"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sachs lecture and quibbling at the fringes

The second in the series of Jeffrey Sachs' Reith lectures is up. There is some quibbling about his history of science on Stoat.

While I find the comments fascinating, in a sense it's all hairsplitting.

Sach's fundamental point seems to need emphasis in this crowd:

world population increase of roughly fifty per cent, with income on a path, barring various disasters, to increase approximately fourfold. Multiplying one and a half by four suggests that the current trajectory would lead to an increase of world economic activity of six times between now and 2050. That is the goal from the point of view of economic development, but think about the paradox, if we already are on an unsustainable trajectory and yet China, India, and large parts of Asia are successfully barrelling ahead with rapid economic development at an unprecedented rate. We are asking our planet to somehow absorb a manyfold increase of economic activity on top of an already existing degree of environmental stress that we've never before seen on the planet.

It is possible that we will not be able to increase sixfold in economic activity with current technologies before the environmental catastrophes would choke off the economic growth. The hardships in water stress, deforestation, hunger, and species extinction, would cause this process to go awry, even before we are able to do more damage to the planet. But that does pose the fundamental question - what will give in the end?

The rest is window dressing. I'd like to see people taking up the core point.


hapa said...

i don't understand. the trouble with this isn't what people want china or india to do; it's how much the G8 are willing to pay to clean up their/our mess.

a fair and thoughtful process for mitigation would be something like:

* steep cuts in the industrial countries that can afford it, financed by the wealth that's flown to the tippety-top of the ladder;
* aid, adaptation assistance, and debt relief to developing countries, to meet their economic goals;
* slower curve on reducing carbon for (low per-capita emissions) developing countries, allowing them to concentrate on development, while the richer countries build the needed tech for a low-carbon future

if it's all based strongly on per-capita, with the "pie" that someone (i forget) suggested, there's no problem meeting the two goals of adaptive mitigation and sustainable development. what lies in the way, it seems to me, is the unwillingness of a minority of wealthy folks to put their fossil-gotten booty to work, in order to build a more sensible economic system that faces facts: this is a closed system, there are no externalities.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

I agree with you that Sachs' point is being missed. However, I see your quote as being a contributing point, with Sach's fundamental question about something having to give being answered by a new attitude of collaboration and trust in working toward a common goal instead of competition and distrust that favours one group at the expense of others.

You can read my thoughts here with a pingback to Stoat which has not appeared yet.

EliRabett said...

For example, see Brad DeLong on Larry Summers Thinks About Global Warming and the Industrial Revolution in Asia

James Annan said...

You seem to directly equate economic growth with environmental destruction and consumption. I don't think that is necessarily a given, although of course focussing greater efforts on efficiency and environmentally-conscious behaviour would be an all-round good thing...

Anonymous said...

I don't know about "the core point" but I have tried to take seriously all you chaps walking up and down with "The End of the World is Nigh" placards but, alas, I'm suffering with 'doom fatigue'! You see, I've heard it all before, and then before that, and even before that. I have no desire to pinch any of your readers but I provide an example over at:


It, and other similar flights of fancy disguised as the 'scientific' consensus, do not fill me with confidence. Way to go, guys!

Michael Tobis said...

David Duff, you have missed the point of the fable, as so many people do. You see, eventually it transpired that there actually was a wolf.

Dano said...

If David Duff is suffering from doom fatigue, he should stop reading wingnut trope that uses marginalization rhetoric and gross mischaracterization to claim everything people say is doom and gloom.

Simple, yet complex.



Michael Tobis said...


You seem to directly equate economic growth with environmental destruction and consumption.

Actually, I don't. In fact, I don't really understand what "growth" means at all. Given that there seems to be some sort of theorem that it can take place forever, it must be a very strange sort of quantity not subject to the sorts of constraints that us mere physicists plod along with.

That said, Sachs is talking about most of the world moving from a preindustrial to a postindustrial state. If that isn't resource intensive, I don't know what is.

It probably won't happen, I think, but that isn't exactly good news either.

Rob said...

I wish I could find the source for this put its been shown that harmful emissions (like soot) generally go down as a country's GDP rises: except CO2.

Sound like Sachs is pointing out the double whammy we're facing: A huge future demand in energy which we only know how to meet with fossil fuels and a need to reduce CO2 emissions from our current fossil-fuel based energy production.

One problem at a time....