Monday, March 3, 2008

Preventing Global Warming - Or Perhaps Not

The London Times has an article that shows quite clearly why using paper bags and Toyota Priuses may well be beneficial for all sorts of things, but they contribute absolutely nothing to saving the world from global warming. The argument is actually quite simple: the oil producers will produce the same amount no matter who buys from them and even, within a reasonable range, no matter what the price. So although being green is rapidly becoming an article of faith among many westerners, the most that their actions will achieve will be that the oil will be consumed elsewhere, which amounts to the same from the perspective of global warming.

The alternative? To develop real alternatives to oil.

I'm already on record for my opinion about global warming. I do however admit to being quite gleeful when it comes to disproving the sanctimonious, unthinking masses who subscribe to the new religions of our age. Religions, it seems to me, require half a millennium or three of deep thought and deliberation before they mature; the ones that have been invented since 1945 seem to me mostly silly.


Rattling The Kettle said...

The argument that "the oil will be consumed elsewhere" fails to take into account the fundamental truth that there is a finite demand for oil. Less oil consumed is less oil consumed, not the same amount of oil just consumed by different people. While it is true that the producers will sell to whomever buys, if people are buying less, then less will be sold.

Also, production _will_ decline with price; to argue otherwise is to argue against the underlying principles of economics.

Yaacov said...

The Times article (and the report it is based on) relates to both those arguments -convincingly, to my mind.

Rattling The Kettle said...

Both arguments are deeply flawed. I'll address each:

"The fundamental, and possibly fatal, flaw in all these well-meaning personal efforts and well-intentioned government initiatives to tackle global warming is that the West’s entire strategy is based on restraining demand for, and use of, fuels. Yet this strategy will prove entirely futile unless the result is that the extraction and supply of these fossil fuels falls back as reduced demand puts downward pressure on their price."

The flaw here is that oil *extraction* is not the ecological problem. It's the *use* of the oil. Reducing demand means reducing use of oil, plain and simple (it's a definitional thing). Whether OPEC oversupplies in response is irrelevant to the calculation.

"Moves by “green” consumers and nations to cut energy use will prove pointless if oil-producing states simply maintain production even as prices fall, so that other countries more careless of the dangers of global warming then buy, and burn, all the fuel saved, enjoying an implicit subsidy from the West as they do so. Just as we are all “turning to 30”, the growth-hungry powerhouses of China and India will be stepping up their carbon-intensive policies of rapid economic expansion... "

Here, the Times is arguing that if British people reduced consumption, these reductions would be offset by increased consumption from China and the US.

But Chinese (and Indian) demand is independent of British demand. A reduced British demand only means less oil being consumed in Britain, while China (and India) goes on consuming what it would have anyway. Furthermore, Chinese oil demand is highly independent of the actual price of oil -- it is driven by the country's rapid economic expansion, which is pretty price-insensitive when it comes to oil.

What the Times *should* be saying is that individual measures like running your washer on warm instead of hot, and buying a more fuel-efficient car, is not going to make a dent in the worldwide oil consumption numbers. That is certainly true. But smart government policy which makes small measures mandatory across the developed world would have a large impact. If every car on the road in the US were suddenly replaced with a vehicle that consumes 20% less gasoline, that would be something that would be felt in the world oil market (and which would have a real impact on air quality).

Yaacov said...

Actually, Rattling, the fact that you own one of those Prius cars is fine with me, and admirable. The more the better, I agree. In my family, we have one car for 5 drivers, and I almost never drive at all. I walk up to an hour, and take the bus if my target will take more than an hour to walk to. (Not an option in LA, I know). But I doubt much legislation could be passed that would "make a dent", as you say. Me, I'm for figuring out ways to make human greed the motivation for cleaner behaviour, such as encouraging the unlimited human innovativeness to invent cheapers sources of energy.

Rattling The Kettle said...

Alternative energy is certainly a very large part of the solution. Unfortunately, the US seems rather focused on ethanol, over, say, wind or solar. Too bad.

Allen said...

Paper bags and green cars may not exactly Preventing Global Warming but the good thing is that we are atleast concern about the global warming and this is the first step towards prevention of global warming.