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Estimating the Impact of Climate Change Costs on Growth: Is Degrowth Already Here?

Yves here. Some readers will no doubt take umbrage at looking at climate change in economic terms, as opposed to the “Nice planet, shame if anything happened to it” school of thinking. But growth, or more accurately, groaf, is often the excuse for not going into war-level mobilization to limit climate change. The quick and dirty analysis below shows that the cost of climate change is already putting the US in “degrowth” territory.

And this post also serves as a reminder of the considerable problems with GDP as a measure of economic activity, in particular, its failure to incorporate the cost of externalities like pollution.

By Sandwichman. Originally published at Econospeak

A little over a year ago, Robert Watson, former chair of the IPCC, and two co-authors published a report titled “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States.” Based on trends over the past few decades, the authors estimated the current total annual cost in the U.S. of losses from weather events intensified by climate change and health damage from fossil fuel pollution to be $240 billion, which they described as “about 40 percent of current economic growth of the United States economy.”

At around the same time, Mark Jacobson, Mark Delucchi and a carload of co-authors published an article in which they projected damages to health and property in the U.S. from climate change and pollution under “business as usual” to be around eight trillion dollars in 2050. A simple linear extrapolation between the two estimates suggests that the annual cost of climate change is increasing at around an 11 percent annual rate. Based on that extrapolation, the health and property damage cost of climate change can be projected to exceed annual GDP growth by 2026.

But wait. Watson’s 40 percent figure compares averageannual damage with some of the better recent years of growth. Even excluding years of recession and stagnation, in which growth was less than $240 billion, the remaining eight of the last 12 years averaged only around $430 billion a year in real GDP growth. Counting the recession and stagnation years, it’s virtually break even.

But there’s more. Part of that economic growth simply reflects expansion of the population. Real economic growth per capita in the U.S. has been even more anemic in the 21st century. Of course this means the cost of damage can be spread more thinly as well but the crucial point is still what happens to per capita income relative to the damage.

The future is hard to predict, so I tried a number of scenarios. First, if per capita growth continues at the rate it has since 2009, the U.S. has already entered the red zone where the cost of climate change exceeds growth by an increasing amount each year. If real per capitagrowth accelerates to 1.5 percent per annum that fateful point won’t be reached until the year after next. A growth rate of 2 percent would postpone the day of reckoning until 2024, six years before the IPCC deadline for achieving net zero carbon emissions. To make it to 2030 without crossing permanently into the red would require a sustained rate of real per capitagrowth that hasn’t been achieved since 1960-1970.

One more thing. As Andreas Malm wrote, the global warming effects of fossil fuel consumption are “seriously backloaded” and “substantially deferred.” This year’s climate damage is a consequence of actions taken decades ago and the greenhouse gases emitted today will not have their full impact until decades from now. How does one estimate, then, the contribution to intermediate consumption of the deferredcost of current emissions? How much should GDP be deflated to account for the artificial inflation of nominal value added by waste gases whose cost is off the balance sheet?

Let’s assume that emissions in a given year contribute to 4 percent of climate change costs each year for the next 25 years. Why 25 years and why a constant percentage? Because it is better than attributing all of this year’s cost to this year’s emissions. Who knows? It probably makes more sense that choosing a “market-based” consumption discount rate of 4.3 percent. At any rate, considering the deferred nature of the climate costs moves the year in which GDP growth vanishes back. The 4 percent for 25 years scenario moves it back to 2007. The economy has literallybeen running on fumes for over a decade. Talk about “degrowth”!

It/s here. It’s not going away. It only gets worse. The question isn’t whether or not one “advocates” degrowth but whether or not one faces the stark reality and acknowledges the expiry of GDP growth and consequently the irrelevance — and, frankly, mischief— of the growth paradigm.

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51 comments

  1. drumlin woodchuckles

    Perhaps this is how the problem of runaway groafism will be solved. So many climate decay effects will destroy so much infrastructure and bussiness that the ability to keep groafing the moneyconomy will be destroyed. There will be degrowth AND degroaf.

    ” So this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang or with a whimper, but with the hith of thteam ethcaping.”

  2. The Rev Kev

    I think this picture may be worse simply because as the world economy starts to go into general contraction – due to the loss of the essential resources to keep growth going – this will accelerate the loss as the resources will not be there to make up for what is destroyed by climate change. In any case, there is no law nor scientific principle that says that economies have to expand forever and such a belief itself is a bit unnatural. Even Wall Street says that trees do not grow to the sky.

    1. JTMcPhee

      I believe “Wall Street” and the Supranational Corporations and billionaire class and of course the Imperial Military have gamed it and rigged it so that somebody among the Favored Few will win the bets they are making on where, when and how the effects of climate disruption will be “experienced.”

      And we have the Perfect Storm that the neoliberals have created, by teaching us, most of us, to be Homo economici— there’s “opportunity” and “profit” to be made by “winners” in the Great Competition To See Who Dies With The Most Toys. The participants in that Kills The Last Whale and Lion and Shark, and Uses Up The Last Drop of Petroleum.

      Actually, it’s just one “feature” of the enormity of the vast disconnect between actions and effects, facilitated by the bad actors’ immunity from any consequences. The people who developed and marketed the “Green (as in “I can really get a profit from this crap”) Revolution, as an example, are either aged and well off, or comfortably dead. Cargill and Monsanto, a different kind of entity of course, go on and on, parasitically unconcerned about the death of the host, and the C-suite-ers and managers have all kinds of benefits that keep them on task serving the corporate god. And now we got Amazon and Apple and Facebook and Google to keep the juice flowing.

      So where are the negative feedback loops that have any kind of chance of “preserving OUR species,” let alone all the other ones that we collectively have and ar killing off, along with the meta-stability, the semi-homeostasis, of the biosphere, in conditions that support human and other life?

      Gaia is displeased, and ‘nature bats last.’

  3. Kasia

    One of the key factors pushing climate change is mass third world immigration into Europe and the US. Taking a low consuming third world’er and turning them into a relatively high consuming first world’er will always bring a tear to mother nature’s eye. Because pushing up the total population numbers of any first world country is always bad for the environment.

    The struggle against “climate change” (what’s the alternative, a steady-state climate?) has been championed by the left side of the political divide and in response more or less denied by the right. Now that the right is slowly and reluctantly abandoning their cheap labor pro-mass immigration policies and warming up to immigration restriction, how long before they wake up and start pounding the climate change debate with anti-immigration rhetoric?

    The Sierra Club has struggled with this issue for some time. They came to the stunningly stupid compromise of pushing for lower white birth rates while championing mass 3rd world immigration. Their reasoning? The new Latino voters would vote for strict environmental laws while Badwhites will not. So let’s replace the Badwhites with angelic, climate-hero Latinos.

    Bill McKibben in 2004:

    But there’s a higher math here that matters much more. At this point, there’s no chance we’re going to deal with global warming one household at a time — scientists, policy wonks and economists have concluded it will also require structural change. We may need, for example, things such as a serious tax on carbon; that will require mustering political will to stand up to the fossil fuel industry.

    And that’s precisely where white America has fallen short. Election after election, native-born and long-standing citizens pull the lever for climate deniers, for people who want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, for the politicians who take huge quantities of cash from the Koch brothers and other oil barons. By contrast, a 2012 report by the Sierra Club and the National Council of La Raza found that Latinos were eager for environmental progress. Seventy-seven percent of Latino voters think climate change is already happening, compared with just 52% of the general population; 92% of Latinos think we have “a moral responsibility to take care of God’s creation here on Earth.”

    One wonders if the recent election by Latinos of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil — who ran on chopping down the rainforests — has inspired any buyer’s remorse in the Goodwhite environmental movement in the US? Is it true that Latinos and Badwhites are really all that different when it comes to preferring authoritarian leaders with no conscience about the environment?

    1. Eclair

      Thanks, Kaisa, for pointing out, again, how the profligate use of fossil fuels, along with massive deforestation and de-prairie-ization, by first world nations, have contributed to global climate change.

      And, of course, in our search for control over resource deposits, from petroleum to diamonds to copper to rare woods, we have raped and pillaged the third world countries that contain them. Thereby making life there pretty much unliveable for millions of
      ordinary people.

      Let’s place the blame for igniting global climate disruption where it belongs: with the leaders and the inhabitants of those first world countries who consume a far greater per capita share of the planet’s resources , and thus spew out a far greater per capita amount of pollution and garbage.

      If we are worried about refugees flooding our country and adopting a first world life style, we might consider two simple remedies: stop messing up other people’s nations, and reduce the resources we consume in the US. The bible treats this tendency to blame others for one’s own problems with the admonition to cast out the mote from your own eye, before you complain of the mote in your neighbor’s eye.

      1. JTMcPhee

        I read that comment as being more in favor of “slam the door — I’m inside already” policies. Knocking the Sierra Club for pushing lower white birth rates, (and I don’t recall the SC limiting its recommendations to “whites”) in itself part of the minimum response necessary if there is to be even any reduction in the rate of degradation? And really, other than the Privileged who employ illegals and other immigrants, who among the Sierra Club membership has been pushing open borders? And the election of Bolsonaro as an index of Latino espiritu? “Pounding the climate change debate with anti-immigration rhetoric?”

        I’d offer a policy: When a white, good or bad, and for that matter any other person, is born, they get issued a Sierra Cup and a stainless steel spork. And that’s it for crockery and cutlery, lifetime. No disposable plastic crap, no “exquisite delightful stuff’ to “store” in bespoke cabinets in Property-Brothers-renovated 9-foot-ceiling kitchens and room-sized pantries and closets, or in the still proliferating “storage units” to accommodate the crap not fittable into those 4,000 and up sq ft McMansions and “estates.” Maybe a ceramic rice bowl for some folks, but that would be the limit of “freedom of consumptive choice.”

        But of course barring some kind of stuff being introduced into the water that renders all of us suddenly conscious of “the environment” as superior to our own immediate pleasures, wants and needs, not going to happen…

        1. Eclair

          I was trying to be polite, JT. The first sentence, “One of the key factors pushing climate change is mass third world immigration into Europe and the US,” should not go unchallenged. It’s either sloppy reasoning or deliberate immigrant-baiting. Or, I am having a foggy brain day.

          But, I like your idea of a cup and a spork. However, I would like mine to be sterling silver. And, could we make an exception and let me have a Limoges rice bowl?

    2. Lambert Strether

      I clicked through to the link: It’s 2013, not 2004. Where does 2004 come from?

      So, rather than McKibben having anticipated Ruy Teixeira’s “coalition of the ascendant,” he echoes it. No wonder he’s so ineffective.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      First, I see no evidence that you subscribe to the site

      Second, even if you did subscribe, that does not give you the right to dictate our content. We’ve banned commentors who broke site rules who had donated to the site, and some had been very popular before they went sour.

      Third, you apparently did not get past the headline. The author’s’ use of “degrowth” is completely different than that of the book you are flogging. Commenting without reading a post in full is a violation of our written site Policies.

      Fourth, in case you missed it, the planet is in the midst of the sixth great extinction. In the 1990s. EO Wilson warned that people were taking up 20% to 40% of the food energy on the planet. Even if we were to engage in heroic measures starting right now, it would take three to five million years to recover. We have way too many people for the planet to support.

      1. Henry

        Yves,

        1. I do subscribe to the site. I just don’t post comments with a regular username and email.

        2. I’m not dictating. What I am trying to point out which I have tried to do in various other comments is that you have fallen prey to the collapse porn subculture/movement. The comments section only feeds into that.

        3. I did read it and My suspicion was proven right by your fourth point about eo Wilson. I completely agree that gdp has outgrown its usefulness and we need many more indicators that inform policy but do a deeper dive into the concept of ‘degrowth’ and you’ll quickly realise it’s misanthropic and badly thought of.

        4. Again, highly recommend you read the book and author. I think you’ll find it very refreshing and insightful just like your book econned was for the rest of us. Carrying capicity is a flaky concept and has been thoroughly debunked time and again.

      1. Henry

        Please read my comment again lambert. I acknowledged that except for its eco austerity nonsense NC is an excellent website.

  4. Steve H.

    Hand-wavy problem, those fixes drop into the ledger as assets, don’t they? A $100k house gets knocked down, a $250K mcmansion replaces it, GDP up. Sick people get the probisci inserted at doctors’ hourly rates (assuming that gets paid). Dead homeless aren’t counted as liabilities, as far as I can tell.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I believe GDP makes poor measure of the economy. But suppose it were a very good measure. Who benefited from all the supposed growth in our economy? Who tends to suffer the greatest losses from the disasters of Climate Disruption? If Climate Disruption is impacting GDP why not redefine a few items into the credits column and ignore a few more of the loss items in the accounting. If your interests are promoted by not responding to GDP — how many ways might you find to count your losses as losses to the GDP? Think of all the capital sunk into Fossil Fuels and a “reasonable” valuation of all the lost growth from not grasping for that lost return.

      I think a part of the idea for a World War II type effort to respond to climate change originates in the idea that — other than its possible uses for propaganda — tracking the national GDP takes a back seat to winning the war effort. If the war is lost the national GDP means very little to the dead and conquered. Instead of GDP a war machine measures the production of aircraft, vehicles, ships and shells, ammunition, firearms, food and soldiers and other tools and supplies for war and the economy driving a total-war effort like World War II is a command economy. [This consolidation of political and economic power is a scary part of a war-type effort considering the kinds of leaders that war might promote. Will they politely step down from power when the war ends? We live in an age of US leaders far less polite than those of our World War II years.]

    2. HotFlash

      Sick people get the probisci inserted at doctors’ hourly rates (assuming that gets paid).

      Interesting, never thought about how bad debts are accounted for in GDP. Do they reduce GDP? I mean, if I sell you my house for 1 million, and you sell me your house for 1 million, nothing has really happened (unless we actually move, then there may be movers fees), but GDP goes up by $2 million. Here we have GST, which a value-added tax, like Europe’s VAT, and can net out duplications. How does the US measure GDP or growth, or groaf, for that matter?

  5. UserFriendly

    Honestly, the required war like mobilization to create as many carbon free power plants (Wind, PV, and Nuclear) as fast as possible would actually be a boon to economic growth, but it would have to come at the expense of some other industries. Purely because the EROI on wind and PV are so low that at the rate we need to build them all the energy they produce would need to go right back into building more for about 20 years, especially if you factor in pumped water storage (by far the best EROI for storage). Nuclear has a significantly better EROI* and has the added benefit that not all the energy cost is pre-powerplant going online. The drawback is the length of construction but, especially since pumped water storage isn’t an option everywhere the more nuclear there is the less storage we need. The construction costs go way down once you reactivate the supply chain that has been dead for 30 years. In the 1980s, 218 reactors started up, an average of one every 17 days

    *some studies use a method of uranium mining and purification that is very outdated resulting in much lower EROI.

    And before the anti nuke crowd goes nuts, please read over this report from the UN, you know the same place the IPCC report comes from. Even if you take the highest possible deaths from Chernobyl and Fukushima, it is still the least deadly form of energy production per KW.

    1. William Hunter Duncan

      I suspect all that spent nuclear material lying around waiting for Boomers to retire, in those many 10+ years past their pull-date nuclear facilities, is one of those pollution factors likely to contribute to economic degrowth not even the authors off this study dared to think about.

      1. John Rose

        There are relatively small amounts of highly radioactive waste material and this is what is most dangerous. The less radioactive materials can be isolated and diluted more easily to the levels of natural background radiation.

        Being small in volume, highly radioactive materials are amenable to disposal in boreholes such as are in use for fracking. These are routinely a mile or more deep in layers that have been undisturbed for millions of years. I doubt the radiation immediately above such a deposit site would even begin to match that from the naturally occurring radon we have in my part of Pennsylvania.

        1. JTMcPhee

          Before the environmental acts of the ‘60s, there was this phrase that nascent neoliberals and of course corporate types from Dow and Monsanto and Standard Oil and US Steel and so forth used to have recourse to: “Dilution is the solution to pollution.” Glad to see it resurrected here.

          A particularly corrupt field investigator I had to work with at the US EPA, who was transferred onto us by the Corps of Engineers that wanted to be shut of him, offered this solution to the problems of industrial and radioactive waste: “They ought to mix it all up with some solvents like acetone or TCE, load it aboard C-130s fitted with spray booms, and have the planes just fly all around over the planet spraying the stuff out. Everyone gets a tiny little bit of it — all diluted to where there’s no more problem.” He eventually got canned for using Superfund money to party with sex workers…

      2. UserFriendly

        I suspect they won’t since none have yet and they have a good method for temp storage. I also suspect that the billions big oil spent to make you think that is exactly why climate change has gotten this bad.
        According to NASA:

        Using historical electricity production data and mortality and emission factors from the peer-reviewed scientific literature, we found that despite the three major nuclear accidents the world has experienced, nuclear power prevented an average of over 1.8 million net deaths worldwide between 1971-2009 (see Fig. 1). This amounts to at least hundreds and more likely thousands of times more deaths than it caused. An average of 76,000 deaths per year were avoided annually between 2000-2009 (see Fig. 2), with a range of 19,000-300,000 per year.

        Likewise, we calculated that nuclear power prevented an average of 64 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent (GtCO2-eq) net GHG emissions globally between 1971-2009 (see Fig. 3). This is about 15 times more emissions than it caused. It is equivalent to the past 35 years of CO2 emissions from coal burning in the U.S. or 17 years in China (ref. 3) — i.e., historical nuclear energy production has prevented the building of hundreds of large coal-fired power plants.

        Now imagine if we had kept building and working on fast breeders.

        1. William Hunter Duncan

          This thread reminds me of copper nickel mining in water rich sulfides in northern Minnesota, one generations mining for 10-25 generations of remediation to keep heavy metals and sulphuric acid out of the watershed.

          Typical modern thinking, benefits now, cleanup left for future generations who have no say.

          Now UserFriendly, imagine spent nuclear material proliferated all over the world, with another 2 billion people 25 years ahead of the curve on the 6th great extinction, eating our way out of house and home.

          Stuffing it down a hole ala fracking too is like, well, who gives a damn about aquifers. Why should we, when we pollute surface waters with such impunity?

          1. UserFriendly

            Do you think that not opening the mine on the iron range will reduce the world demand for copper? I doubt it. If they can’t mine it from MN where else are they going to mine it? Top 10 copper mines are in Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, and Indonesia. Where do you think a mine is likely to have the most stringent safety regulations? Your resistance to mining in your neck of the woods is just one more way to screw the global south.

            Had they kept building reactors they would have kept researching and probably gotten Fast Reactors built, at least enough to reprocess most of the waste. If we are capable of monitoring as many waste sites as we have now I don’t see how adding more would be any harder. As someone in that next generation I would have been absolutely thrilled to have an extra year or two to deal with climate change while pushing off the small chance of a nuclear waste leak, into the already radioactive earth thousands of feet underground.

            And thanks for the heads up, I’ll send the DOE an email and tell them to avoid aquifers.

            1. False Solace

              > Your resistance to mining in your neck of the woods is just one more way to screw the global south.

              This is a terrible argument that smacks of bad faith. Nowhere in the previous comment was any indication the commenter approved of mining in the global south either.

              We have to choose our battles. It’s much easier to fight and win in your own location / nationstate.

              1. UserFriendly

                Well thanks to weak laws, corruption, and ISDS that pretty much means almost all mines will be in the 2nd and third world. My preference is for them to do the least damage wherever they end up doing it. Minnesota has very high standards for mining and the area they want to do it in has already literally moved whole town’s to get better access to the taconite (Iron) mines.

            2. William Hunter Duncan

              UserFriendly,

              I’m opposed to copper nickel mining in water rich sulfides in the State of my birth, because the people most for it are also for Trump MAGA, but the leases are owned by foreign corporations primarily, set to plunder and pollute these waters more or less like American corporations have plundered and polluted other States. Making Minnesota more like a 3rd world nation, whatever the promises of people who say things like “fail-safe…with a bunch of extra safety features.”

          2. knowbuddhau

            Exactly.

            How’s that Fukushima cleanup going? What are its total environmental impacts? What’s the sourcing on deaths from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima? How long before people can live healthfully in the exclusion zones?

            How long do the cancers and other disorders take to develop, and are they all always properly attributed?

            That study is prop.

            NASA uses nuclear power for some satellites, so hardly disinterested. NASA also says we’re going to Mars soon, and has even built parts of a huuuge rocket to do so.

            Don’t know how we’ll keep the peeps inside alive, tho.

            It’d be far simpler not to make so many enduring problems just to boil water.

            Are pro-nukers even aware of the problems their pet tech has already created? Here’s a sample, from 2009. I chose SciAm because they’re pro-nuke. Note very well that the title is no exaggeration.

            Spent Nuclear Fuel: A Trash Heap Deadly for 250,000 Years or a Renewable Energy Source?

            In 1987 Congress passed legislation that required the Department of Energy (DoE) to take possession of and properly store the spent fuel from the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors by the then far-off date of February 1998. Now 11 years behind schedule, the DoE’s primary response—to bury it deep within Yucca Mountain—is no closer to being a permanent solution.

            The Energy Department last June finally applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal government agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear power plants, for a license to build the repository at Yucca. But taxpayers still spend roughly $1 billion a year in fines paid by the federal government) to utilities to compensate them for the delay.

            All told, the nuclear reactors in the U.S. produce more than 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste a year, according to the DoE—and most of it ends up sitting on-site because there is nowhere else to put it. “When we remove fuel from the core after its final usage, we store it in a pool on site. We have the capacity to store it there for many years,” says Bryan Dolan, vice president of nuclear development at Duke Energy Corp., which operates three nuclear power plants in South Carolina. The amount of space required to store it, after all, is “incredibly small.”

            In fact, the U.S. nuclear industry has produced roughly 64,000 metric tons (one metric ton equals 1.1 U.S. tons) of radioactive used fuel rods in total or, in the words of NEI, enough “to cover a football field about seven yards deep.” (Of course, actually concentrating rods this way would set off a nuclear chain reaction.)

            The 1987 measure designated Yucca Mountain—a range of volcanic rock 90 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas in a patch of desert near former nuclear weapon testing sites—as the nation’s permanent repository for all of its used fuel. Critics, including environmentalists and Nevada residents and politicians, charge the site is unsuitable for a variety of reasons, most notably because of its proximity to fault lines (earthquakes have already damaged some buildings at Yucca Mountain) and because water that flows through its rock may ultimately circulate radioactive waste into the soil or drinking water.

            But the federal government has already spent some $11 billion building a kind of reverse mine, a deep shaft bored into the side of the mountain sheathed in stainless steel in which to bury the waste. To complete the repository would require at least $90 billion in total, according to a Bush administration estimate in 2008, and would not come online before 2017 at the earliest.

            Finding an alternative or figuring out how to make Yucca Mountain work—there is already so much nuclear waste in the U.S. that, according to NRC, if Yucca were already open, by 2010 it would be filled to its statutory limit of 70,000 metric tons—will take up “a significant part of my time and energy,” new Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu, a physicist, testified during his Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month. “We do need a plan on how to dispose of that waste safely, over a long period of time.”

            Answer: no, they’re not. If a nuclear reactor were a toilet, you lot wouldn’t even know how to flush it.

            Yucca Mountain was sold as the final solution to nuclear pollution. Make it all go away, for good! But we already need another one. And you lot want to build more?!

            There’s no right way to do the wrong thing. And once having done it, FFS, stop doubling down, learn, and get it right next time.

            1. UserFriendly

              Hows Fukushima doing? Well besides the 1,600 people who died evacuating (though it’s hard to say what was Tsunami related vs nuclear) because of needless fear mongering about radiation, something that is literally all around us all the time; I think 1 or 2 people died so far from actual radiation. More people died falling off roofs installing solar. Not that you would take the time to read the UN report or the other one that talked about the use of the linear no threshold model which, if anything, overestimates long term cancer risks. Why bother reading when you already know what conclusion you are going to jump to?

              If you want to read the back and forth between various presidents and congress behind long term waste disposal, here is the GAO report.

              Social and political opposition. This is the key obstacle—not technical issues—to selecting and building a facility. Important tools for overcoming this debate include transparency, economic incentives, and education.

              AKA unfounded radiation fear mongering is the main hold up.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      Nuclear power, even with EROI thrown in, is a little to the side of a discussion of Climate Disruption and GDP. But just for fun — imagine we lived in a world where nuclear power generation could be done without such worry that the reactors might be used to make weapons grade plutonium. Now imagine you could build a smaller reactor than the behemoths that grace our coasts and place it in a ‘safe’ location close to the industry and homes where it delivers electricity. Whether wind, sun, or nuclear power — why retain the assumption that energy generation must feed into the Grid — particularly the fragile Grid we enjoy after years of free market ‘improvements’.

      I believe our electric power economy was first based on hydro-electric power which in most cases must be located near a source of flowing water. Very large dams and electric powerful generators were built along with giant transformers and steel towers with heavy cables to distribute the electric power. Why not think past tying every proposed power source to this decaying Grid? We don’t manufacture many of the components of the Grid here. For example — the giant transformers near the power generators are made in the Orient and orders for replacement have a two year lead [could be more now]. Do we still manufacture the giant power generators? Why marry our imagination to the past? Climate Disruption will mean we must build a new way of life.

      And just for fun — how does GDP as a concern fit in with the kinds of change that will come with Climate Disruption? I think it seems a little retro — like concern for tying power generation to the Grid.

      1. William Hunter Duncan

        Just for fun, I would remark that proliferating nuclear to the neighborhood level is apparently the civilized version of nuclear tipped small ordinance used in our eternal privatized wars. Which is apparently a more civilized version of land mines scattered and left for kids not yet born to lose life or limb. Which all merely proves that the mythology of progress is like prosperity gospel, clearly we are so advanced we can only ever reap rewards.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          We are verging away from the main topic of this post … First if you are a regular reader you should be aware that I am no proponent for nuclear power. I am also curious and ignorant about it. Most arguments concern very large scale nuclear power versus very large scale solar or wind or hydroelectric or fossil fuel electricity production. I wonder about things at a smaller scale. Are there no smaller scale designs for nuclear reactors suitable for a small community but not like “nuclear tipped small ordinance” [Not sure what you intend by this reference — do you mean what are called tactical nuclear artillery shells or the high velocity shells with a spent uranium core?]. I don’t know about such smaller scale designs for nuclear reactors but they have been a consideration for power to serve our space programs. Your suggestion that small scale nuclear might be like “land mines scattered and left for kids not yet born” seems inapt to me though it does better fit the large scale nuclear installations and waste dumps — though a threat to future humankind and animal life not just kids.

          However that may be, my comment — for fun — asks why various ‘solutions’ to power generation problems seem to assume the Grid and large scale. This combined with my observation “Climate Disruption will mean we must build a new way of life…” hardly promotes a mythology of progress … like [the] prosperity gospel…”. Such discussion remains within the old bounds of discussion where things like GDP remain a concern. That is old thinking — even very old thinking reaching back to the ancient dictums regarding Greed and Gluttony — reaching back to a nostalgia for the golden age of the 19th Century, which was no golden age — and often ignoring how much previous culture depended on energy and a complex of technology built over thousands of years.

      2. UserFriendly

        Well, first off those iconic towers at nuclear plants are evaporative cooling towers, and they can build plants that only require 800 – 2,600 gallons of water per megawatt hour (about 1/20th the water usage of single pass water plants), that don’t need to be close to a major water source. Obviously they would have a storage tank or two on site incase the water line goes down. And none of the water that leaves the plants has been exposed to anything but a shielded heat exchanger, the water that is inside the reactor is a closed loop.

        Imagine? They have been working on small modular reactors that are entirely self contained, pose a negligible proliferation risk, are fail safe (as in if it fails it doesn’t meltdown), and have a bunch of other extra safety features. There are a few operating in Russia and more being built. This one looks to be up and running around 2020 at Idaho National Lab.

        I only brought up GDP because if we were serious about avoiding the worst of climate change we would be doing a WW II level mobilization to build as much carbon free energy as possible as quick as possible, which would be a significant boost to GDP contrary to the degrowth theory, at least during construction.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Sorry! I referenced GDP to tie my comment back to the topic of this post. I assumed that was your reason as well. I’m not sure I agree with degrowth theory or its contrary — creation of a “significant boost to GDP”. I am very skeptical of GDP as a measure.

          1. earthling1

            I don’t know enough about nuclear materials either. But one question I have is if the spent rods are still radioactive, then are they not still capable of producing heat? If this waste product cannot be stored closely together, why can’t it be repurposed? Like for making biochar.
            It takes about 600 degrees and the absence of oxygen to make biochar. Biochar can be buried into the soil where it enriches it and is captured in the ground for decades, if not hundreds of years.
            The problem with char is the co2 released in making it. Can waste fuel rods produce 600 degrees of heat?
            If it cannot, then whats so dangerous about it?

            1. UserFriendly

              It gives off heat, but VERY slowly, not enough to do anything with.

              Quantitatively, at the moment of reactor shutdown, decay heat from these radioactive sources is still 6.5% of the previous core power, if the reactor has had a long and steady power history. About 1 hour after shutdown, the decay heat will be about 1.5% of the previous core power. After a day, the decay heat falls to 0.4%, and after a week it will be only 0.2%.[2] Because radioisotopes of all half life lengths are present in nuclear waste, enough decay heat continues to be produced in spent fuel rods to require them to spend a minimum of one year, and more typically 10 to 20 years, in a spent fuel pool of water, before being further processed. However, the heat produced during this time is still only a small fraction (less than 10%) of the heat produced in the first week after shutdown.[

            2. UserFriendly

              It is still radioactive for quite some time afterwards. Some of it can be reprocessed and there are new reactors in the pipeline that will probably be able to use the waste as fuel.

              Radioactivity is around us all the time, but you still want to avoid prolonged or intense exposure. The reason I can be dismissive about it is because the only people exposed to any significant amount of radiation from fukushima were a worker or two who went in the reactor to get the pump working and possibly the crew of a US navy vessel that was right down wind when the plant vented. There is no way that anyone else got more than a fraction of what you would get from an x-ray. But I still wouldn’t recommend snuggling up to spent fuel.

              (there should be a comment just above this one from me that answers your question, it’s probably in moderation)

    3. False Solace

      We’ve already hit peak uranium. If you want to argue we’re not there yet, building thousands of new nuclear reactors is not going improve it any.

      Our species can’t even recycle plastic. We need to be wise enough to let go of our perverted economic system, not eke out another decade or two clinging to a different type of energy poison. In the end, Mother Nature will make this decision for us.

      I support nuclear energy on any planet except Earth.

  6. oaf

    “failure to incorporate the cost of externalities like pollution.”

    Deferred maintenance usually costs more, as a result of complex interactions between systems…resulting in deterioration of components which otherwise may have been saved. But hey; we’ll deal with that later!!!
    How can anyone come out on top when we all live on a little sphere? Endless growth is a fantastic delusion still being taken seriously by the markets. There seems to be no end game strategy.

  7. Susan the other

    The good thing about a war-mobilization effort to combat climate change and pollution is that the demands of capitalism are suspended. Because profits dictate ruthless competition for resources which in turn dictates policies of cost efficiencies and externalizing. So the logic is good for the purpose – we suspend capitalism as usual and put a full national effort into saving the environment. This analysis of the externalized costs of growth under capitalism-as-usual being antithetical to the cause is the best argument for tackling the problem head on. In doing so we can replace our capitalist economy of irresponsible loopholes for a single-minded focus on achieving our goal – efficiently. And since we are the economic engine of the world we will spread these habits to everyone not just because we will stop buying cheap products created at the expense of the planet but because we will show everyone how to employ people. Every person who wants a job will have one. Expensive? Not in view of the devastation we will cause by employing the rules of capitalist (self defeating) profiteering. Why no one has been using this obvious contradiction to our survival is evidence of just how frightened we all are. Damned if we do but good grief! – damned faster if we don’t.

    1. Synoia

      The good thing about a war-mobilization effort to combat climate change and pollution

      Wars typically exacerbate the problem…

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Your response that “Wars typically exacerbate the problem…” — are you just saying that war and the weapons of war add to the CO2 in our atmosphere and increase the rate that we consume fossil fuels?

        If not, please elaborate. I don’t see how the ‘weapons’ used to address Climate Disruption are remotely similar to the weapons of war. True it takes energy and consequent CO2 additions to the atmosphere to build the capital required to address Climate Disruption but that makes a weak point of comparison. What sort of activity does not require energy? Are advocating for doing nothing?

        1. oaf

          …maybe whats meant is that while wars usually make things worth, a war on climate change would improve the situation. …

          1. Jeremy Grimm

            I hope we might make a wartime-like effort to address Climate Disruption. Our past wars on various things — the war on poverty, war on drugs, and war on terrorism have not fared well. [Sorry for the twist on your comment I’ve had too much candy and it’s making me giddy.]

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