don't doubt we will burn as much of the remaining carbon as we're able, thereby causing even worse effects as we continue our grand climate experiment. However, some of the wilder climate possibilities constantly referred to in Copenhagen would require continued exponential growth (hence energy use) for the remainder of this century - and that is impossible. As Chris points out, creating a totally new energy infrastructure has always taken 2-3 decades - and that was in times of economic growth. The infamous 2005 Hirsch report emphasized that unfortunate constraint and warned of impending economic disaster because of the (then) upcoming oil peak; five years have now passed and we've basically made zero progress in creating any new energy sources and had one large economic hiccup. We've also bumped up against one of the limits to growth (oil supply), and it was unpleasant; soon our 'recovery' will bump into it again (if that recovery is actually real).I'm not as optimistic as he is about economic collapse preventing us from the worst scenarios of runaway climate change --- recall that, because coal is so filthy, the UK is still the nation responsible for the largest share of the carbon emissions that are destabilizing our climate, even though the size of the UK was never large relative to the size of the US economy, much less the global economy of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.
The one minor exception occurs in the very last part of the article, where Chris implies a need to reduce population. If he had read Catton's books "Overshoot" and "Bottleneck" he'd be able to complete the argument - that peak everything includes food and people (but apparently not fantasy). In the end, nature has always had her way, and always will. What we can do is guide as many toward that bottleneck as we're able to influence, and try to re-learn the ways of quasi-sustainable production of food and other stuff so that some humans actually pass through Catton's bottleneck.
Coincidentally, in a few hours I'll be attending a presentation continuing a topic from 2 months ago put on by a group calling itself "Great Decisions" - on the subject of the world food crisis. Fred Berman, a local "small" farmer and eatery owner, is presenting. - tooj
In other words, there are those who say economic collapse will save us from the worst because of reduced carbon emissions. I think it more likely that the dominant paradigm (that it's possible to have this thing called an "economy" that can exist and be healthy in a world of collapsing ecosystems) will continue long enough to burn enough coal that we'll see emissions go up even as economic activity goes down. If that's the case ... I'm reminded of Khrushchev's warning that, in the wake of atomic warfare, "the living will envy the dead."
UPDATE: I skipped a step -- remember, essentially all the IPCC projections IGNORE feedbacks from melting tundra and offshore methane clathrates, both of which are huge, huge, huge stockpiles of a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 is. We're already seeing arctic melting in Alaska, Siberia etc., and we're finding more and more methane bubbles all the time. As the atmosphere warms, the tundra will be releasing ever-greater volumes of methane into the atmosphere, accelerating the process. Once we warm the shallow oceans off the continental shelves, where the methane trapped in ice crystals is stored, then it's all bets are off for climate, as we have no solid way to know how many other feedback loops we'll trigger, including (in addition to those above), forest fires -- huge carbon reservoirs "drained to the atmosphere" in days, and droughts destroying tropical forests -- releasing all the trapped carbon in the soils.