What is the Meaning of Sustainable Development?

By Keith Kloor | May 15, 2012 10:54 am

In the run-up to next month’s Rio Earth Summit, we’re going to see a steady stream of bad news about the global environment. When that happens, let’s hope that some of our respectable media do more than regurgitate NGO press releases and talking points.

Alas, the Guardian shows us what not to do in this article on a report jointly produced by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Zoological Society of London, and the Global Footprint Network. The Guardian piece is merely a platform for the report’s highlights. It provides no outside assessment of the claims made.

For example, evidently, the NGO report asserts that populous urban centers are bad for the planet. Here’s what the Guardian says:

The world’s cities have seen a 45% increase in population since 1992, according to the Global Footprint Network, and urban residents typically have a much larger carbon footprint than their rural counterparts.

Really? And all this time I thought that my Brooklyn footprint was on the lower end of the scale. I’m surprised to hear that my humble apartment in a high density neighborhood and my reliance on mass transit and local shopkeepers is contributing to a carbon footprint larger than that of non-city dwellers. Perhaps I should consider moving my family to the country or the suburbs, where a bigger house would support more children and a place to put all my fun stuff.  True, we’d require several cars to meet our transportation and shopping needs, but I’m sure that wouldn’t raise our overall carbon footprint by much.

Yes, now that I think of it, I bet that a free-standing tudor or colonial in a bucolic setting, in a county with abundant strip malls, would be much better for the global environment (including the preservation of biodiversity).

Sarcasm aside, I started reading through the NGO report, but  got hung up at this sentence in an introduction by Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International:

We can meet all of our energy needs from sources like wind and sunlight that are clean and abundant.

Okay, stop right there. I’m going to have to get back to you on the report after I quit choking on that assertion.

Here’s the thing about the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+ 20, because it’s the 20th anniversary of the first such gathering:  We’re going to hear a lot about how “the earth is going downhill,” as Leape says in this CNN story. There’s also going to be much hand-wringing over the conference’s downsized goals and chaotic logistics, as this AP dispatch suggests.

It would be nice if equal attention was paid to how humanity fit into the picture, and not just as a blight on the earth. Environmentalists should keep in mind that the have-nots of the world don’t yet have the luxury of being concerned with biodiversity or carbon footprints.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: sustainable development
  • http://burden.ca/blog/ Tim Burden

    Agree. The idea that a proper urban lifestyle where I bike to work, take transit and so on is more carbon-intensive than a rural lifestyle just sounds like pure BS. Maybe he was referring to the suburban lifestyle? Different animal.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    In what country??

  • Mary

    You…you…shill for Big Density. Have you no shame??

    <Caution: comment contains snark>

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Kenneth Green

    Keith,You have to understand the context in which they say: “We can meet all of our energy needs from sources like wind and sunlight that are clean and abundant.”Environmentalists believe that “We” are vastly too numerous. They want to see a global human population down around 1 billion people (or less, if you look at the Voluntary Human Extinction fruitcakes). And, they want those people contained in enclaves so as to minimize their impact on the environment. The people they’d allow to exist would not have access to appliances like clothing and dishwashers, refrigerators, nor, one assumes, to large TVs, or private vehicles.

    In a framework like that, 1 billion people, dense-packed into small cities and denied air and land transport, I suppose that wind and solar power could “meet all of our energy needs” if you deployed it widely, and were willing to pay a fortune for it.

    As Robert Zubrin points out in “Merchants of Despair,” there is a profound anti-humanism that runs through the environmental movement, and there always has been. I don’t think it’s possible for them to be a coherent movement “if equal attention was paid to how humanity fit into the picture, and not just as a blight on the earth.”

  • http://burden.ca/blog/ Tim Burden

    #4 Kenneth: I agree that some environmentalists harbour an anti-human, “people are cancer” meme. Very unfortunate. I have seen it, met some of the people. Don’t understand it.

    But “anti-humanism that runs through the environmental movement” is quite a claim. Sounds wrong. Have not seen this. And I don’t think that was the context in which Jim Leape made his comment.

    It IS entirely possible to run the entire planet’s energy needs with renewables, even with growth. The only reason we can’t get there straightaway is economic. But we could transition to it, without catastrophe, without massive die-offs, even without major lifestyle changes (and even without nukes). And in time to meet carbon reduction targets.

    Cue the “you’re an arsehole” brigade…

  • http://sallan.org Sallan Foundation

    You write “let’s hope that some of our respectable media do more than regurgitate NGO press releases and talking points.” Fair enough, but why stop at NGO’s press releases and do you mean all NGO’s?Sallan shares your pro-urban bent when it comes to the planet’s future and there are plenty of pro-urban sustainability NGOs that are not certain just when fossil fuels will be nothing more than fossils.  Why not spend more time on making your case rather than sniping at cringe-inducing quotes?

  • Sashka

    Bill Clinton challenged the meaning of “is”. John Edwards is challenging the meaning of “the”. Just wait for the local lawyers to challenge the meaning of “can” and killing another thread.

  • Keith Kloor

    Ken (4)

    I’m not willing to go as far as you and paint the whole enviro movement with that broad brush. I do think that the we-can-power-the-world-with renewables is mostly wishful thinking (more like fantasy, I suppose). I agree with Tim Burden (5) that Leape’s statement was not written in such an anti-humanist context.

    But I disagree with Tim’s claim that renewables could do the trick, much less without any major lifestyle changes or massive hardship. Would like to see that argument in a text, if he can point to one.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Here is a ranked list of 49 of the 50 states (missing Hawaii and Washington D.C. at the moment): Energy per capita with other factors, US 2009

    The average for the entire U.S. was 308 mbtus (million British Thermal Units) per person per year for 2009. That compares favorably with Canada (427 mbtus  per capita) but not so well with Germany (250 mbtus).However, there is more variation found within the United States than between the U.S. and other developed countries. New York has per capita energy consumption of 196 mbtus. Wyoming has consumption of 956 mbtus, higher than Kuwait, Qatar”¦

    The average population density per square mile for the 13 worst states is 58.3. The average population density per square mile for the 9 top performers is 488. Urbanization is the environment’s best friend. 

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    New York City accounts for 1% of the energy consumption of the United States. It has roughly 3% of the population…

  • http://burden.ca/blog/ Tim Burden

    Kieth (8): I’ve already pointed to one: Amory Lovins and the RMI’s Reinventing Fire. You promised to read it. :)

  • Jarmo

    This is what I call sustainable development :)

  • http://burden.ca/blog/ Tim Burden

    @Tom (9,10): Exactly. And NYC has business and industry too, which means the footprints of individual residents even smaller. Plus: to bastardize a maxim from Kant, there’s not enough room for everyone to go live in the pickies. We’d have to cut the pickies down, even if there was. Sustainable urban living (actually, resilient urban living) should absolutely be a prime environmental focus.

  • BBD

    Tim Burden @ 13

    As Stewart Brand has long pointed out. One wonders why WWF etc aren’t paying attention.

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Kenneth Green

    Keith (8) – Actually, I was going to add that I didn’t go quite as far as Zubrin does – I don’t think that environmentalism is just a form of anti-humanism as he does. I recognize that there are real environmental problems stemming from human activity (I’d hope so, given my background).<br>But I do think that there is a goodly number of anti-humanists who find environmentalism a convenient framework for pushing their agenda, and I don’t think that the environmental movement as a whole has done a good job at self-policing and drumming such people out of the pack. And when you look at efforts by groups like Greenpeace and Sierra Club, to prevent the development of conventional power in places like Africa (where the least of their health worries would be pollution from a coal power plant!), it does seem like there’s an anti-humanist stream even in the mainstream environmental groups.<br>

  • Tom C

    Mr. Kloor – Don’t mean to frighten you or anything, but your increasing ability to spot and dispute enviro-cant is impressive.  Further down that road and you might become…gasp… a conservative!

  • harrywr2

    #13And NYC has business and industry too, which means the footprints of individual residents even smaller <br />I must have missed the energy intensive aluminum smelters, steel mills,concrete plants and farms in New York City the last time I visited. <br />I didn’t miss the 3.6 million ‘Urban Dwellers’  riding around in rented RV’s the last time I visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.3.6 Million ‘visitors’ in rented RV’s every summer tends to push the ‘energy intensity’ of Wyoming’s 500,000 residents up just a bit.  Then of course there is also the ‘fleet’ of private jets at the Jackson Hole Wyoming Airport for those ‘Urban Dwellers’ that like to ‘weekend’ in Wyoming. Of course the wife and I traveling on a lowly scooter had to go to the ‘back of the liquor store’ to find beer…as the front of the liquor store in Jackson Hole has $500 bottles of wine imported from France in the front half of the store.I’ll grant urban living tends to be less energy intensive…but there is a lot of ‘energy intensity’ attributed to ‘rural dwellers’ that belongs to ‘urban dwellers’.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Now Harry, be careful or we’ll start counting license plates from rural states when they enter the big city…

  • Roddy Campbell

    Tom C # 16 – I was thinking along those lines, Keith is mutating into a grumpy old middle-aged white man, to be pejorative.  Christopher Hitchens said something similar when he feared Ian McEwan’s suggestion that he was ‘slouching to the right’ – something like that.  (I love Hitchens btw, from his 60′s roots to his death.)Money quote in this thread  – ‘I don’t think that the environmental movement as a whole has done a good job at self-policing.’  That’s it.  They say things, from the top, like Keith has quoted above, and also want to be scientists contributing to IPCC reports, and you have to be a bit more careful if you want to be taken seriously, on renewables as an example.

  • Keith Kloor

    #16, 19,

    Heh, there’s been other threads were I’ve been accused of being a leftist stooge. It really depends on the post.

    Like everyone, I have my own biases and political leanings, but I’m trying hard not to let them govern my writing on issues that come up on this blog.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    I have my own biases and political leanings, but I’m trying hard not to let them govern my writing on issues that come up on this blog. 

    good for you. what, if I may ask, do you perceive your biases to be?

  • Jeffn

    #18, Tom, when you count license plates from rural states make sure you note which ones are the trucks. Unless, you know, you think food grows in the alley behind the grocers.
    It is not surprising that nobody answers Harry’s point – when you ask the sticks to take all the tractors, heavy trucks, airports aluminum smelters, concrete factories and more, don’t be smug about your “footprint” compared to the hicks.
    When environmentalists can’t be trusted on the obvious- like this and the abiity of wind and sun to power cities – it is informative.
    But hey all you have to do is prove guys like me wrong. Thanks to federalism, there is nothing stopping you from outlawing the use of fossil fuels in New York city. Go ahead, i’ll watch and be sure to prepare my apology for doubting.

  • http://planet3.org Dan Moutal

    Left, right? huh. Most of what Keith discusses here has very little to do with left vs right or liberal vs conservative. Solving the problems we face would be so much easier if we could abandon the team sports framework. Not holding my breath

  • http://planet3.org Dan Moutal

    The urban quote suffers from very bad writing and seems to beg for it to be misunderstood. For example in the developing world moving from the country side to the city often comes with an increase in energy use, (since it is not uncommon for the countryside to have no electricity). Keith (and other commenters) are right about the developed world though.Global statistics can give a very different picture than what we see at the local (or regional level).  Note: I haven’t seen the report so I am not vouching for it, only pointing out that the urbanism statement is not as obviously wrong as some here have claimed.And of course the situation in the developing world is not as simple as less energy use equals good (often it is the opposite). See Hans Rosling’s magic washing machine for a very compelling reason why. There are other potential issues with that statement as well. It seems to equate a cities population with urban residents. What about sub-urban, or ex-urban areas?

  • Tom C

    Roddy – Actually, Keith seems to understand that there are not *solutions* to problems of energy supply, climate, or whatever.  There are only *tradeoffs*.  This is the first step to understanding economics and avoiding utopian delusions.  People like Tobis and Halpern are not there yet.

  • Tom Scharf

    KK @20 – Well I have noticed your Bush bashing has almost completely disappeared.  That was fun while it lasted.  Nothing takes away the joy of blaming the other guy like when your own party gets into power.

  • Tom Scharf

    @23 You obviously ain’t from around here (USA), are you?

  • ivp0

    China is probably one good example where forced urbanization has resulted in much higher energy use/carbon footprint.  Millions of displaced Chinese peasants who were living in an ox-cart world for generations are now are being relocated to high-rise apartments in huge cities with TVs, air conditioners, malls and bright city lights.  Food once raised in the hen house or grown in their own gardens must now be trucked in.As for the authors suggestion that wind and solar can meet energy demand… I’ll need to see his math on that one.  I suspect he dropped a few decimal places along the way.

  • http://planet3.org Dan Moutal

    @ 27  Nope. I am just North of the USA in Vancouver. But we have a similar (but much less intense) team sports framework here as well. Frankly it doesn’t do anyone any good, and stands in the way of making real progress.  

  • Pingback: Local vs global | Planet3.0

  • BBD

    @ 28

    … and in India, the country is draining *voluntarily* into the cities. Village life, it seems, isn’t much fun. Especially if you are female.

    So bigger cities are a future reality, not a matter of environmentalist preference. Therefore the need is to ensure that they are liveable and as energetically efficient as possible. China may perhaps have sodded up on both counts. Pointing to these failures is not an argument against energetically efficient urbanisation.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    This discussion isn’t (or shouldn’t be) news. Urbanization frees up land and makes walking up the energy ladder much quicker. Of course poor farmers moving to the city use more energy. That’s one of the reasons why they do it. Their children won’t and their children will be environmentalists, except when they’re more concerned about parking, education and zoning regulations.

  • harrywr2

    #28China is probably one good example where forced urbanization has resulted in much higher energy use/carbon footprint.

    The prime driver of Chinese energy consumption is not residential, it is ‘heavy industry’. Residential electricity consumption in China is about 14% of total electricity consumption.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/14/china-power-consumption-idUSL4E8GE7BJ20120514

    As far as that ‘idyllic’ Ox cart life style, rural child and maternal mortality rates are double urban mortality rates in China and overall life expectancy for rural dwellers is 6 years shorter then urban dwellers. In summary…rural life in China is ‘short and brutal’.

    http://www.undp.org.cn/downloads/nhdr2005/NHDR2005_complete.pdf

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Keith I’ll offer a suggestion for your list of biases to help you get started:

    -U.S.-centric view of the world. 

    This of course is not something you can really be blamed for. However, as others have already pointed out, this has clearly led you to interpret the urbanization quote in a certain way that doesn’t really hold water when you take a more global perspective.

  • Tom Scharf

    @29 – We are in furious agreement.  Note that climate stasis is a win for some, however.

  • Tom Scharf

    I think there are some parallels between the struggles of environmental movement over the past 20 years, and the OWS movement collapse over the last 20 months.

    Both movements in a spirit of openness went down the large tent path, inviting anyone in.  A few of the fringe and more activist groups more or less infiltrated and took over the movement, and then rebranded it for there own agendas that were not highly supported by the mainstream in the group.  

    The mainstream in the group were not well enough organized to fend off these “viruses”, and the failure to purge them ultimately doomed the entire organism.  In fact, the mainstream in the group totally supported promotion of minority views, even to the detriment of the entire movement.

    I think it is very hard to be politically effective, while being overly supportive of minority views.  Contrast that to the Tea Party movement (NOTE: this is not an OWS vs. Tea Party politics screed, only an observation of effectiveness) which purged its movement of the most offensive extreme elements (skin heads, overt racists, etc.).  Groups need to control their own message and PUBLICLY purge detrimental outlying positions before the MSM defines them.  

    The majority of the public does not share the values of what they perceive an “environmentalist” to stand for,  yet the majority of the public supports clean air initiative, sustainability, recycling, eliminating over-fishing, species protection, etc.  What is wrong here?

    It’s really pretty simple.  Environmental leaders are for the most part abrasive, self righteous, unlikable people (Joe Romm for example).  They tend to strike me as militant, dismissing winning via public support in favor of back-door  legal system manipulation and court district shopping.

    Unsolicited advice to the environmental movement: Make room for capitalists who care about the environment.  Show the socialists the door. 

  • jeffn

    #36- you missed “partisan.” Joe Romm, who you refer to as an environmental leader, works for a political organization- The Center for American Progress. He does not work for an environmental organization.
    The prevalence of pretend “environmental leaders” who are really political activists is a tremendous cause for cynicism and distrust of the “movement.”
    For another example, here’s what Van Jones told CSPAN about the movement:
    “I guarantee you, if John McCain had been President, with that oil spill, or George Bush had been President with that oil spill, I’d have been out there with a sign protesting. I didn’t, because of who the President was.”
    A “movement” where the seriousness of the problem depends entirely on how it looks for a political party is not “pro-science” and is not seriously “environmental” and there is no reason for any to believe otherwise.
    To see the Van Jones clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=UOZWNrT7Vsg

  • Dean

    Brooklyn is hardly typical of urban life in the US. Cities need not be wasteful, but most US cities are bad and I suspect no better than rural.

  • Martha

    “I’ve been accused of being a leftist stooge”
     
    Not by anyone actually on the Left.  ;-)
     
    And while we’re having a great laugh together, I see someone has also made an effort to explain that the United States is not the rest of the world.  But if you restrict the analytic tool of a “˜carbon footprint’ to American geography, your intuited argument is still wrong.  Of course, some of your rural areas are higher emitting than others and everyone should be aware of the different transportation and energy issues made no easier by some very unsupportive government policies in relation to rural energy policy, but your higher density/industrial/metro consumption citizens obviously  have a bigger carbon footprint than your rural citizens, all things considered.  Maybe you can’t think big picture but you and your readers should be getting smarter the more you read and reflect  ““ not the other way around.Folks who don’t like NGO research can see the Vulcan Project (Purdue) but I guess that won’t be helpful to those who are also unusually repelled by a consideration of research at NASA. :-(

  • BBD

    Martha

    So what to do? Are you suggesting that we tell the ~ 1.5 billion living in the deep rural dark that they – and their descendants – must stay there? It does sound like it.

    The usual response is that we in the developed world need to produce very much more clean energy before we can lecture the developing world on how to develop. Of course we do. Only fair.

    But unfortunately, we aren’t allowed nuclear (see major ENGOs for guidance) and outside of fantasy fairy-dust land, the best you are going to get from renewables is ~ 25% of the energy mix. The best. And not tomorrow, either. So what about the rest?

    Meanwhile, the decades whizz by and the megacities of the developing world are growing apace as rural populations everywhere head for the bright lights as fast their feet can carry them.

    What to do?

  • jeffn

    #40 you’re catching on. If the people who claim to care about the crisis don’t really see it as a crisis, why should you?

    Basically, global warming is important if it’s useful to a preconceived partisan stance, and not if it isn’t. Today, libertarian groups such as HI oppose “action” and progressive groups like Center for American Progress support “action.” If action becomes defined as nuclear power, that situation will be reversed.

  • BBD

    jeffn

    What a bizarre comment. I reject your analysis in its entirety.

  • jeffn

    #42, really? How bizarre. Have you heard of Germany? It’s the place near you where the greens just committed to increasing GHG emissions because they’re more interested in being anti-nuke.
    Think about that for a moment- the emissions are allegedly the greatest challenge of our time, the anti-nuke stuff is almost entirely a fantasy. Which to choose, which to choose?
    But, anyhow, the resulting choice says nothing to you. Got it.

  • BBD

    Germany is decommissioning 20GB of nuclear plant and attempting to replace it with solar and wind. While I have grave reservations about this, I am very glad that they are doing it. Now we will get to see a real-world demonstration of what is – and is not – feasible.

    The *reason* Germany is doing this is that it is the majority will of the electorate. The electorate takes CC very seriously. Seriously enough to endorse this great experiment with energy generation and the infrastructure of supply.

    Your contention that

    global warming is important if it’s useful to a preconceived partisan stance, and not if it isn’t

    Is nonsense, and partisan nonsense at that. The entire reason that Germany is doing what it is doing is because of climate change.

  • jeffn

    BBD you know very well that is an entirely unserious answer. There has never been a time when it has been more obvious than today that nuclear power is necessary to combat global warming. Never been a place where nuclear is more necessary than in urbanized, developed nations, never been a group of nations better able to afford nuclear than in the west- Germany in particular in the EU.
    And still they say no and you believe, against all evidence, that it’s because they’re seriously searching for a way to power the Mercedes plant with suncatchers. Grow up.

  • BBD

    jeffn

    Like I said, let’s see what happens. I’m not the one thinking like a child here.

  • Tom Scharf

    Everyone supports “clean” energy.  What they don’t support with much enthusiasm is having to pay for it.  All the feel good polls out there that quote great support for solar and wind power never put a price on that support.  If the polling question asked if they would be willing to pay an additional $50 / month on their power bill for clean energy, you will find out the accurate answer to that question.

    Instead politicians and activists bend over backwards trying to hide this cost from the consumer through govt subsidies. This smoke and mirrors tactic is yet another brick in the wall of low credibility that has doomed this movement.

  • kdk33

    The great european experiment in socialism is fascinating on many fronts, German energy policy being just one.

    Fortunately, us Hicks are quite content to wait and see.  On climate and socialism more generally.

    I was just reading something about a european crises of some sort.  Anybody know what that’s about?

  • BBD

    American failure to regulate its investment banking sector.

  • harrywr2

    #47If the polling question asked if they would be willing to pay an
    additional $50 / month on their power bill for clean energy, you will
    find out the accurate answer to that question.

    The answer is $10/month has overwhelming support.
    The problem is that given the preferred environmentally correct solutions(windmills and solar panels) all that $10/month buys is ‘green wash’.

    Once the ‘green wash’ has been done…the public is quite content to believe that ‘global warming’ has been solved.

    Politics is the art of of placating one constituency without alienating another constituency.

    Hence, the good governor of Washington State will support subsidies for solar panels that don’t work when it’s cloudy and activity court ‘energy intensive industry’. If ‘old smokey’ gets closed down then our aluminum smelters and carbon fiber spinners might have to move elsewhere….

    Anybody that questions the sanity of such a policy will get a ‘look at all the pretty windmills’ or an even better…’can we interest you in a nuclear power plant?’.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Readers looking for some polling data on the issues raised by Harry may find this report interesting.

  • BBD

    Following on from Marlowe’s # 51, this has emerged from the Bunfight at the UK Corral. Economic meltdown doesn’t seem to be mandatory.

  • jeffn

    BBD, I enjoyed this line from the UK report you linked:
    “They talk about the economy being closed down, about an “˜end to growth’. Well, that is frankly nonsense, and the debate should be around the correct number.”

    Ahem. It wasn’t the “deniers” or the conservatives who suggested that we need an end to growth in order to solve global warming. http://grist.org/?s=capitalism
    We’re not to take seriously the things said by the leaders of a movement?
    Was the cost of renewable energy in the UK over the last 10 years cheap? Is the wind free for your countrymen yet and powering your industries? Big reduction in emissions yet? Citizens happy with the way things are going? You’d think that the UK would be able to answer yes to at least one of those questions before issuing a report chuckling at the fools who think “action” might be a bit expensive.

  • BBD

    jeffn

    You have a habit of putting me in the wrong tribe (which I have mentioned more than once :-)   ).

    Let’s imagine:

    - That you take CC seriously

    - That you accept the need for decarbonisation of energy supply

    - That you believe nuclear is necessary (though not sufficient)

    - That you suspect renewables are necessary but not sufficient

    - That you hope for a rational future energy mix to emerge from the present confusion

    - That you are a pragmatical student of the long game

    Get me yet? 
    ;-)

  • jeffn

    Oh, I get you. You and I agree on more than you think. This is why I pull my hair out when you post comments such as “economic meltdown doesn’t seem to be mandatory” linking to a report yucking it up at idiots who think action would be expensive.
    Since we’re playing, let’s imagine:
    - You think there is a case for reducing emissions
    - you can’t figure out why those making that case seem to have the least interest in actually reducing emissions.
    - the “what to do” has been far more definitively settled than the “how bad is it” for some time, only the “concerned” are delaying.
    - The eagerness to turn the question into a naked partisan issue or a catch-all for any left wing cause is about the dumbest thing I’ve seen since… well, the last enviro scare story.
    - 20 years since Rio 1992, the anniversary conference is next month. Emission cuts are not a theme, but “poverty reduction” is. This is not a serious movement.

  • BBD

    jeffn

    Oh, I get you. You and I agree on more than you think. This is why I pull my hair out when you post comments such as “economic meltdown doesn’t seem to be mandatory” linking to a report yucking it up at idiots who think action would be expensive.

    Something of an over-statement :-)

    But Kennedy [of UK government advisory body the Committee on Climate Change] says talk of economic meltdown is wrong. “They talk about the economy being closed down, about an “˜end to growth’. Well, that is frankly nonsense, and the debate should be around the correct number.”

    The cost in GDP terms in the UK report accords with US studies. The Congressional Budget Office reported similar reductions would reduce the GDP here by 1-3 1⁄2 percent in 2050. One of the co-sponsors of the 2009 cap-and-trade bill, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), said the scheme would cost the average family the equivalent of “about a postage stamp a day,” far less than critics claimed.

    ‘Yucking it up at idiots’?

  • Jeffn

    “cost the average family about a postage stamp a day”In 2009 subsidies for renewables in the United States were $43 billion http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/58a7522a-88d1-11e1-9b8d-00144feab49a.html#axzz1vN5ekX3WThere are roughly 170 million household in the US, making just those subsidies cost the average family 71 cents a day- not quite twice the cost of a stamp. Mind you this is from the country that allegedly has done nothing and we’re only counting subsidies for the stuff that doesn’t work. And still Markey’s comment was wrong the moment it passed his lips – we’d bested his estimated cost even before taking “action” on his bill. That bill being a measure no sane person thought would have any measurable affect on warming.Inaccurate claims about the science, predictions of warming, effectiveness of “solutions”, and cost of policies, are all taking their toll. Perhaps this is why even Obama and EU nations are dialing back the green gravy train.

  • BBD

    jeffn

    I’m puzzled by this huge $43 billion figure for 2009. The Breakthrough Institute quoting the Environmental Law Institutes’s data gives total *cumulative* US renewable subsidies for the six years from 2002 – 2008 as $28.9 billion. 

    I’m not an FT subscriber any more – can you cut’n'paste the actual quote from your link?

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    BBD, I don’t know the answer but there may well have been more renewable energy put up in 2009 than 2002-2008 that qualified for subsidies. Also, I think ARRA started paying out more subsidies in 2009, right?Haven’t done my homework on this, but if you count ethanol subsidies, tax credits on solar and wind and the Fed stimulus I wouldn’t be surprised if it added up…

  • BBD

    I think you have confused *global* total subsidies for renewables (~$43bn in 2009) with US subsidies, which appear to have been $18.2 bn in 2009.

    Using the correct figures, Markey’s argument holds up rather well.

    Still, please show the FT quote so we can nail this down.

  • BBD

    Tom

    if you count ethanol subsidies, tax credits on solar and wind and the Fed stimulus I wouldn’t be surprised if it added up”¦

    According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance:

    The BNEF preliminary analysis suggests the US is the top country, as measured in dollars deployed, in providing direct subsidies for clean energy with an estimated $18.2bn spent in total in 2009. Approximately 40% of this went toward supporting the US biofuels sector with the rest going towards renewables. The federal stimulus program played a key role; its Treasury Department grant program alone provided $3.8bn in support for clean energy projects.

  • jeffn

    My apologies guys, the FT link worked for me Saturday but I’m not a subscriber either.
    The story was specifically about the US and their reductions in spending on renewable subsidies since a peak in 2009.

    I did find a very similar version in the New York Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-clean-energy-subsidies.html?_r=1&smid=tw-share

    “If nothing changes, clean energy funding will drop from a peak of $44.3 billion in 2009 to $16 billion this year and $11 billion in 2014 “” a 75 percent decline.”

  • BBD

    jeffn

    You confused the global figure with the US figure which makes a nonsense of your # 57. Perhaps you should acknowledge this now? I’m not going to crow. It would simply be refreshing to see you admit the mistake rather than act as though it never happened. Your recent link to the NYT editorial doesn’t help as the author writes carelessly and fails to make it clear that the $44.3bn is the global figure, not the US figure.

  • jeffn

    The New York Times is reporting it here as the U.S. federal expenditure and claiming it was reduced by Republicans.

    Are you trying to claim that the Republican party cut subsidies in Europe or that the US represented more than 75% of all global clean energy subsidies in 2009 while failing utterly to act?
    Or are you just wrong?
    Do you really believe the cost of AGW energy policies is the equivalent of just a stamp a day for the average family in the UK?

  • BBD

    jeffn

    Stop being an idiot. You got the numbers wrong – badly wrong. The correct numbers and corroborating link are provided at 61. Thanks for your gracious acknowledgement that you stuffed up. Duly noted.

  • BBD

    What is wrong with you people? Seriously.

  • Keith Kloor

    BBD,

    You better chill out and cease the name-calling. Otherwise, I’m gonna have to give you a time-out. 

  • BBD

    Keith

    I’m sorry it’s irritating you, but I am in the right here. Have you read the comments from # 57 onwards?

  • BBD

    I just eventually lost my temper. Which was wrong, of course.

  • Jeffn

    For the record, I provided two cites for my numbers- the New York Times and the Financial Times. So, to BBD I must be an idiot. And they wonder why their argument is so unpersuasive.

  • BBD

    They were the wrong numbers jeff. You gave US renewables subsidies as $43bn for 2009. The correct figure is $18.2 bn. $43bn was the *global* total for 2009. See # 61. Your refusal to acknowledge a major and undeniable error is mystifying. I won’t bother getting annoyed about it again though. It’s not worth it. But I will never take you seriously again.

    You did this to yourself.

  • jeffn

    I couldn’t care less if you take me seriously. Why don’t you take the New York Times seriously? And how exactly does your link prove the Times wrong?

    The Times clearly indicates they were talking about US expenditures and complaining about US cuts.

    It seems to the tribe, facts are dependent on the political need. Want to bash skeptics for cutting green energy programs? Well, then claim the 2009 figure is $44 billion and the 2012 figure much less- bad skeptics!
    Want to bash skeptics for claiming green energy is really expensive- like $44 billion expensive? Well, then, claim your earlier cite of $44 billion is nonsense that they were “stupid” to take seriously.
    And don’t get me wrong- I think it’s great you and the boys are using this strategy. Working beautifully for me.

  • PDA

    Either the Breakthrough Institute – whose report is cited by the FT and the NYT – got it wrong or Bloomberg New Energy Finance did. I have no idea which it is, but Breakthrough has a detailed appendix and hella footnotes.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »