David Roberts

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Argument from incredulity

A few days back one of my favorite writers, David Roberts at Grist posted an article titled We can solve climate change, but it won’t be cheap or easy. This was based on an article in WIREs Climate Change, A critical review of global decarbonization scenarios: what do they tell us about feasibility? by a group of authors including Jesse Jenkins, a young energy analyst I've also been following for a while. Andy Revkin at dot Earth picked up on Roberts' post as a positive sign, while Joe Romm at Climate Progress had a rather pointed critique.

I don't want to get into the details of the report or most of these arguments here; there was just one point that I thought was very odd when highlighted in Roberts' post, and exemplified by the following figure from the report:

Roberts quotes the authors as follows on this:

These studies also envision a normalized build-out of generating capacity in the range of 5-23 GW/year/$T of GDP, or 1.4-15 times faster than historical experience. These unprecedented rates are a consequence of both the relatively low-capacity factors of wind and solar as well as increased demand due to the assumed widespread electrification of the economy.

What struck me was this measure of "build-out of generating capacity" in GW/year/$T of GDP. The graph suggests past experience on this measure should be a guide to the future, and therefore the Jacobson, WWF, etc. scenarios are unlikely to be feasible. But why did the authors pick this measure?

I live in the future

Growing up, my mother seemed to worry about everything. What we ate, how we exercised, school grades, future employability, crossing the street. Trees creaking in a storm, us climbing trees and rocks, my father's driving, the least speck of dust in the house, all seemed to her signs of impending disaster. Perhaps it was in reaction that I acquired such a worry-free attitude about life in general, and in particular about the future. To me just about every step to the future seems a wonderful bright beacon to a better purer world, where human beings are fully valued for what they can really contribute, where drudgery is gone, abuse of other humans and the natural world are a thing of the past, all are enlightened and wise...

Now, I don't consider myself a techno-utopian like Ray Kurzweil. I've critiqued his hyper-optimism elsewhere - if Kurzweil is doubly-exponentially optimistic about the future, I'd limit myself to a single exponential, or even (as I think we eventually must) a power law. But I still think overall the future has to be, on net, more positive than negative. Maybe it's just in my nature.

Andy Revkin has a nice interview with optimistic "World-Changer" Alex Steffen, whose latest book "Worldchanging 2.0" (an expanded edition of the first version, of which I have a quite inspirational copy) was just released. As I've noted here before, Steffen's optimistic view of the future is one I largely share, despite much evidence that our present world has some very serious troubles, now and ahead of us.

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