Sep 16, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

China most important, but US still a big per capita emitter, hence plenty of room for reductions, most obviously in transport.

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per capita's the key, we can't expect other's cut much lower per capita if we - the west -won't do much more.

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Per capita doesn't actually affect the climate; in fact, it doesn't really indicate the scope for policy-based reductions either, now that green energy is cheap. It's mostly a distraction.

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Per capita doesn't affect the climate, but if we care *both* about human well-being *and* the climate, then per capita at least gives us a first rough guess as to how we are doing on the balance of those things (and maybe per unit GDP or per unit Gross National Consumption or Gross National Happiness would be even better).

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Green energy may be cheaper than it was before, but it's apparently not cheap enough to be adopted fast enough to get us on a track to below 2 degrees of warming. If we want to accelerate adoption of green energy, we'll need more concessional finance. Per capita emissions (and even more, cumulative per capita emissions) builds a moral case for where that financing should come from. See Henry Shue's The Pivotal Generation.

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Fair. But I think an important implication here is that we can't expect other's to cut their emissions at lower per capita - whatever we do. It's ascribing leadership to the west that doesn't reflect how the most important countries, India and China, will make these decisions. This is why the greatest need is to invest in developing technologies that allow growing energy consumption with reducing emissions. That would align with priorities of these key players (and all other developing countries).

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This is why our long-term prospects, globally, look pretty awful. If carbon emissions per capita are a rough proxy for standard-of-living, then China, India, and pretty much every other country on earth would rightly scoff at us for demanding they lower their standards of living by reducing their carbon emissions to prevent the luxury summer homes of investment bankers on the East Coast from being washed away by rising sea levels. Look at this chart and weep:


The only way for the US to credibly address this issue would be to offer to freely transfer energy-saving technologies to the rest of the world. I think it is more likely that monkeys will fly out of my butt.

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china has a greater per capita emissions than France, and Spain according to your own source both of those countries have better standards of living than china so no there is no excuse for china's carbon intensity to influence there actions considering they have more than enough resources land wise to reverse their trend in carbon emissions.

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We need to make standard of living proportionate to energy use, but not carbon emissions. So we need to have plans that produce more energy than fossil fuels have. That’s why there is no way around nuclear if we are serious. Energy austerity is a loser as both a practical and political idea. Free technology transfers basically mean appropriating the intellectual property of the people that invested those technologies. What kind of incentive do you think that will have on would be innovators? I’d guess that’s the end advancement in that field. Again, I think efficiency is the least fiscally effective way to address this, we need cheaper clean energy and more of it.

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We need to scale up direct air carbon capture. Putting a "capture caboose" at the end of every train would be a quick and relatively easy way to do that.

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Sep 16, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Hey, Isn’t China doing everything it can too right? I heard are investing a lot in renewable energy

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They are doing a lot of good (more EVs, more solar and nuclear), but also a lot of bad (more coal plants, both at home and abroad). I'll write a post about it.

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As a former statistician, I’m always a bit skeptical about large scale stats like these and all the assumptions that went into generating them. But if this is all true, then we are indeed going to burn. We have China with India coming up right behind them, and our record in dealing with either country doesn’t exactly reassure. They have their own populations to consider, of course, and climate change will if anything affect them worse, but at the moment they’re both in survivor mode, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Maybe we need at least a partial change of emphasis from holding back climate change to getting prepared to cope with it.

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A massive 2014 UN survey of development priorities in people across world nations showed that in the top 1/3 wealthiest nations action on climate change ranked 9th out of 16 categories. Reliable energy at home ranked 13th out of 16. In the poorest 1/3 of nations, reliable energy at home ranked 4th and action on climate change ranked 16th out of 16. This is why poorer nations will continue to prioritize reliable electricity over CO2 mitigation. Rich countries living in energy security cannot stop them.

But, “we are indeed going to burn” isn’t a very granular statistical analysis of the risks of climate change 😊. The risks are: 1. The direct hazards--- droughts, floods, sea level rise. 2. Exposure to those hazards by geography. 3. Resilience to coping with hazards and exposure. Since we cannot materially control hazard risk by forcing poor countries not to develop, improving world wide resilience through expeditious electrification will obviously save the most lives going forward. (Bangladesh monsoon risk management is one real life example of this.)

Meanwhile, a demonstrably dead end low-energy development paradigm has dominated international bodies since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 set the focus priority on CO2 emissions reductions.

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How does improving world wide resilience through expeditious electrification obviously save the most lives going forward?

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Take the Bangladesh example. In 1970 the Great Bhola Cyclone of Bangladesh killed between 300K and 500K people. The floods in 2020 caused about 300 deaths. Risk reduction efforts over the last decades have led to major declines in storm surge fatalities, due to improved forecasting and early warning, cyclone shelters, and improved coastal protection. All of which, correlates with increased prosperity, which correlates tightly with vastly increased energy production. In 1970 Bangladesh consumed almost no coal. They currently consumed over 2 million short tons per year. In 1970 Bangladesh consumed 10 KWh electricity per capita. In 2014 they consumed 320 KWh per capita.

Historically, the greatest factor in climate change risk vulnerability is access to energy. By far. That doesn't prove that the direct Hazard risk couldn't spiral out of control from CO2 tipping points, which is what first world environmentalists are focused on. But since we're not decreasing CO2 production fast enough world wide, if we're really concerned about the poor countries, we shouldn’t impede them from using fossil fuels to achieve weather resilient prosperity.

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Because if everything is electric, it is straightforward to move everything to solar (or wind, or nuclear). The power plants become central points of conversion that can have massive positive effects if you make them greener.

But if the world of full of gasoline-powered cars, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, tractors, and airplanes, then no amount of new Solar power plants will reduce those emissions.

This is why people who say "But that EV uses power from a coal power plant, it's just as bad as a gas car" are missing the point.

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I think you used the wrong words, for effect, in your claim. You validated the myth. 8% of emissions, 18% for the EU, is a massive contribution from a single segment to our annual emissions. As pushback against "the main driver," sure, that's useful. But this is a myth validated rather than debunked. The reality here matters, and it is big enough to change the mix of top 5 emissions by segment.

Agriculture, the smallest broken out segment, is only 11% of US emissions by economic sector according to the EPA. Commercial and Residential 13%. Transport leads the way at 27% and Electric Power is #2 at 25%. There are a load of fun Sankey diagrams that show where it all goes, much of power and transport is moving fuel around to enable power and transport and that's why electrification is so important. Industry sits just behind the leaders at 24% - suggesting we offshored a quarter of our industrial emissions! That's nothing to sneeze at. Yes, overall emissions per unit productivity is dropping - worldwide. That's great news. But also, more than one thing can be happening at the same time, and probably is. That offshored chunk of emissions has a big impact by changing the margins of where our dollars can have effective impact and attention - Industrial emissions move from #1 to #3 as segment leaders thanks to this. There is also a differential emissions cost of domestic vs. offshore emissions, depending on who's grid and transportation sector is greener. Offshoring decisions are economic in dollars, not carbon emissions or worker safety concerns.

Covid-19 only generated a one year pulse of 13% decline in emissions, and with offshoring we're talking about a multi-decade integral here that exist on paper in terms of attribution instead of in reality (accounting to someone else's responsibility pool). Look into Drax in the UK and how they zeroed their emissions by moving from domestic/European coal to international (US) wood pellets - while on the ground their emissions increased due to the decreased energy density of the fuel supply leading to more volume of fuel consumed. Boundary definition and fighting over messaging leads us to silly outcomes when the effects are global.

But overall, here, you did exactly the opposite of your claim. I'm not going to ignore 8-18% of my income or expenses or lifespan or members of my household. This isn't myth-scale on either end of the spectrum; neither tiny nor colossal. It is big enough to care about and interrogate, much more overall potential impact than banning plastic straws or funding Hydrogen for transportation. I'm not going to wake up excited to work on how to fix offshored emissions, but I would be right in prioritizing that topic far higher relative to other, more charismatic, myths that draw our daily attentions (e.g. all the funds flowing into DAX and CCS - money better spent just doing the full swap to wind or solar and leave the chemical industry on its own to sort out DAX and CCS for circular petrochemical feedstocks).

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The 8% is the US.

If you aren’t going to ignore it what are you suggesting be done? Full tarrifs on all Chinese exports.

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I don't think an emissions chunk the size of offshoring should be ignored and disparaged as a myth. I didn't intend to suggest I was personally going to address it, I work in a tech startup that is the antithesis of things that can be offshored (ecological resource management). That said, I have an engineering degree, some experience in manufacturing/with manufacturers, and therefore some uncommon context that might be useful to share. For expert voices on manufacturing, head over to The Prepared (theprepared.org) and have a read/listen to The History of Megafactories with Joshua B. Freeman for more background on manufacturing and some of the challenges with hosting one’s own manufacturing capacity in one’s own places:


There are many reasons why US manufacturing was off-shored and why one cannot just flip a switch and get it all back - indeed we ought not want to. Why fight into the teeth of economic specialization after having abdicated already? Who would perform all these low paying manufacturing jobs (there were 300,000 workers at a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen in 2010 – that’s the scale we’re talking about to reverse the story)? We already need more robots to get through the work that remains on these shores, why make the problem worse? Why shorten US logistical chains at the expense of SE Asian logistical chains, where the bulk of future consumers live? What is the actual goal and objective of the conversation? Reduced emissions? Better accountability for one’s own consumption (and therefore global responsibility to cleaning up)? US pre-eminence and manufacturing dominance? I’m in favor of reduced global emissions and improved accountability, neither of which requires attempting to bring manufacturing back to US shores – but both require taking the emissions from offshoring seriously.

How do we make greener manufacturing choices? Apple has done a lot of amazing things around ensuring their aluminum waste and offcuts are recycled within the facilities they are manufactured in. The motivation here is one of luxury standards in material purity, but the effect is dramatically reduced waste and lean manufacturing processes which promote sustainability and lower emissions. And this is happening in China. Concentrating on primary power consumption and overall emissions for the future seems fruitful, one of the reasons why economists love carbon taxes, but that just makes the problem political and internationally political at that. This is an interesting area of hard challenges, finding solutions here is not aided by deeming the motivation a fantasy.

Relevant questions when it comes to greening manufacturing (in order of impact):

1) Do we really need all this stuff?

Too much of our stuff is disposable, created from fossil fuels, with power created from fossil fuels, and then transported with fossil fuels. The stuff isn't the problem so much as all the fossil fuels, but the easiest way to reduce the fossil fuel demand is to cut back on the stuff. Is any of that stuff disposable to the point of absurdity? Would our ancestors’ amazement at all our stuff be overwhelmed by just how fragile and unnecessary it all is? How much packaging does that single serving banana need? You know it starts out in a package, right?

2) Is the stuff we need being made well?

Tomorrow’s stuff should be better than yesterday’s. More durable, better suited to the work for longer periods of time. Instead of spending our intellectual capital on creating biodegradable circuit boards, how about we do a little less ML Ad-Tech or BlockChain? Why not extend service and replacement cycles rather than trying to biodegrade the disposable stuff we're creating?

3) How much stuff goes into that stuff? Was it the right stuff?

One of the easiest ways to reduce the environmental impact is to reduce the mass of the product – less stuff for the same stuff. Plastic bottles replaced glass and aluminum bottles and cans, but it turns out the recyclability of plastic was a marketing gimmick. Easy enough to reverse that trend or run off in search of cornstarch and mycelium-based alternatives (or circular carbon – which loses on cost terms). The only folks committed to current practices is the fossil fuels industry – consumers don’t care.

4) Did we make things worse by trying to make them green?

Look deeply into the biodegradable utensils story for insight into the most likely outcomes with regards to greening industrial processes. In an effort to reduce plastic utensil waste biodegradable utensils were created from corn starch, etc., leading to poor quality utensils that would melt in your coffee or soup. Over time they improved, but at the expense of their biodegradability. Now, most sit in landfills next to the previous generation’s plastic utensils because recycling facilities do not have the industrial ovens required to break down the still technically biodegradable utensils. The sustainable answer, bamboo, has been sitting over there the whole time wondering why it can’t get any love. It has to do with incentives, you couldn’t patent the technology or raise VC funds for wooden or bamboo spoons.

I don’t think it is right to shirk responsibility for one’s actions by adjusting the reporting boundaries. 20% of the UK’s emissions reductions are due to accounting gimmicks between point of origin for their power plant fuels – that’s not helping anyone take the work of reducing emissions seriously. Likewise, the US undercounting their contributions by 8% or the EU 18% isn’t helping us take up the challenge of our times. The challenge of our times doesn’t care about your national boundaries, the physics and chemistry do not care about your beliefs or passions. If those most able to take action are busy finding ways to avoid responsibility for taking action, we’re not going to get to the best outcomes – it is the story of all time: “Those who can avoid the consequences; everyone else shoulders it.” Calling offshored emissions a myth and a concern to be debunked supports those avoiding the consequences for their choices.

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In the first paragraph or so here you are saying that there's nothing that can be done, and anyway nothing that we would want to do, but that 8% needs something doing.

Nice trick. It seems to me that capitalists are getting away with murder here - they get to offshore their manufacturing reducing their costs , which offshores carbon and then the responsibility lies with the consumer who is just consuming too much. It is us, "shirking responsibility" but not the capitalist off-shoring companies at greater profit.

There is in fact nothing we can do about the 8%, or the 18%, unless we either stop consuming China's output, which would mean a campaign against Chinese manufacturing, or tariffs (perhaps related to carbon costs), or both. No other way.

"The challenge of our times doesn’t care about your national boundaries, the physics and chemistry do not care about your beliefs or passions."

But the challenge of our times does care about logic. The EU has reduced its production and consumption of per capita carbon. However the EU can't go to zero on carbon consumption even if all its producers were zero carbon producers, unless China is also zero on carbon costs of exports, or unless Chinese goods are no longer imported. In fact by consuming the exact same amount of Chinese goods going forward while decarbonising, the consumption carbon costs can only grow relative to the production costs of carbon, merely because the latter is falling over time and the Chinese aren't so much.

What you want is for western industry countries, and companies to spend trillions on Carbon reduction - the beginnings of which has already moved Europeans down the list of per capita emitters, and then to blame Europe for China, while also opposing tariffs on China.

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As China, and others, clean up their production chains that 8% offshored by the US will decline. In practice, that 8% is likely to decline faster than the 24% still remaining on US shores because other countries are moving more quickly coming from a lower baseline. No carbon capture hokus pokus required. In practice, production offshored to China will then be offshored from China to Vietnam or other destinations where labor is cheaper and environmental regulations more lax. This is also how US companies avoided the impact of tariffs on Chinese manufacturing during the Trump years and they shifted production from place to place. China isn't the problem so much as a thing being made in an emissions heavy way is the problem, wherever it is made.

I can see, however, that you are full of specific, efficacious, and time-tested ideas for addressing this challenge, so I leave you to it.

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Why do people with weak arguments end in insults?

I asked at the beginning what exactly the west could do about the 8% and you are now conceding what was clearly obvious: China has to fix it. At the start it was the most important thing for you (and by implication the west) to fix, now China is in the mix you admit the 8% will decline only by the actions of China.

Effectively you conceded the argument and snarled in the way out. I’ll leave you to it.

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I was in the field, doing something about climate, when a brief bit of connectivity notified me of this latest reply so I let it lie for a while to consider if I was really the one here acting in poor faith. Then I saw a reminder that the framing here is the deliberate purpose of O&G publicity and the point of it was to discourage action (https://gendread.substack.com/p/doomism-protects-continued-fossil). I resist that PR effort and therefore must reply and encourage even more replies from others. I made an argument that challenged the framing of Noah’s piece – any conclusions that are inevitable from that framing are really uninteresting because I don’t agree with the terms of the setup. We should discuss those foundations instead of struggling under unreasonable restraints in the form of a question designed to yield no viable solution.

There were two prongs to my argument:

1) 8% is a real effect – not a myth, the people who care about it can be non-crazy and can actually be doing good work not just carrying water in the press.

2) We can do something about it – you, dear reader, can become part of that something.

The whole piece, and Nolan’s herding replies, are very Fox and the Grapes: It wasn’t real and we didn’t want it anyway. I provided argument, examples, insight, and expert citation for those interested in learning more. Nolan just keeps putting words in my mouth and herding us back to Noah’s inevitable conclusions. We are at the point of maximum human technical capability, maximum awareness, and maximum desire to do better – why give into a pessimistic viewpoint that nothing can be done? Why choose helplessness?

In the last reply we have the form of an argument but then a declaration that I already conceded it - neatly drawing the goal around the ball. The form of argument is motte and bailey, where some narrow point is made and much more ambitious conclusions are conflated with that point – it is an informal fallacy used for the defense of questionable arguments, notably this was a projected claim in that same reply. While it is likely true that a factory in China will have to be cleaned up in China, this does not support the broader claim that nothing can be done unless you are in a factory in China. Here is a whitepaper from an expert providing examples from an American company with American employees having material impact on emissions from factories including those in China (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/resources/sustainability-within-manufacturing-why-manufacturers-are-uniquely-positioned-to-improve-their-sustainability-efforts-using-iiot-technology/). I’m familiar with these stories because I wrote this white paper, worked with these technologies, customers, and it was literally within the scope of my job duties to have the impact suggested as impossible. We are not powerless. Selecting helplessness is how that 8% or 18% becomes overwhelming or mythological.

The inevitability of Noah’s conclusions comes from the framing, which happens to be the fossil fuel industries preferred framing meant to show that the problem is big, the tools are ineffective, and nothing can be done. Did it happen by accident? I don’t know. What I do know is that by being difficult, evasive, and generally making the conversation unpleasant defenders of that framing intend to prevent people from getting involved in solutions, to spend their time bickering and arguing over how they cannot possibly do anything about it. A cynical strategy in broad meant to delay and distract. Why did Noah reach for Tariffs when he, a person familiar with the US State of California, has many examples of efficacious state regulatory frameworks that spur innovation, encourage competition, and align directly to desired policy outcomes by measuring the real-world behavior of the thing being regulated instead of the place of its assembly? No, this whole thing smells unclean, like a refinery.

I have hundreds of former colleagues doing what Noah’s argument asserts is quixotic and/or cannot be done. There are tens of thousands of others in this space around the world doing the work with hope and good faith in their hearts and minds. Offshoring of industrial emissions is a thing that matters, is a thing we can address efficaciously from many directions, and has not reversed. What we have here is a few economists looking at the wrong dataset for this question of offshored manufacturing and adopting the preferred framing of an exploitive industry.

If you are in technology and manufacturing you probably are already doing the work, as the current crop of executives finally retire the rising generation of leaders would like to take action but will have to overcome a corporate lifetime of discouragement around rocking the boat – help them by being loud about how optimizing the individual processes isn’t enough anymore. Equinor may be an industry leader in Offshore Wind but that work represents a small fraction of their CapEx.

If you are in policy work on the right level of detail and with tools that target the physical observables instead of the political boundaries. Not every problem is easier if you make it bigger. There are examples of efficacious policy interventions, and 700 years of history behind tariff evasion – choose wisely.

If you are a consumer, it turns out your pressure matters too! I didn’t think anything would come of Bill McKibben’s divestment push; I was wrong and have updated my beliefs. There has been an effect both in public acts of divestment and inside the house where awkward conversations are now happening. One response is this very framing meant to disarm the power of people and return the decision making to the elites.

Manufacturing emissions, onshore or offshore, are a thing we can influence, and each manufacturing segment and company has a different thing they can do to achieve those ends. Everything matters in all amounts; we don’t need any one response to address all problems for those responses to be worth pursuing. Climate apathy and doomism protect continued fossil fuel extraction.

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Sep 16, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Good piece

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I appreciate your clarifying mythhs I had about outsourcing to China. I had to glaze over the graphs, but your written messages were loud and clear.

Seperately, whie I understand my efforts to ignite climate action in America will not influence China, I believe it never hurts to put positive vibes of awareness out there. Jack

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Looking at the cumulative consumption CO2 emissions from the Global Carbon Project, it's interesting to see that China already surpassed the EU27 in 2018, although it still has some years to go to surpass the US, that day is fast approaching. China's not going to be able to use the historical responsibility for emissions argument very soon.

If carbon tariffs won't make much of a dent in reducing overall emissions, what are the incentives that would actually be effective in pushing China to do more?

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Not sure if there's anything.

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There is one thing: Lowering the worldwide price of renewables so much that China is forced to keep installing more of its solar and wind power units domestically.

That's the main reason China is installing any of the solar panels or wind turbines it makes: as a way to cut back on its exports and keep prices for its products elevated. Force them to keep doing that and they'll end up changing over to renewable energy whether they want to or not.

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What are the incentives that would actually be effective in pushing China to do more?

Short answer: none.

China's leadership is committed to maintaining control of China. To do this, they believe they need to deliver increasing living standards for most of China's people. Anything that interferes with that goal will be rejected. (Some obvious exceptions: they'd be willing to impose some level of deprivation if necessary to increase military capability or crush internal dissension.)

One thing the Europeans tried was to pay to upgrade Chinese powerplants to make them more efficient. The Chinese quickly realized that they could build new, inefficient, polluting powerplants and the Europeans would then give them the technology and equipment to upgrade them. Not a good strategy in my opinion.

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That seems unjustifiably pessimistic.

Why wouldn't the simpler (I would have thought more obvious) European strategy of just funding or building efficient power plants in China directly work?

It's unclear why simply giving China free stuff would "interfere" with "increasing living standards for most of China's people" and the last paragraph is hardly probative, since one example of a failed, circuitous tactic hardly shows that the general strategy of subsidizing clean energy can't work.

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Sep 19, 2022·edited Sep 19, 2022

I'm sure we could get the Chinese government to accept donations of western equipment.

The question was "What are the incentives that would actually be effective in pushing China to do more?" Since China has already accepted donations, I'm not sure that would count as "doing more".

More broadly, I'm sure that most poor countries would accept donations of new electric systems; there's even some sort of "commitment" from the rich countries to make such donations. However, the rich countries have been very reticent to actually provide these donations. We're not willing to make such donations to Burundi or Madagascar, and they don't have the obvious geopolitical problems of donating to China.

More broadly still, I suppose a "general strategy of subsidizing clean energy" could work, for some values of "work". If you try to make this a comprehensive strategy, then you're talking about massive government expenditures, financed by massive new taxes or borrowing. Viewed this way, it's hardly a "subsidy" - it's more like "using government taxation and borrowing to buy more expensive technology." This has "worked" on some level in various countries, but I'm not sure the results have been really satisfactory. The United Kingdom has spent a lot on windmills, but still has to maintain a fossil fuel generation system as backup, and has more expensive electricity. Germany has spent a lot on windmills and solar, but has had to expand its fossil fuel generation system, and has more expensive electricity. The US government has spent a lot on solar panels and windmills, but hasn't displaced any fossil fuel generation, and has more expensive electricity.

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> The question was "What are the incentives that would actually be effective in pushing China to do more?" Since China has already accepted donations, I'm not sure that would count as "doing more".

Fair enough, maybe our disagreement was just one of interpretation, then. I'd count further future donations of green technology as doing more.

> However, the rich countries have been very reticent to actually provide these donations. We're not willing to make such donations to Burundi or Madagascar, and they don't have the obvious geopolitical problems of donating to China.

Yes, I think the problems here are more (geo)political than technological or economic.

> More broadly still, [...] Viewed this way, it's hardly a "subsidy" - it's more like "using government taxation and borrowing to buy more expensive technology."

If that's what it takes, that's what it takes. It wasn't clear to me that by "incentives" Ray was limiting themselves to a modest "subsidy" narrowly understood.

> This has "worked" on some level in various countries, but I'm not sure the results have been really satisfactory. [Examples follow]

I agree in one sense: we haven't fully fixed the problem of producing low-greenhouse-gas electricity. So of course in that sense all of the cumulative actions taken to date have yet to prove "really satisfactory" — but that's just a restatement of the mundane fact that we haven't fixed the problem in full.

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China is cranking out so many solar and wind power products that it's finally started installing them domestically so they don’t depress prices for their exported products by trying to sell too many at once overseas.

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I *see* all these charts about the difference between consumption-based and production-based estimates of CO2 emissions not being that much, but I'm still trying to *understand* them. You give me a bit at the end, with the discussion of how net manufacturing imports from China are less than 20% of manufacturing consumption. I think it also helps to realize that transportation and electricity generation each produce about as much emissions as all of domestic manufacturing, so that 20% of manufacturing is actually a small amount of total emissions. (This is the best chart I found quickly to see that, but maybe there are better ones: https://cfpub.epa.gov/ghgdata/inventoryexplorer/index.html#allsectors/allsectors/allgas/econsect/all )

It would also be helpful to know whether transportation emissions are ever significantly outsourced - does intercontinental shipping get accounted to the sender or to the receiver or does it get lost in the international accounting? how much of the emissions associated with the transportation of a physical object from inland China to inland United States occurs in the truck from the factory to the train, the train to the port, the ship across the ocean, the train to the local distribution center, the truck to the store, and the car ride home? (I'm guessing that the two trucks dominate, but maybe it's actually the car ride home?)

Once I start digging through all this, I start to understand how we can import so much from China, and yet still have this only represent a small fraction of our total greenhouse gas emissions - so much more of it is just from moving *ourselves* around, and running our local electricity and services.

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If you knew that much of the solar panel supply chain relied on fossil fuel electricity and forced labor in China would you buy those panels? If you view solar as environmentally responsible, the entire supply chain should be built on renewables, not fossil fuels.

The manufacturing of polysilicon, the primary component of solar panels, requires significant electricity capacity. This is the reason that much polysilicon manufacturing in the US was in regions known for lower cost electricity, specifically Pacific NW hydro. I worked in one of those plants.

The production of solar grade polysilicon in the US largely moved to China around 2006 since electricity generation costs (*subsidized coal*) were lower. Only about 16% of current Chinese poly production is based on hydro electricity production, the rest is fossil fuels. In the US, only REC Silicon Moses Lake (WA) is 100% hydro (closed a number of years ago due to the US - China solar trade war, the lower cost of subsidized fossil fuel electricity, and the cost of American labor-- but maybe reopening). And the forced labor issue?

My only point is that the supply chain for solar panels can be "clean", in regards to primary inputs of raw materials and labor, but in a lot of cases, that lower cost is indicative of a "dirty" supply chain. That analysis of the supply chain should merit more than a passing glance. The Clean Power Alliance is working to clean up the labor portion of the supply chain, and US companies like First Solar are using alternative semiconductor materials.

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Sep 16, 2022·edited Sep 16, 2022

> If you knew that much of the solar panel supply chain relied on fossil fuel electricity and forced labor in China would you buy those panels?

Yes. Unequivocally. Saying that nothing is green until 100% of the supply chain everywhere is green is a really great way to watch the world burn while we all wait for Team Perfect to defeat its bitter enemy Team Better Than Now

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We’re the country (and with the EU) the economic/trading blocs that are rich enough to find and demonstrate a way to a low/no carbon future. If we can’t or won’t, we can’t expect China, India and other Asian countries to blaze the trail. We led in growing emissions (we in the US are at about 25% of cumulative CO2 - add the EU and we’re just shy of 50%), we are leading in reducing them, and if we show a society can be both prosperous AND low/no carbon, others hopefully follow. If we don’t show them that, well, all of us lemmings will just keep running off that cliff …..

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The focus on CO2 emissions is a very recent phenomenon. US companies weren't thinking about CO2 emissions when they started offshoring production. They were focused on labor costs and non-carbon environmental regulations. What we offshored was labor, smog, and water pollution, not CO2 emissions. That is not just China. That includes Central America, India, and much of Southeast Asia.

China actually has a reasonable amount of hydropower and is building solar power. They are much more reliant on coal because we replaced coal with natural gas over the past three decades, but that is just another carbon emitting energy source. The US energy mix isn't dramatically different from China on a carbon emission basis, but it is very different regarding smog production which is why we have relatively clean air and they don't.

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Sep 18, 2022·edited Sep 18, 2022

A couple of other thoughts. Simple technology shifts (like radio to B&W TV to color TV) can be done over fairly short timeframes (10-20 years per shift) because there is not a lot of infrastructure needed for the change. More infrastructure dependent things like running water and electricty take longer because you need to get the population density, technology affordability, and social backing to come to together to get it constructed to increase coverage from 20% to 90% of the population. https://ourworldindata.org/technology-adoption

Solar power, wind, tide etc. in total are just now starting to approach that 20% adoption rate in advanced economies. At best, it will take another 10-20 years to get it to replace 80%-90% of fossil fuel generation. But it is heading there inexorably because they are rapidly becoming the most economical energy sources. https://ourworldindata.org/cheap-renewables-growth

A classic example of slow, then rapid energy transition is manufactured gas that was a dominant energy source throughout the developed world in the 1800s and first half of the 1900s. Every town in the US in the 1920s had at least one MGP for lighting, clooking, heating, industry etc. (now they are being remediated). The movie Gaslight was based on manufactured gas from a local neighborhood plant as the gas source. They were ubiquitous in every urban area and suddenly vanished like the dinosaurs between 1941 and 1966. The vast majority of people don't even know this massive energy source existed even thouigh their urban grandparents would have relied on it at some point in their life. Hydropower and coal plant electricity and natural gas developed in the New Deal and WW II replaced manufactured gas completely in two decades so that was not a trace left. That eliminated a very dirty energy source inside city limits. Those sites were quickly abandoned and redeveloped, so all memory of them quickly vanished. The legacy contamination issues are now being remediated across the developed world. http://www.hatheway.net/01_history.htm

Economies that are still lacking the original electricity generation and transmission may be able to skip some new centralized fossil fuel generation as they work on building out their grids, similar to them skipping connecting every house with a landline telephone and just jumping straight to cellular. Most cultures used to rely on waterpower for centuries and that was always very decentralized with each creek and river hosting local mills. Solar panels and wind offer a similar opportunity moving forward to reduce the dependence on large centralized generation and long-distance transmission lines.

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Above link gives a more balanced view on the Pakistan floods.

A point you seem to miss is an important one and generally harmful. You list many tweets of individuals that basically misrepresent the facts on outsourcing of carbon. Why do they do so? Climate change is known for misinformation. They also misrepresent the facts on extreme weather events. They use improbable scenarios that even the IPCC reject as extremely unlikely.

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Are you sure those consumption-based counts are fully counting emissions related to offshore manufacturing and transport? What about imported intermediates and investment goods? I haven't checked how they're doing this but strikes me as implausibly low and probably not counting lots of things they should be.

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Still not out of the last ice age. Nothing we can do about warming. We need to divert our energies away from hair shirt/auto flagellation/self-loathing activities into finding ways to enjoy and prosper in lives in a warmer world.

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LOL, go live in Pakistan and find ways to enjoy and prosper there.

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LOL. You first. Since when, in the modern era, has life been anything other than distressing in the parts of Pakistan that have been subject to weather extremes?

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Humans evolved in the last ice age, so pretending that this change is somehow to our advantage is the height of stupidity.

Even more important than our evolved preferences, however, is the fact that we have built trillions of dollars of infrastructure based on assumptions about climate and sea level that will no longer hold true. Our cities will variably flood, run out of water, sink under water, need massive HVAC upgrades, become uninhabitably hot, be unable to feed themselves, burn, or otherwise be subject to various climate change-induced disasters.

Compare the cost of rebuilding New York City, London, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Tokyo, Jakarta, Delhi, Mumbai, Lagos, and three dozen other metropoli to the cost of climate change mitigation and tell me you still think that tradeoff is worthwhile.

You say that we should focus on adaptation--but that’s hundreds of times more expensive than prevention. It really is basic economics.

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comparison of costs of the prevention vs adaptation has been done, google Bjorn Lomborg.

It is the other way around - it is much cheaper to adapt than to prevent, especially when we cannot really prevent anything.

I'm clearly living in a different universe than Noah and like-minded followers, in your world things like electric cars are great for everybody, in mine they are saleable only with massive subsidies, and even then they are much more expensive, and majority of people doesn't want them in the current state of technology.

Same as solar and wind - you see how great they are, I see they don't work in Germany.

I'm not saying these things wouldn't be great in the future, but you cannot subsidize the real progress.

Nobody subsidized cars when they were replacing horses.

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I actually have a fair few papers published on climate change studies, Bjorn Lomberg is relatively well known among climate scientists and climate economists for his highly questionable assumptions.

Prevention is actually quite straightforward. Mitigate carbon and methane emissions. Your claim that this is impossible is incorrect.

Electric cars are currently cheaper than gas-powered cars without subsidies, when the lifetime cost of ownership is taken into account. Furthermore, given the public health cost of NOx and SOx emissions, as well as the Greenhouse gas emissions of internal combustion vehicles, Pigouvian taxes should likely be levied on them.

Solar and wind are likewise cheaper than oil and natural gas for many providers, and it is laughable to pretend otherwise from the German position, given that your own country’s embrace of foreign oil and destruction of its nuclear industry will likely lead it into recession. This information is simply out of date, as Noah has shown in several posts, and as most up-to-date papers discuss.

“You cannot subsidize real progress”

Lmao at this. Science is the source of nearly all progress, and it is at its heart a subsidized endeavor. Of course, that’s not even mentioning the massive amount of government subsidies for pipelines, refineries, and energy rebates that flow directly to the fossil fuel industry.

This is a snide remark that sounds good but lacks any historical or logical basis. You can indeed subsidize progress, and in this case, it is far more efficient than the alternative.

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again, like from different universe. I basically don't believe anything you say is actually true.

"Prevention is actually quite straightforward. Mitigate carbon and methane emissions."

Maybe simple in principle, but impossible or extremely costly in execution, without a revolution in technology.

Another part is that even if we'll reduce emissions as planned, I'm not convinced on the actual impact on climate - you can say I have my doubts about the climate science.

"Electric cars are currently cheaper than gas-powered cars without subsidies, when the lifetime cost of ownership is taken into account"

and this is why their sales are much lower than normal cars, even with subsidies.

People are so unwise.

"Solar and wind are likewise cheaper than oil and natural gas for many providers"

I'm not from Germany, and I agree, destruction of its nuclear energy is stupid - but it is stupidity from the green left - the same people who are all for renewables and electric cars.

I read some papers that claim what you said, I'm just simply not convinced, and the reality seems to support my position - even with massive support and subsidies (again) into renewables, they are still not a viable alternative. After all, Germany is trying to solve its problems now by burning coal and gas, not by more solar and wind farms.

“You cannot subsidize real progress”

of course, science is "subsidized" or funded without regard for immediate profit.

I'm all for funding scientific research - for example nuclear fusion.

What I meant is not research, but use - as in case of electric cars - I don't believe subsidizing them will help them prevail, if they are not a viable alternative on their own.

Subsidizing basically means taking money from some people and giving it to other - in this specific case from poor to rich, which is especially immoral.

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I'm just here to take issue with your last sentence, which makes me wonder whether anything you said in the paragraphs that precede it can be taken seriously.

You wrote:

"Subsidizing basically means taking money from some people and giving it to other [sic] - in this specific case from poor to rich, which is especially immoral."

This is rather obviously false, I think. Even if you assume -- erroneously -- that monetarily sovereign countries like the US must levy taxes to pay for things like subsidies for electric cars, the taxes -- in particular, the income and capital gains taxes -- that would "finance" those subsidies are born almost entirely by rich people. (According to the standard -- but really dumb -- fiscal model, all such subsidies are part of the federal government's discretionary spending, which is turn "financed" by either taxing or borrowing from rich people). Subsidies for electric cars involve rich people cross-subsidizing each other.

Moreover, the point of offering such subsidies to rich people is to simply provide incentives for manufacturers to scale up production -- something that, at least in theory, should bring down the price of EVs to consumers, making them more accessible to people further down the income ladder.

Do I think filling the world with EVs is a good idea, environmentally or economically? I'm profoundly skeptical -- but for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the putative immorality of shifting costs to poor people -- something that, in this instance, doesn't actually happen.

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You were being sarcastic, clearly, Mark, but I still agree with one of your statements: “People are so unwise”

Yes, especially when it comes to electric vehicles. Poll after poll shows that people...

- don’t understand the benefits of driving electric cars

- have depressingly, ridiculously overblown range anxiety.

“Oh no, I could never own a car that only gets 280 miles on a charge!!!”

“Really? What’s your daily commute?”

“Um, 40 miles.”

“And how often do you drive even 200 miles in a single day?”

“Well, every year my wife and two kids visit Aunt Sue, and she’s just over 200 miles away!”


Like... this family could probably charge their car over lunch and get to Aunt Sue’s just fine. Or if somehow there were actually no chargers available, they could rent a car once a year and still probably come out ahead when taking into account gas prices, maintenance costs for gas cars, etc.

Sure, electrics won’t work for everyone. But -- I’m sorry (for many reasons) -- that people are, indeed, often painfully ignorant, painfully irrational.

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Also, consider that once electric vehicles reach a critical mass, charging stations are going to be practically everywhere. Many EVs and plug-in hybrids also include a cord that can be plugged into a wall socket, though it would take about a half-day to fully charge.

Electric vehicles don't have to be topped off or deliberately drained to zero, so if the car with a 280 mile range has to go, say, 380 miles, the vehicle could be charged to a little more than 100 and recharged fully at the destination.

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The problem in Germany is they built this great renewable infrastructure but never bothered connecting it to the grid, so when the wind blows in the north there is no way to get it to the south where it¡s needed.

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As I said, hair shirt/auto flagellation/self-loathing.

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Cool. You do you and I’ll do me.

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That’s not a coherent sentence, and nothing in what I said implies any degree of self-loathing or misanthropy.

In fact, willfully doing nothing to prevent their own suffering, as you seem to propose, is exactly what one would expect from a self-loathing misanthrope.

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Sounds like adaptation is gonna be big business...

As they say... the strong will do what they can and the weak suffer what they must..

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Exactly. Let's cut out the hair shirt/auto flagellation/self-loathing, and figure out how to reduce CO2 emissions so that the warming is less than it might be otherwise, so that we can enjoy ourselves and prosper instead of suffering with the heat!

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What do you suggest? I’m particularly curious how we prosper in a world where a high wet bulb temperature heat wave is likely to be fatal to humans.

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Consider how Singapore lives with high humidity/high temperatures and then deploy your particular curiosity to improve on that. I not attempting to offer solutions; I’m suggesting that our energies would be better employed in trying to adapt, rather than wasting time, effort and bucket-loads of money on, for example, conference after conference in exotic locations where pliant politicians line up to be lectured by virtue signallers.

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I am happy to put the same amount of effort into receiving your point of view as you put in to making it.

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Love your rapier wit.

Let’s see, we have about 30 solar panels on our roof; We use a heat pump and RC system for heating & cooling; we harvest our rainwater which, amongst other uses, irrigates, when necessary, the region and climate-appropriate plants in our (lawn-free) garden which hosts a broad range of native fauna; our windows are deigned and manufactured to be energy efficient and we have a hot-water circulation system which minimises water waste.

Is that enough effort for you?

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There's a new paper exploring the effects of carbon offshoring from Europe to Africa, would love to read your thoughts on it. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4833343

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It is a problem made in China, and one that only China can solve. And if China doesn’t choose to solve it, the world will indeed burn. That’s an uncomfortable fact, but it’s one we have to face.


Imagine that China, in the long run, would be a net profiteer of the world burning: [Burn China << World]

Would humans in charge of doing the decisions for outcomes of climate… do it or not? Does the competition trump the collaboration? What does the Game Theory say? TfT…

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