I left a comment on Steve Keen's blog in response to his recent talk at the Can Capitalism Save the Planet? forum. I only watched the first 9 minute video on his blog (link). I didn't like his triple crisis scenario that economic crisis, peak oil and global warming will combine to create a disaster by mid Century. This is a departure from Steve who up to now has focused on debt deflation and the instability of capitalism developing the ideas first advanced by Hyman Minsky. In response to another complaint in the thread Steve linked to a pdf (A comparison of Limits of Growth with 30 years of reality) by Graham Turner which argues that the Club of Rome Limits to Growth scenarios are being validated.
My comment is #13:
I had a quick look at the Graham Turner paper you linked to. I don’t believe that a computer model at this stage of their development could accurately predict a catastrophe by mid century.update 18th September: Steve has replied to me as follows, comment #18:
You promoted a triple crisis view in your talk – economic crisis, peak oil and global warming. Each of those issues has its own complexities and specifics. But the computer modelling aspects of the global warming thesis is not its strong point. I read James Hansen’s book and he does not base his dire predictions on computer modelling -he specifically says they are not reliable enough yet – but relies much more on paleo-climate evidence. In light of this how anyone could say that a computer model will predict trends 100 years into the future is beyond me.
You create a bit of dilemma for those who want to discuss this further. Your blog is about debt deflation but in your talk the triple crisis theme was strong. I think the evidence for capitalisms instability is overwhelming but the other issues require extensive discussion in their own right and in how they connect to the economic crisis.
In your response to johnyh I think the issue you are missing is that there is not a linear relationship b/w the science of peak oil and global warming to the policy actions that might be taken in response to that science. The issue is not so much that the science is wrong (although I don’t think there is a consensus on these issues) but that alarmism at the policy level may not be warranted in response. In that respect I would argue that those issues are quite different from the economic crisis
I agree my talk does create a bit of a dilemma for this blog, so I’ll relax my resistance to discussing global warming here for a short while; but I’ll start by putting my position in perspective, in particular about the role of computer modelling here.My reply back to Steve #21:
We need a bit of a perspective on what that particular computer model–World 3 and its developments that generated the results in Limits to Growth–were actually doing, and what I have come to agree is a fundamental blindspot in the human psyche (I think Sirius here first put this to me), our inability to grasp the impact of exponential trends.
If there is a fixed resource–say land area–and our use of it is growing exponentially and doubles every ten years, and after 100,000 years we have grown to the point where we are consuming 50% of the land, then in 10 years time it will run out.
If we somehow manage to increase the amount of this resource, or say improve our efficiency of use of it by a factor of four, that will buy us another 20 years. A thousand-fold increase in efficiency will buy us an extra century.
So the model was not as such trying to “predict trends 100 years into the future” as to say that IF exponential trends of usage continue THEN given the feedback between exponential trends and fixed inputs, a crisis will occur sooner rather than later. The models also acknowledged that we could perhaps improve our efficiency of usage of fixed resources (though not as a “magic bullet” but as another exponential trend over time), and that if we did and we reduced other factors as well exponentially (pollution) while reduced some pressures to sub-exponential growth (population), we could probably sustain an indefinitely improving standard of living.
That was written in 1972, and almost 40 years later it is manifestly obvious that we haven’t done any of that (save a continuing tapering in population growth which is still nonetheless growing); if anything we’ve increased the intensity of our exponential loads on the planet.
So the models were not so much a prediction as a warning that we had better come to understand the dilemma of exponential growth on a finite planet sooner rather than later. I don’t think there is much doubt that we have failed to do that, and the “climate sceptic” position, though it’s not consciously trying to refute that proposition, is in effect delaying us coming to terms with it.
Thanks for relaxing the guidelines.
I agree that there are always limits to exponential growth and that not everyone understands exponential growth. However, peak oil is not a problem given that we have long term energy alternatives, such as nuclear. The real problem here is the lack of R&D being devoted to energy alternatives. Nuclear would also solve the problem of excessive CO2 entering the atmosphere.
The real problems here are economic (nuclear is still more expensive than fossil fuels) not environmental.
I tend to agree with John McCarthy (progress and its sustainability) that in the case of energy supply the limit is roughly a billion years since nuclear can supply our energy needs for at least that time and in the case of population it “will eventually be limited by a sense of crowdedness rather than by material considerations”