Wealthy Countries’ Approach to Climate Change Condemns Hundreds of Millions of People to Suffer

Yves here. Perhaps I am being churlish, but I find this post to be an exercise in climate change delusion. It is true the advanced economies owe emerging economies a debt for the climate damage they’ve done, along with the fact that that would constrain their development if everyone were to get as serious as they need to be about climate change now.

However, the author proposes having wealthy countries fund the rapid development of greener technologies in poor parts of the world. This again runs smack into both the resource constraint and transition cost issues that we’ve written about regularly.

What we need is radical conservation now. In the World War II mobilization, broad swathes of society accepted the need for considerable lifestyle changes. We don’t have that level of urgency. We’ve expressed doubts about the climate costs of large scale infrastructure building, and that concern is valid whether the projects take place in advanced or developing countries.

China’s increases in the number of coal fired electrical plants shows it is acting out on a complaint it’s been making for at least a decade: that developing countries have the right to pollute their way to prosperity just the way rich countries did. We’re not going to have much of a planet on current trajectories.

by Vijay Prashad, an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books and writes regularly for Frontline, the Hindu, Newsclick, AlterNet and BirGün. Produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute

In Madrid, Spain, the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference—known as COP25—began on December 2. Representatives of the world’s countries gathered to discuss what is decidedly a serious problem for the planet; no one, except dangerous political forces in the neofascist right, denies the reality of climate change. What prevents a transfer from carbon-based fuel to other fuels is not the stubbornness of this or that country. The main problems are three:

  1. The right wing that denies climate change;
  2. Sections of the energy industry that have a vested interest in the continuation of the use of carbon-based fuels;
  3. The refusal by the Western advanced countries to admit both that they have caused the problem and that they should use their vast wealth to finance the transfer from carbon-based fuels to other fuels in countries whose wealth has been siphoned off to the West.

The first two blockages—the right wing and sections of the climate industry—are related, since it is often money from the climate industry (the Koch brothers, for instance) that finances the climate deniers and sows confusion about the immense reality that confronts us.

The third blockage is serious, and it has prevented the United Nations process from bearing fruit. At the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, the countries of the world negotiated a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In that document—which was ratified at the General Assembly two years later—the governments agreed to a key principle, namely that the impact of colonialism cannot be divorced from discussions of the climate crisis.

“The global nature of climate change,” the parties wrote, “calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions.”

Common and Differentiated Responsibilities

The main phrase here to consider is “common but differentiated responsibilities.” This means that the problem of climate change is something that is common to all countries, and that no one is immune to its deleterious impact; at the same time, the responsibility of countries is not identical, and some countries—which benefited for centuries from colonialism and carbon fuel—have a greater responsibility for the transition to a less damaging energy system.

There is little scholarly debate on the fact that certain countries—the West—benefited inordinately from both colonialism and carbon fuel. A look at the data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center’s Global Carbon Project shows that the United States of America—by itself—has been the largest dispenser of carbon dioxide emissions since 1750. The main carbon emitters were all colonial powers, namely European states and the United States of America. From the 18th century, these countries have not only dispensed the bulk of the carbon into the atmosphere, but they also continue to exceed their share of the Global Carbon Budget.

Carbon-fueled capitalism—enriched by the wealth stolen through colonialism—enabled the countries of Europe and North America to enhance the well-being of their populations. The extreme inequalities between the standard of living for the average European (742 million people) and the average Indian (1.4 billion people) is as stark as it was a century ago. The reliance by China, India, and other developing countries on carbon—particularly coal—is high; but even this use of carbon has not raised the per capita emissions of China and India above that of the United States, whose per capita emissions are almost twice as much as China’s per capita emissions.

Green Climate Fund

The Framework Convention recognized the importance of colonialism, the geographical divergence of industrial capitalism, and its impact on the carbon budget. That is why the countries at Rio agreed to create a Green Climate Fund. The West was asked to make substantial contributions to the fund, whose capital would then be used to assist developing countries to “leapfrog” carbon-fueled social development.

It was hoped that the fund would draw in $100 billion—at a minimum—by 2020. The United States pledged $3 billion but has only contributed $1 billion. Trump has blocked any further contributions to the fund (Bernie Sanders, in contrast, said he would pay $200 billion into the fund, while the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn pledged to use his country’s leverage over the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds toward “climate justice for the Global South”). Australia and Russia have also paused contributions. No real appetite exists to expand this fund; there is little expectation that it—or the concept of leapfrogging—will be taken seriously at COP25.

The $100 billion figure is very conservative. The International Energy Agency suggests each year in its World Energy Outlook that the actual figure is in the trillions. None of the Western powers has intimated anything like a commitment of that scale to the fund.

Attack on Coal

It is far easier to attack China and India, and other developing countries.

In early November, UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the press after his participation in the UN-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. He mentioned neither the concept of “common but differentiated responsibility” nor the Green Climate Fund.

Tellingly, the secretary-general made three proposals, each of which says nothing to the main principle of “differentiated responsibility”:

  1. Taxes must be placed on carbon emissions.
  2. Trillions of dollars of subsidies for fossil fuels must end.
  3. Construction of coal-fired power stations must end by 2020.

None of these proposals per se would raise eyebrows. In fact, given the gravity of the reports coming in from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is no doubt that action is necessary.

But what kind of action? These three proposals would directly strike at the energy sources for countries that have not yet provided electrification for their populations, or where their people are far from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Southeast Asia, where Guterres made these remarks, only anticipates full electrification of the region by 2030.

Advanced industrial states—such as the United Kingdom and Germany—have said that they will phase out coal by 2040. These are countries that have created the Powering Past Coal Alliance (backed by the Bloomberg New Energy Finance, one of the major capital funds that seeks to make money off the Green New Deal). There is money to be made here for venture capitalists; they are not going to contribute the billions needed for the Green Climate Fund. No philanthropy by the billionaires will be willing to donate their money into the fund; the tax-free money they make on the “green transition” will eclipse the tiny amounts of money they will donate for a non-carbon future.

Ugly Choice

Meanwhile, developing countries have an ugly choice before them: to forgo carbon, the cheapest fuel, and then forgo social development for their populations; or to continue to use carbon and threaten the planet. These are the only choices if the advanced industrial states refuse to fund the Green Climate Fund, and if they refuse to transfer technology for wind and solar to countries without any financial obligation.

A Green New Deal in the West is not going to be sufficient if this deal does not include trillions of dollars into the UN’s Green Climate Fund and the transfer of technology as a social practice and not for profit.

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  1. Ignacio

    Yes conservation is needed but also investments are needed. What are exactly the conservation measures to be applied and how do we apply these? Should the conservation measures be applied equally to let’s say France (4,96 tpc of CO2 in 2018) and Senegal (0,96 tpc of CO2)? I don’t think so.

    The blaming game doesn’t help. Just blaming China for coal emissions when the other elephant in the room, the US, maintains a race to nowhere with shale oil and gas (and associated methane losses) and refuses to participate is nonsensical. China faces an economic crisis with enormous stimulus via investments in energy intensive infrastructures and the priority for them is: first tackle the crisis and then climate change. The US faces a different type of crisis related with increasing inequality and the government doesn’t tackle inequality, neither climate change.

    The article identifies three problems but when going to the third, it starts all over again with the blaming game and this is IMO the biggest mistake. The biggest problem tackling climate change is nationalism. No government wants others meddling on their energy issues, considered strategic. For instance, in the EU, where environmental policies have supposedly been transferred by EU states, individual countries can prove quite reluctant to pass legislation that is seen as interfering with their strategic issues.

    1. rj

      the required 7.6% per year global reduction in emissions (~60% in ten years) isn’t going to happen…moreover, attempting to move to renewable energy front loads a carbon footprint large enough to take us over the limit immediately…so since the problem isn’t going to be solved, it’s handy to have a lot of scapegoats to blame…

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I think there is something of a false dichotomy here. It is certainly true that ‘the west’ has overwhelmingly been the cause of the problem, and in terms of emissions per person, is still the problem. But there is an assumption here that countries can only develop by following the same pattern as the west – pollute heavily, then use the money earned to clean things up. In reality, countries with ‘undeveloped’ economies have an opportunity to leaprfrog technology and go straight to decentralised electric networks, public transit heavy transport networks, more sustainable urban forms, etc. They need help to do this, but often starting from a less developed base actually gives a competitive advantage in the longer term as you don’t have the deadweight of older technologies or development forms.

    To give one obvious example, it will be almost impossible for the US to reverse from car dominated low density urban forms – trying to promote public transport in one house per acre exurbs is almost always going to be highly expensive and inefficient. Developing countries can avoid this problem by not permitting this type of development in the first place. South Korea is an example of a country that consciously set out to create highly dense and efficient urban areas as part of their rapid development strategy (they also built lots of highways, but quickly realised their mistake and are now turning many of them into urban parks).

    1. Thuto

      PK, while I agree with you in principle, I will say that what you propose applies in a narrow context of highly undeveloped countries who are starting from a very low base (and thus still have the choice to set their developmental path in line with what you propose). Middle income countries (e.g. South Africa, other Brics countries) that are already some way down the well trodden path of “development by industrialization” don’t really have that choice open to them and a course reversal ala South Korea may not be very practical at this stage given the political resistance it will face.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I agree its difficult when an economy is already well on its way on a certain path, but of course South Africa has also invested heavily in the past in nuclear and in solar renewables – it is unfortunate that coal has proven so much cheaper – but arguably only because of the use of cheap labour. But much of the rest of Africa does not have the coal reserves of South Africa, and so (arguably) it would make much more sense for them to reject highly centralised electricity grids and big thermal plants of any size.

        Which brings me to a more general point is that there is no ‘correct’ model for development, sustainable or otherwise. The optimum strategy for a Botswana or Bolivia may look very different to a Laos or Liberia. Its unfortunate that so many (and not just the IMF/World Bank) apply cookie-cutter policies for everyone.

        1. The Historian

          All energy use has costs. Coal is only cheaper now because most of the cradle-to-grave costs are passed on to the rest of us in the form of pollution.

          I agree with you that there is no correct model for development, but the world is stuck in a rut, right now, with its thinking. We need fresh new ideas for what it means to be a developed country and those ideas shouldn’t be based on unsustainable growth. And I think we have to stop thinking that science and technology will save us from ourselves – it hasn’t worked well in the past and I see no reason why it should suddenly start working in the future. We can’t “technology” our way out of this mess. After all, we are where we are because of technology. I agree with those who say the only way to save ourselves is to find new, less energy-dependent ways of living.

          1. The Historian

            I wonder: Has anyone ever done an analysis of the energy that was used up to create all the things that are in our landfill dumps?

            1. PlutoniumKun

              There have been quite a few studies, it all depends on what specific variables you are looking for. A few years back a number of large studies (sorry, I don’t have time to find the links) used calorific values to assess the loss of energy of materials in landfills, and compared it to energy extracted in waste to energy plants (i.e. incinerators), recycling, re-use schemes, etc. The conclusion was that significantly more energy is ‘saved’ by recycling most material than burning it, due to the inefficiencies of incineration.

              To take a very, very rough approximation (off the top of my head), an energy from waste plant burning 250,000 tonnes of mixed municipal waste a year – the equivalent of a city of maybe half a million or so – should produce around 75 MW of more or less continuous electrical power (plus recycling the metals). That would be maybe a fifth of the energy consumption of a city of that size. Given the very high level of inefficiency of these plants, you could roughly say that the energy embodied in the landfill waste of a city is less, but not much less, than the electricity consumption of a typical modern city.

              1. The Historian

                You miss my point. Why is it there in the first place? How much energy is consumed making things that we are expected to and will eventually throw away and why do we throw away so much? That is just one of the energy costs of our consumerism economy.

                1. Eclair

                  Go into a Dollar Store, or one of its equivalents … they are plentiful on the borders of dusty prairie towns or tucked into the old brick storefronts on empty Main Streets in rust belt small cities … and 80% (a number off the top of my head, I admit) of the stuff there is useless plastic crap. Tchotchkes that will gather dust, kids’ toys that will break after a few uses, wrapping paper and ribbon, cheap kitchen utensils that won’t last. They are there to feed a shopping addiction. And keep the long, fossil-fueled supply chain in service.

          2. lotus

            “we have to stop thinking that science and technology will save us from ourselves – it hasn’t worked well in the past and I see no reason why it should suddenly start working in the future. We can’t “technology” our way out of this mess. After all, we are where we are because of technology. I agree with those who say the only way to save ourselves is to find new, less energy-dependent ways of living.”
            Codswallop. Do you not know that fossil fuels (kerosene) and automobiles(gasoline) were the technological advances that stopped us from the cruelty and pollution associated with killing off whales for room lighting and torturing horses for transportation? Do you not know how horrific conditions were in the horse and buggy days when the streets ran with manure and the flies were so numerous you could not keep them out of your noses and certainly not your houses, and the diseases they carried killed countless thousands of people, even as we became the most industrialized country on earth?
            Every advance we have made, from plowing fields with oxen to using tractors that feed the world, and from forging steel in local charcoal fires to manufacturing it in gigantic coal powered blast furnaces that built skyscrapers, have made us more prosperous and healthy and well off and educated than any population in history. And the developing nations will not be stopped from gaining first world prosperity just because rich fat Americans ignorantly think they are happier in their squalid huts where their children die young from breathing polluted air due to wood smoke and dung fires. This is ignorance to six decimal places. Grow up, look around and start actually giving a shit about the poor you supposedly care about.

            1. The Historian

              Every advance we have made, from plowing fields with oxen to using tractors that feed the world, and from forging steel in local charcoal fires to manufacturing it in gigantic coal powered blast furnaces that built skyscrapers, have made us more prosperous and healthy and well off and educated than any population in history.

              …and pushed this planet into endless wars with new ways of mass killing, extreme inequality like has never seen before in history and the 6th mass extinction of animals and plants, besides filling our atmosphere with so much CO2 that we are destroying our own ability to survive.

              The rest of your post, I’ll leave you to think about.

              1. Plain Citizen

                Inequality has been far worse back in history and don’t forget the reason people moved from being rural agricultural labourers to work in newly industrialised areas was to escape seasonal starvation and poverty and horrendous child mortality for their liveborn offspring not too mention accidental death and injury. Pre industrialization was not a rural idyll.

                1. The Historian

                  No, inequality was NOT worse back in history. I love to study the history of average people, the other 99%, and their lives were remarkably similar. Most were farmers and most lived like everyone else around them lived. Those that were considered unfortunate were cared for by their communities. Even in Rome, the government gave away free food when it was necessary so that nobody starved. The idea of poor houses, vilifying the poor and letting the poorer among us fend for themselves was a creation of the 18th and 19th centuries when industrialization was taking hold.

                  There were a few very rich people. pharaohs, kings, etc., but the amount of riches they had compared to what the average person had, pales in contrast to the amount of riches our billionaires have today.

                  Inequality isn’t only measured in money – there are other inequalities too, like health care. There was no inequality in who got diseases and who died before technology. It is only with technology that one class can afford better health care than other classes. For instance, 5000 people died from measles in the DR of the Congo last year. Can you imagine that happening in the richest places in the world? Read Yves post below about how long a person would live if they managed to survive the diseases, childbirth and accidents – and this applied to average people as well as kings.

                  And so on…

                  Most of history was written by the top 10% to flatter themselves and it is easy to get a distorted view of what life was like back in the past. But there is another history too – the history of the common people – that is worth considering. No, life has never been idyllic for anyone, not in the past, not today. But we shouldn’t ignore what technology has done to us, simply because we think we evolved to something more superior. Maybe it’s not all that superior. I tend to agree with PlutoniumKun below.

              2. lotus

                Historian: Thanks but I’ve already thought about my post , seeing as how, you know, I posted it. Yes we have started ridiculous endless wars and yes, we ARE responsible for a large-scale extinction of our biodiversity. I agree, this HAS to stop.
                But because of the progress that technologically advanced nations have made in cleaning up our air and water and in setting aside land (not enough but at least some) for protection of crucial habitats, much of the global environmental degradation is due to two things: 1) developing nations cannot afford to set aside enough land for habitat protection and cannot afford the infrastructure to control pollution, eg sewage treatment, electricity for stoves instead of dung /wood fires that destroy forests and kill people via poor air quality; and 2)developing nations such as in parts of Indonesia and the Amazon are the location of massive deforestation projects (releasing massive amounts of CO2 by that alone) specifically to grow plants for biofuels, which during their life cycle actually end up producing more CO2 than they “save” by screwing up our carburetors with ethanol. This link is long but ecellent on the damage done to the environment by biofuel production: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/20/magazine/palm-oil-borneo-climate-catastrophe.html

                And as for CO2 “destroying our ability to survive”, we have added about two molecules of CO2 per ten thousand molecules of atmosphere in the past 100 years. This is nowhere near being the control knob for the temperature of the globe. It has however produced about a 15% increase in crop yields because plants love CO2.
                Our atmosphere is now about 400 ppm CO2. Greenhouses pump CO2 up to 2-3000 ppm. Your house contains about 1000ppm. Submarines run about 8000ppm. The CO2 is swamped by the ambient oxygen and nitrogen in the air. Yes humans are warming the planet, but it is global deforestation (resulting in loss of shade and in fewer clouds ), mining, and massive water use, water diversion and drainage of wetlands that contribute more to warming than CO2. Oh and the oceans are 75% of the planet surface, and their heat retention vastly outpaces the trivial warming produced by CO2. The CO2 meme is a ridiculously simplistic view of climate, and it is pure politics, definitely not science.

                1. drumlin woodchuckles

                  How many molecules of CO2 have been been released in the last 100 years compared to the number of CO2 molecules in the air as of 101 years ago?

                  I remember concerns first being raised regarding runaway carbon skydumping several decades ago. Concern-raisers predicted that if enough carbon were skydumped, enough more heat would be retained at earth-surface level to start having various effects which they predicted. Those effects have been manifesting as predicted.
                  I am impressed with the predictive power of the sky-heater gas-dummping theory . . . applying to both mainly CO2 and NOXes and methane catching up from behind.

                  Convince me the greenhouse gas-dumping theory of earthsurface heatup is wrong. Show me your preferred theory that has also predicted the preferrential heatup of the highest latitudes and altitudes, meltoff and shrinkback of various ice-features, etc. Show me how that theory has made the predictions it has made.

                  CO2 confined in a greenhouse is not at large in the atmosphere, intercepting otherwise out-radiating IR light and transducing it into heat energy and passing it along to the rest of the surface system.
                  So your diversionary referrence to the amount of CO2 in a confined greenhouse does not impress me much.

                  The heat going into and being retained by the oceans is passed to the oceans to begin with by the rising heat-trapping caused by the rising level of skyheater gases. That heat flows very effectively from the atmosphere into the oceans. If you have a better theory of where rising heat levels in the oceans are coming from , please share it with us.

            2. Yves Smith Post author

              My father did a genealogy, which he proved out by finding church records and checking graveyards (as in grave markers).

              Every one of his ancestors in the 1700s (his family came over early) lived to be over 80, and quite a few into their 90s.

              One of the reasons average lifespans were low then was childhood diseases and secondarily, infections from accidents (and women, death in childbirth). But if you made it into your adulthood, your odds of living to be 60+ were pretty good. People didn’t get heart disease or cancer like they do now.

              1. PlutoniumKun

                Yes, there is a myth around that people didn’t live to old age before the 20th Century – but for many periods of history if you were fortunate enough to get past childhood diseases, your life expectancy wasn’t all that much different from modern life. Like your father, I’ve checked out my ancestors and at least on my fathers side, most lived regularly into their 80’s and 90’s, as did most of their siblings (more the men than the women, probably due to maternal mortality issues). They were mostly tough country people – not wealthy, but with a bit more land than the regular peasantry who would have suffered more deprivation.

                Urban life in the late 19th-20th Century was probably one of the worst periods for life expectancy – a combination of the early craprification of food, along with terrible overcrowded and insanitary urban conditions. Most studies into peasantry (and for most of human history, most people have been peasants), is that they were generally healthier and happier than most people think, and hunter gatherers were quite possibly even healthier. Often the rich were less healthy, due to ‘luxury’ foods being less nutritious than the wholegrain/tuber gruels which have been the basis of most human diets around the world since the invention of agriculture.

    2. Norb

      PK- thanks for that important leapfrog observation. Development, when viewed from that perspective, is less divisive and offers many positive possibilities.

      When watching China’s development from afar, I cringed in horror when they started to replicate American car culture and infrastructure development. But then again, one must always consider the consequences of capitalist competition. One must factor in the ability to survive in a hostile environment and that requirement limits action to a great degree. By adopting capitalist modes of production, the collective authoritarian regimes of China and Russia set out to beat the capitalist west at their own game, and a strong argument can be made that they have. The big question now is how sincere they are about avoiding an Imperialist trap. Are these societies really motivated to improve the lives of their people, or is it just a ruse for power.

      Maybe that will be the key to human survival. Namely, to stop seeing hostility and competition as the moving force in the world. That is not to say that hostility and competition don’t exist, only that these should not be the moving force behind human action. That is the main difference I see between the “West” and rest. The West is trying only to maintain their privileges, which were gained by imperialism. Improving lives and ending poverty was a fortuitous side effect, not a conscious primary goal. In that respect, capitalism cannot be a universal system so, it is bound for failure. Competing capitalists will destroy each other, or cooperating capitalists will eventually destroy the planet.

      The main effort has to be resource management, not resource exploitation. Maybe the emergence of a multipolar world offers the chance for this to happen. Success depends on much less hostility in the world.

      The WWII like mobilization needs to be in the form of a peace movement- not a war movement.

      The urban park link was great also- thanks for that. Its a great example of what peaceful development can do.
      This project reminds me of FDR’s four freedoms. All people worldwide should have freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Creative projects like this one can only be conceived when these freedoms are embraced and valued- and acted upon. But thats the dividing line isn’t it- those that believe in world peace, and will work toward that goal, and those that believe in domination.

      Projects like that bring true hope to the world. There are so many others that are also going on that those pushing despair are the real problem.

      FDR’s four freedoms are the key. They are the basis for a worldwide dialog.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The desire to impose democracy and etc. on non-democratic areas is an expression of domination.
        It is not America’s bussiness to freedomize and democrafy the world and impose FDRs four freedoms on it.

  3. Thuto

    Even as scientists recently confirmed that temperatures in Southern Africa are rising at twice the global average, the choice remains stark for South Africa (and other developing countries), the local coal industry currently provides direct employment for 275k people, many of whom are sole breadwinners in their families. If one factors in the dependents of these workers, that’s millions of people that depend for their very survival on coal. What to do with these people? Meanwhile, Independent power producers, driven as they’re by the profit motive, want to sell renewable energy into the national grid at prices above the equivalent coal generated power unit, exacerbating the problem of a slow transition even further.

    I agree with the thrust of this post that developed countries will have to put a lot more of their money where their collective mouths are to assist developing countries to “smooth and accelerate” the transition to renewable energy(leapfrogging at the current levels of rhetoric with no meaningful action is a pipe dream in my opinion).

    It would also help if renewable energy projects weren’t appraised for economic viability using archaic ROI metrics. Profit in financial terms should be but one amongst several metrics used to determine the viability of such projects, but in the era of neoliberalism the prospects of funding being ringfenced for investment in renewable energy while (re)defining “profit” in much broader terms seem rather slim.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I agree that countries like South Africa are facing a very stark choice, but with regard to coal miners, I guess the obvious answer is that any energy strategy will by necessity be employment intensive, or at least somewhere in the middle in a spectrum of labour/capital intensity. Alternative strategies for a country like South Africa (which of course also has abundant potential for renewables) would also generate a lot of jobs, although arguably if it raises the price of energy it would result in losses elsewhere.

      1. Ignacio

        “although arguably if it rises the price of energy it would result in losses averywhere”

        Then apply MMT in a demand constrained environment. An MMT approach is necessary.

    2. Ignacio

      I very much agree. Viable plans are urgently needed and the absence of such plans makes an international agreement and compromise quite difficult. The plans are responsibility of each country. Russia, for instance, hasn’t delivered one and most others are inadequate. According to this report only 36 countries have delivered pledges considered “sufficient” and I consider very much doubtful these are already adequate. Imagine a classroom where the supposedly best students just pass without merit and most try hard to avoid passing the exam.

  4. thoughtfulperson

    Re: affordable leap frogging, I just posted very late on the energy storage article.

    A friend of mine has got an affordable kit that runs on 12v, no inverter, for light and your devices. (Made up of a reliable battery and a solar panel)

    For appliances, he says running direct off your solar pannel is best. A superinsulated fridge can run off solar all day, chill down, and stay cool through the night.”

    He thinks the light and devices kit will be popular in both places like sub Saharan Africa, where 600 million have no access to power, and in California as a backup system, tasty can also be used all the time for free.

    More at livingenergyfarm.org

    1. Fíréan

      How much energy is required , and from what source, to acquire the materials and produce said product in such quantity as to supply to largest part, or in full, the 600 million ?

      Is there a sufficient soure of materials to produce in such quantity ?
      And does the product have a long life span or is it easily renewed /recycled ?

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Those are good questions. They are also good questions for the conventional appliances and grid electric power which would otherwise be rolled out to these places.

        So an interesting question might be . . . which approach uses less matter and energy resources than the other approach?

  5. Charles 2

    It is true the advanced economies owe emerging economies a debt for the climate damage they’ve done

    That is debatable. Fossil fueled industrial revolution, was invented and developed in advanced economies. They more or less managed the fertility explosion that resulted from it to achieve a stable population. What are called today « emerging economies » simply free rode that knowledge to have their own population explosion. Had they not enjoy the free ride, they would have today only a small fraction of their existing population and the global resource constraint would be less acute.
    Nobody complains of the climate impact of aborigines of Amazonia or Australia…

    1. Ignacio

      A ‘stable population’ that consumes like crazy. The population, population! camp invested in their own blaming game.

      1. Thuto


        I just read an article that the Disney+ streaming service launched in the US and 10million people signed up on the first day. Taking all the streaming services combined, the bandwidth needed to guarantee the level of throughput needed to reliably deliver video content on that scale means somewhere, hidden from public view, huge server farms require massive cooling (amongst other things) to make everything work without a glitch. That is consumption on a hyper-industrial scale and until the blame game stops as you rightly point out, along with largely academic meanderings about how history would have played out but for the free riding of others on the inventions of others, team humanity will finger point ad infinitum even as extinction nears.

    2. Thuto

      Not another “without riding on the coattails of western industrialization much of what’s today known as the developing world would still be stuck in the caveman era” trope please. You say it with such authority, as though it were a fact. It was diffusion of industrial innovation by colonization that throttled any hope that the natives in these colonies would have had to chart their own path towards development and by the time many gained “independence”, the western inspired developmental template was already set. It’s unwise to make declarative statements about how the arc of existence for entire regions/peoples of the world would have been like had they not “free rode” on this or that invention from the West because by definition you can’t know, unless if you’re looking into a time machine where alternate/parallel realities play out in a multiverse.

      1. anon y'mouse

        they didn’t “free ride” on our technology. we free rode on their resources.

        otherwise, we would not have been able to develop as we have.

        which hasn’t been all a blessing, and now we are realizing in some ways was a curse.

        people who are “dark savages just needed the euros to tell them how to live” are either fools, or liars. either way, they can be ignored. their “time” was over one hundred years ago.

        perhaps they can find a TimeLord to take them back to it.

      2. Dirk77

        I think ending the blame game was Charles 2’s point. The contrary to his view of history was that if there were no colonization, then what are now third world countries would have developed the same way as the current first world countries would have done. They would have then experienced their population explosion sooner. The earth would have then experienced its climate crisis sooner. Just guessing, I’d say by a decade or so.

        1. Fíréan

          Wars have been started to subdue and supress colonised nations, and others, that commodites be extracted from those nations and supply maintained at the low cost with little or no benefit to the citizens and society of those nation other than their hierarchy. Millions have been killed in those wars to maintain access to, and control of, the commodities required by the industialised world.
          Development of third world countries has been suppressed and citizens freedoms restricted , lives taken, solely to maintain cheap and easy access to the commodities for the benefit of the industrialized west. This continues now, today. And i don’t doubt will continue .
          If blame is not attribulted to the guilty will the pattern of behaviour not stop, not be contained ?

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Well, one wonders. The Indian Nations of North and South Turtle Island had a high-population highly sustainable civilization(s) and way of life before Columbian Contact. Their own culture-ethical systems might have carried them further forward on their own self-established path to a very different present than what the Old World Settler Colonists have created here.

  6. Winston Smith

    Let’s not forget that things won’t quite be rosy in the US as well. For example, people in the Northeast assume that the effects of climate change will be negligible-not so according to the fourth National Climate Assessment conveniently made public on Black Friday:
    “By 2035, and under both lower and higher scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5), the Northeast is projected to be more than 3.6°F (2°C) warmer on average than during the preindustrial era. This would be the largest increase in the contiguous United States and would occur as much as two decades before global average temperatures reach a similar milestone.”

    1. lotus

      “By 2035, and under both lower and higher scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5), the Northeast is projected to be more than 3.6°F (2°C) warmer on average than during the preindustrial era. This would be the largest increase in the contiguous United States and would occur as much as two decades before global average temperatures reach a similar milestone.”

      What is the evidence for this prediction of the temperature in 2035? Models. Models do not produce DATA . You realize that weathermen cannot get the 5 day forecast correct, even though they use multiple models? Models do not actually predict anything, they do “projections”, which are less accurate than predictions. The climate models, which number over 100 now, have consistently failed to predict how little warming we have had, always claiming there will be twice as much warming as we have experienced. The reason for their inaccuracy is that the modelers make assumptions and use fudge factors that relate very poorly to reality. And the modelers are not climate scientists, they are modelers.
      All of the grim, catastrophic predictions about the future under global warming are based on models and the worst case scenarios are then exaggerated by the media. The scientists say ” the future temps MAY be anywhere from 1 to 4.5 degrees warmer in 2100″, so the media says “EGAD!! IT WILL BE 4.5 DEGREES WARMER BEFORE 2100! The sky is falling! Life as we know it will be wiped out!”. Hype sells, and modelers get paid to make scary predictions. There is no actual science behind modeling.

  7. Matthew G. Saroff

    This is why I favor a carbon tax that works like the VAT, in that it is rebated upon export, and assessed on imports.

    The cost of going green at the start of a project is far less than retrofitting, and this would have the effect of making new manufacturing facilities in LDCs less polluting.

    The issue, particularly for developed countries is not carbon emissions, but carbon footprint (emissions – exports + imports).

  8. juliania

    When I first came to this land…I know, I know, that’s the first line of a catchy folk song we in the know used to call ‘The Earthy Song’… but I digress. When I first came to this land from far away Aotearoa, said country did not have television, and planes were still chugging along at a reasonable pace. That far back.

    I felt then that my native land, being still maybe 20 yrs behind the pace setters (well, up that to ten), had the advantage of being able to spy on what the latter were accomplishing or not, and NOT going and doing likewise but (being go-getters themselves) would set about avoiding the snares and pitfalls the fancypants countries were setting out to fall into.

    Well, it didn’t quite fall out that way then, but I think those coming up behind the polluters have a great chance to just skip over the bad parts and go straight to the solutions. Don’t do it our way; do it your way! Look at all the messy infrastructure the new systems definitely don’t need and plan accordingly! And I think yes, we ought to be helping fund that instead of useless NATO!!

    When I first came to this land
    I was not a wealthy man
    So I got myself a shack
    I did what I could
    And I called my shack
    Break My Back
    For the land was sweet and good
    I did what I could…

  9. Grumpy Engineer

    Yves said, “Perhaps I am being churlish, but I find this post to be an exercise in climate change delusion.

    I agree. Part of the problem is that the West doesn’t manufacture big stuff (like “clean energy” power generation equipment) anymore. If we give China $100 billion to buy clean energy assets, from whom would they buy it? Well, given that they’ve received US dollars, they’d presumably buy it from the US. But we’ve outsourced that manufacturing to China, so they’d effectively be buying from themselves. In light of that, why should China wait for the US government to print and donate $100 billion when they can simply print 705 billion yuan themselves?

    Like it or not, whether or not China reduces their CO2 emissions is up to China. They’ll either keep building coal stations or they’ll start building something else. I don’t see how throwing a bunch of US dollars at China will change anything.

    And the $100 billion “Green Climate Fund” is wildly undersized. Bernie Sanders has proposed $16.3 trillion for his vision of the GND in the US alone, and in my opinion, he’s seriously underestimated it. We’re going to be very hard pressed to get our own act in order, much less everybody else’s.

  10. Bill Smith

    What will the consequences of a sharp and continuing drop in the standard of living in the developed world due to an attempt to halt global warming? For how long will the voters tolerate that?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      If we don’t have that now, we have the Jackpot. So do you want it sort of bad now or way worse in 20 years? The idea that living standards won’t fall is a fantasy.

      And this has nothing to do with voters. Voters don’t have say on floods, storms, and higher food and water costs.

    2. Joe Well

      Americans have been seeing a sharp drop in living standards and rising economic anxiety for decades now. A lot of consumption is anti-hedonic, like waiting in traffic or traveling for business meetings or highly processed food that tastes blah and causes health problems, or medical treatments for problems that could have been prevented, so there is a lot of conservation opportunities that could improve happiness.

      Very few Americans in the workforce today have ever experienced the postwar golden age. People today are eager to be liberated from debt, from healthcare anxiety, from housing anxiety, from horrid commutes, from BS jawbs, from crapification of goods and services.

      Besides, a lot of conservation could be achieved without consumers noticing, like improvements to the electric grid and other utilities.

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