CO2 and Climate Change, Old and New

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CO2 and Climate Change, Old and New

How long has science known about CO2-induced climate change, and are we clever enough today to geo-engineer our way out of cooking ourselves to extinction?

In brief: a long time, and most likely no.

Clive Thompson has written engagingly about the 19th century scientists — Joseph Fourier (1768-1830), Eunice Newton Foote (1819-1888), John Tyndall (1820-1893), Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927), Arvid Högbom (1857-1940), and Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906) — whose work in aggregate pieced together the essential facts about CO2-induced global warming. [1]

In 1856 Eunice Newton Foote, an American woman, suffragette and amateur scientist, conducted the first known experiment in CO2-induced climate change science, which proved carbon dioxide and water vapor were radiant-heat trapping and retaining gases, and not thermally transparent as generally believed. In the scientific paper she submitted to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which had to be presented by a man) she prophetically observed: “An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature.”

Between 1859 and 1860 Irish physicist John Tyndall conducted many elaborate experiments that confirmed Eunice Newton Foote’s results with great precision (without acknowledging her, whether intentionally or out of ignorance is unknown). He found that CO2 could trap 1,000 times as much heat (infrared radiation) as dry air.

In 1896, after an arduous yearlong effort, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius created the first model of CO2-induced climate change, aided theoretically by geologist Arvid Högbom’s findings on the carbon cycle, and aided experimentally by Samuel Pierpont Langley’s thermal detector invention.

Quoting from Clive Thompson’s article:

When [Arrhenius] was done, he made a striking prediction: If you doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, it would raise the world’s temperature by 5 to 6 degrees Celsius. Remarkably, that analysis holds up pretty well today, even in an age where climate analysis involves far more information and variables and are crunched by cloud supercomputers. Despite having done his work by hand, using data that even he regarded as woefully inadequate, Arrhenius reached “a conclusion that millions of dollars worth of research over the ensuing century hardly changed at all,” as Isabel Hilton wrote in 2008. The era of modern climate modeling was born. …[Arrhenius] expected it would take 3,000 years — fully 30 centuries — for CO2 levels in the atmosphere to rise by 50%. Instead, [they] shot up by 30% in only one century.

In the century since Arrhenius (the 20th century), the scientific awareness of CO2-induced global warming skipped along to Guy Stewart Callendar in 1938, Hans Seuss in 1955, Roger Revelle in 1957, the computational three-dimensional Global Climate Model by Syukuro Manabe and Richard T. Wetherald in 1975 (where doubling CO2 in the model’s atmosphere gave a roughly 2°C rise in global temperature), and then to James E. Hansen’s striking Congressional testimony in 1988 that changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution “represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe.” [2]

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations was established in 1988, and since then we have all known or denied the truth of the matter, to variously fret gloomily or agitate frantically over it, and to governmentally ignore responding usefully to it.

Well, our food, wealth, comfort, entertainment and daydreams are all disgorged (or destroyed if you’re among the sacrificed) by fossil-fueled capitalism, so cook ourselves we must because we can’t bring ourselves to trim any of those economically fungible desirables. Can our clever technologists geo-engineer an atmospheric CO2 retrieval and sequestration technique? Today, many such ideas are being proposed and explored experimentally, which their promoters hope if developed successfully into patented salvations will shower them ceaselessly with torrents of gold.

One such project that has shown technical feasibility is the Carbfix Project in Iceland, where CO2 gas is mixed into and retained by a large quantity of water (salt or fresh) that is then injected under pressure deep underground (800 to 2000 meters) into formations of vesicular or porous basalt rock. Basalt is a mafic extrusive igneous rock formed from the rapid cooling of magnesium-rich and iron-rich lava exposed at or very near the surface of a terrestrial planet or a moon; for example at spreading centers between tectonic plates. Iceland sits athwart the Mid-Atlantic Spreading Center and is an island mountain of volcanic and geothermal activity. The Carbfix scientists and engineers have demonstrated the petrification of aqueous CO2 into carbonate rock nodules within basalt vesicles (pores). Basalt does not wash away under pressurized aqueous injection, as softer sedimentary rocks do, and the metals in basalt are needed to react with the carbonated water (ideally the CO2-water mixture having been pushed entirely into carbonic acid) to petrify it. [3]

The pumping of CO2 into deep basalt formations, for petrified sequestration, has been known scientifically since 1976 (first proposed by Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti) [4], [5]. In 2012, as a satirical hypothetical example of fossil-fueled fanaticism, I proposed that the United States capture all the CO2 released by burning the expected liquid fuel to be processed out of the Athabasca Oil Sands of Alberta, Canada (to be imported to the U.S. via the proposed Keystone Pipeline), by piping that CO2 300 kilometers (186 miles) west of the Oregon coast into the Pacific Ocean and then under extreme pressure down 2,700 meters (8,900 feet) into the basalt formations of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate. [6]

The difficulty with any carbon sequestration technique is demonstrating that it has a positive Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI).

Basically, is the amount of energy expended per unit mass of CO2 sequestered (the energy to capture, store, transport, pump and contain the CO2 underground) LESS THAN the energy liberated (with perhaps only 30% of it converted to useful work — mechanical/electrical energy/power/torque) from the combustion of whatever amount of fossil fuel produces that same unit mass of CO2?

If not (which has always been the case so far) then it is MORE EFFICIENT, and LESS CO2 releasing to- and accumulating in- the atmosphere, to not burn the fossil fuel in the first place. Consequently, it would be unnecessary to bother with the proposed geo-engineering scheme of CO2 retrieval and sequestration.

But even if such a sequestration scheme has a negative EROEI, wouldn’t it at least slow the overall rate of CO2 emissions from our fossil-fueled civilization?, and so slow the ever-increasing rate of global warming?

A better investment of the energy required for negative EROEI sequestration schemes would be to apply that fossil fuel-derived energy to the construction of reliable (well-known, old in concept advanced in construction) robust for the long-term ‘green’ energy technologies that REPLACE (not add to) an equivalent capacity (in Watts) of existing fossil-fueled power-generating and power-using infrastructure: a fossil-fueled conversion to a green energy future. This in fact is the only realistic and practical Green New Deal (GND) that we could have. We are locked into cooking ourselves disastrously but we could do it at a slower rate — and that is what a real GND would be.

To my mind the fact that terrible climatic things are unavoidably scheduled to happen does not mean that we — humanity — are physically helpless to prevent the worst of all possible fates, by vigorously responding with intelligent and cooperative social adaptations (lifestyle simplification and energy efficiency) and clever engineering for an ongoing and permanent transition from fossil fuels to green energy.

The state of the natural world is a mirror to our civilization in the same way that Dorian Gray’s poisonously false beauty was reflected by his hideously magical portrait picture.

Thanks to Katje Erickson for pointing me to items [1] and [3].

Notes

[1] How 19th Century Scientists Predicted Global Warming
by Clive Thompson
(Today’s headlines make climate change seem like a recent discovery. But Eunice Newton Foote and others have been piecing it together for centuries.)
17 December 2019
https://daily.jstor.org/how-19th-century-scientists-predicted-global-warming/

[2] Climate Change Denial is Murder
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/09/climate-change-denial-is-murder/

[3] Researchers In Iceland Can Turn CO2 Into Rock. Could It Solve The Climate Crisis?
by Robin Young and Karyn Miller-Medzon
10 December 2019
https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/12/10/iceland-climate-change-carbon

[4] Carbon sequestration
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_sequestration

[5] Ocean storage of carbon dioxide
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_storage_of_carbon_dioxide

[6] Energy for Society in Balance with Nature
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/06/08/energy-for-society-in-balance-with-nature/

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Why celebrate Greta Thunberg?

“So, why should we celebrate Greta Thunberg being named Time Magazine’s person of the year?”

Because she’s young (thus having a greater claim to “the future”), committed, absolutely correct about climate change, witheringly clear, endearingly free of emotionalism and self-promotion, and more effective at public advocacy and consciousness-raising about the need for profound and immediate socio-economic transformation than anyone else on the planet. How she did this is immaterial but the fact is it’s done and she’s using it to maximum advantage for her (and our?) cause. She’s on the cover of Time Magazine for the same reason Obama wanted to shake her hand, TV hosts want her on their shows, and UN conferences invite her to speak: because they all want to attach themselves to her authenticity to make up for the deficiencies of their own. Many people high, low, right, left and center are envious of her, and that envy merely illuminates the extent of their bullshit.

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Climate, from Catastrophe to Cataclysm

Australian wildfire, 2019
Image from Near Term Human Extinction Evidence Group

Image from Near Term Human Extinction Evidence Group

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Climate, from Catastrophe to Cataclysm

Please watch the 23 minute video, linked below, to completion. It shows an interview of Dr. Peter Carter (Director Climate Emergency Institute, IPCC expert reviewer, Co-author in 2018 of Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival). This interview was conducted at COP25 (“this is set up to fail”) currently underway in Madrid, Spain, on 10 December 2019.

Peter Carter gives a vividly clear, trenchantly concise summary of the state of Earth’s climate; the increasing acceleration of all the phenomena that drive global warming climate change (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions); the obdurate denial of the climate emergency, and the opposition to any action in response to it by the high carbon-emitting fossil fuel-loving nations: the United States, Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, at the very least. I would venture to guess that Australia, under its current reactionary Morrison Administration, would also join the objecting ‘carbonaholics’ despite it currently experiencing a mega-drought with massive and uncontrolled wildfires.

The average global temperature today is just under 1.4°C above its level during the years 1951 to 1980 (the baseline). The level in year 1000 coincided with the baseline. Between 1000 and the baseline years the temperature dipped to an average low 0.5°C below baseline, which extended from 1500 to 1800. All temperature fluctuations during the 800 years between 1000 and 1800 were well less than 0.5°C (plus or minus). Average global temperature has risen since 1980 at an average rate of 0.5°C every 14 years. Climate science has identified 1.5°C above baseline as the threshold between catastrophe to cataclysm; the threshold of 2°C above baseline, much publicized for over a decade as the “safe limit,” is actually over the redline of our climate change tachometer: “blown engine,” biosphere collapse.

The global carbon dioxide (CO2) level was between 275ppm and 285ppm (ppm = parts per million, 1 ppm is equivalent to 0.0001% by volume) between years 1000 and 1800. By 1900 it was 300ppm, rising increasingly rapidly since. Today’s CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 415ppm, a level that last occurred 3 million years ago.

The global methane (CH4) level was between 650ppb and 700ppb (ppb = parts per billion) between years 1000 and 1750. The methane level has risen at an increasing rate since: from 700ppb in 1750 to 850ppb in 1900; and then zooming to over 1850ppb today. Methane is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Peter Carter describes the massive explosion of methane emission that is occurring right now around Point Barrow, Alaska.

The global nitrous oxide (N2O) level was between 264ppb and 274ppb between years 1000 and 1880. Thereafter it zoomed at an increasing rate to 332ppb today.

Considering the mean sea level to have been at a baseline elevation in 1900 (which also coincided with its elevation in 1150, 1300, 1450 and 1800) its fluctuations about baseline between years 1000 and 1900 were limited to 8 centimeters (3.2 inches) above, and 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) below. Since 1900 the elevation of mean sea level has increased to almost 22 centimeters (8.7 inches) above baseline today; a steady average rate-of-rise of almost 2 centimeters per decade since the beginning of the 20th century.

Again, please watch the video to hear Dr. Peter Carter’s very important, concise and pungent summary of where our world is today regarding its climate change emergency: stepping out blindly from catastrophe into cataclysm.

Dr Peter Carter: summarising the lack of “climate emergency” at #COP25
[23:11]
10 December 2019
https://youtu.be/oa13KrOvE2s

Note

The numerical values given for CO2, CH4, N2O concentrations, and changes in global temperature and mean-sea-level, were read from charts published by the 2 Degrees Institute.

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Oakwood Smoke

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Oakwood Smoke

Dewdrop jewels adorn the berries
Golden waves reveal wind in the field
Fresh clean water refills the well
Forgiving sun warms moistened earth
Vibrant green shoots
Coat radiance on hills
Clear light infuses forest breath with live warmth
Evaporating dawn’s misty caress
As lush garden greenery emerges from shadow

Crisp little rustlings of foraging beaks
Crinkle through velvety silence
Mayhaps our longboatmen will hook us some fish
To grill over oak fire this evening
When maybe cider jugs in the creekbed will froth
With lively spirits for singing

May the Youngsters seeking sparkly rock treasures
On the beaches and in the clearings
Delight hide-and-seeking their imaginary friends
While we tend to the houses and the patching of clothes
To keep frosty rain from becoming surprise

In afternoon balm I’ll auger fluteholes
And string the guitars for serenading
Dusky appreciation into the night
As smooth river rocks in our fires swell heating
While we rim flaming centers with our circles of being

I might think back to recent times yet long ago
When the old world melted in the freezing drought
And burnt away in hopeless wars
Of taking all pushing everyone out
Till nothing and no one was left anymore
Each disappearing in private endings
To emerge from survival and gather as we few
Unknown to the others, in time to be
Alive together alone no more
Intimate strangers braided as tribe
By hidden streams of experience
Though of course they know nothing of you, my love
For we each keep sacred memories buried

Tomorrow I take Young Lad up Piney Meadows
To teach him about the bow
We’ll find pliant stalks for arrow shafts
And ready ourselves for the hunts to come
Young Lad only knows this new tribe life
And for that he is the better
Because it keeps young hearts pure
And young minds alert to aliveness
In time he’ll move off having borns of his own
As precious to him as mine were to me
By then I’ll be feeding my gone away tree
Returning my spirit to the forest

We old men and women must store up past thoughts
Mending the things through the seasons
And make savory scents that coil up in oak smoke
To fill tribal bellies with contentment,
Showing the Young without using words
That conduct is the temple of one’s presence
And our lives are life’s leaves
Meant to cycle as seasons
On and on as nourishment for each other.

9 December 2019

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Teetering on the Edge

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Teetering on the Edge

The dead that from us borrow
Are buried in their schemes
The children of tomorrow
Are left without their dreams

We see the steaming kisses
Of fire and the sea
The long bleak shoreline hisses
With all that used to be

The victors celebrating
Within their hoards entombed
Tomorrow wanders searching
Beyond bunkers of doom

Below a dusty red sky
From waterless burnt hills
We peer far out and ask why
We let your false pride kill

The air now ghosts of flowers
The sea now grains of grit
The green that once was ours
Our dawn that once was lit.

8 December 2019

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From Caesar’s Last Breath To Ours

After the career: books donated in 2019.

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From Caesar’s Last Breath To Ours

Human Life is a sexually transmitted planetary disease, Climate Change is the disinfectant that will cure it. (I’ll explain myself on this later.)

Sam Kean’s concluding 5 paragraphs, on CO2 in the atmosphere, from his book Caesar’s Last Breath (And Other True Tales of History, Science, and the Sextillions of Molecules in the Air Around Us, 2017, Back Bay Books, Little Brown & Co) are interesting, being a series of statements of long-known physical quantities. Since I studied “gas physics” for my graduate studies (in the 1970s), and I developed an interest in climate change at least by 2004 (when I published my first article on climate change), I’ve known the basic facts Kean commented on for quite some time.

In one of my technical books on gas physics (Introduction to Physical Gas Dynamics, by Walter G. Vincenti and Charles H. Kruger, 1965, John Wiley & Sons, NY) an example is given in which the authors illustrate the physical phenomena of gaseous diffusion by showing that the last breath expelled by Julius Caeser will have taken years to fully disperse in a homogenous manner throughout the earth’s atmosphere, and so each person ‘today’ would likely breath in, on average, 5 molecules of that last breath. One amazing feature of the example is that it shows just how many molecules there are in each cubic meter of air (at sea level and ‘normal’ temperature), 2.69×10^25 per meter^3 = 2.69×10^19 per cm^3. Vincenti and Kruger quote the following from James Jeans’ 1940 book An Introduction to the Kinetic Theory of Gases (Cambridge University Press):

“…, a man is known to breath out about 400 c.c. of air at each breath, so that a single breath of air must contain about 10^22 molecules. The whole atmosphere of the earth consists of about 10^44 molecules. Thus one molecule bears the same relation to a breath of air as the latter does to the whole atmosphere of the earth. If we assume that the last breath of, say, Julius Caesar has by now become thoroughly scattered through the atmosphere, then the chances are that each of us inhales one molecule of it with every breath we take. A man’s lungs hold about 2000 c.c. of air, so that the chances are that in the lungs of each of us there are about five molecules from the last breath of Julius Caesar.”

The average spacing between air molecules (at sea level, or “standard temperature and pressure” = STP) is about 3.3×10^-7 centimeters. Since air molecules travel at an average speed of 5×10^4 centimeters/second (at STP), and each such molecule travels an average distance of 6×10^-6 centimeters before colliding into another molecule (obviously whizzing by many others between collisions), the frequency of collisions per molecule is about 10^10 collisions/second, or about 10 collisions per nanosecond.

Each such collision will deflect the colliding molecules into new directions of travel, so it can take them a very long time to actually transport from Point A to Point B separated by global distances. One number bandied about by commentators on climate change (who at least halfway know what they’re talking about) is that it takes “30 years” for local CO2 emissions to begin having a “global effect” as part of global warming. This is basically the timescale of atmospheric homogenization by diffusion of the locally emitted plumes, because of course the individual CO2 molecules of such plumes are quite ready to absorb infrared radiation, and lose it as heat released to other air molecules during collisions (the actual mechanics of global warming) from the instant those CO2 molecules are formed.

A different indicator of atmospheric trace gas homogenization is that a uniform (independent of geographical location) quantity per unit mass of radioactive fallout absorption/take-up by trees was first measured (recently, from tree corings) to have occurred in late 1965. Radioactive fallout was first created in 1945, and the greatest number of atmospheric (and any) nuclear explosions, by far, occurred in 1962. Some geologists have now proposed labeling the beginning of the Anthropocene from late 1965, and calling that year the end of the Holocene (which is/was the current geological epoch, which began with the last glacial period/retreat approximately 11,650 years ago). “Anthropocene” because it is the first epoch in which human activity (anthropo) has a global geophysical impact; such impacts being worldwide nuclear fallout (as in the 1957 book and 1959 movie On The Beach), and anthropogenic CO2/greenhouse gas-driven global warming.

When I first wrote about global warming/climate change, it was out of this perspective as a gas physicist trying to explain the technical details to a lay audience. I soon learned that the audience was not only laying, but snoring. I was trying to prod “people” into action to forestall climate change by “greening” energy technology, since I was also an engineer focused on “energy” and “efficiency.” Plus I was hoping a huge public shift in this direction would open up some nice ($$$) job opportunities for me. But the snoozing audience just wants consumerism at the lowest common denominator level, and the Big Bosses just want bombs (and money for themselves). So no sweet high-tech green-physics job for me, but more firepower for the ‘criminalated’ psychopaths who are our guiding self-worshipping self-imagined Olympians, more gargantuan Black Friday tsunamis of electro-plastic garbage consumerism for the ‘amnesiatariat,’ and as a result giga-tons more carbonation of the atmosphere and acidification of the seas, and less viability for our planet with its growing human population.

Since “the human element” (mental inertia, ego, tribalism) always controls and limits the actualization of any technical enterprise by a group of people — like greening away from fossil fuels — it was quickly obvious to me that though most “solar energy” technologies were ancient and well-understood “we” were not going to give up fossil fuel convenience, wealth-generation and enablement-of-political-power in favor of green energy, and so consequently global warming could only increase. And it has, and will. So I write about climate change “for the art of it” and for personal satisfaction, in particular to put my views “on the record” for my children. But I can only fantasize, without belief, that such writing will have any practical political effect — of course I’d like it to, but I’m a realist. Happily, it’s always nice to hear every now and then from someone who already agrees with my views, that something I’ve written has given them some encouragement.

And that is where the arc of my climate change consciousness — from the science to our society — has brought me to today: human connection. Given that fossil fueled humanity is intransigent, and now the advance of climate change is implacable (“tipping points”), I see the best focus for most people’s limited energies beyond their immediate survival and family needs to be the developing of a consciousness of climate change and political reality, and a commitment to acting toward others at a minimum with benign neutrality and better yet with compassion, honesty and solidarity, so human society is generally improved and economically more leveled, regardless of the geophysical conditions under which it exists at any given time. For a society that is as deeply humane as I’ve suggested (and vastly different than today’s) then if and when we really do enter a rapidly accelerating “end time” our individual exits would be as decently humane as possible because they would be occurring within a societal death-with-dignity of a society of broad solidarity. I suppose this is kind of glum thinking, but maybe that’s an inevitable result of my growing ‘old’ in these times.

All this has been a rather prolix introduction to a video about climate change I thought you might enjoy. The Age Of Stupid is a 90 minute British documentary from 2009 (five years in the making) that remains brilliantly cogent about the “human element” driving the climate change geophysics, and is also refreshingly accurate about the physical details of that geophysics. [1] The Age Of Stupid Revisited is a 15 minute look back on the original documentary, from today. [2] Nothing has changed for the better; for the worse yes. Reflecting on this documentary, on the arc of my climate change consciousness, and on my belief (which I wish future reality would contradict) that there will never be any significant collective action to stop anthropo-exacerbation of climate change, and to also end poverty and to economically level national and world societies, I arrived at the rather tart characterization that: human life is a sexually transmitted planetary disease, and climate change is the disinfectant that will cure it.

Notes

[1] The Age of Stupid
2009
https://youtu.be/awVbLg59tR8

[2] The Age of Stupid revisited: what’s changed on climate change?
15 March 2019
https://youtu.be/GqHKYwxEIRA

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What Should You Do About Climate Change?

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Earth’s climate is changing before our eyes, and at a faster rate than given by all previous scientific predictions. The melting of glaciers and permafrost, and the methane burping from tundras and the Arctic Sea; the enhanced power of hurricanes, rain and snow storms, and floods; the swelling of the oceans and the creeping inundation of shorelines worldwide; the unrelenting severity of droughts and wild fires; the acidification of the oceans, die-off of corals and reduction of marine life; and the havoc all these geophysical phenomena play on food production and on the habitability of the many environments both humans and wildlife call home, are all startling clear to see.

The present form of our climate change is global warming, which is caused by the greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, oxides of nitrogen, and volatile organic compounds), from our fossil-fueled economic activity, which is capitalist in either a “free market” or command economy format.

The only way to reduce the geophysical stimulation enhancing and accelerating global warming is to reduce and ideally halt the burning of fossil fuels. Humanity has not had the willpower to do this because it is from fossil fuels that we derive almost all of the power — and wealth — we use continually to each maintain our personal activity, and for us all to power our societies and civilization on every scale of their structures. While there are still people who live “off the grid” within the enchantment of nature as human wildlife, and who do not use fossil fuels at all, they are only a minority of Earth’s people. Humanity, 7.74B souls (25 November 2019) and growing by about 200,000 people a day (350,000 births, 150,000 deaths) burns fossil fuels to live.

The many poor and disadvantaged people around the world would like greater access to fossil fuels and electricity, which would allow them to increase their expenditure of external energy (exosomatic energy, outside their metabolism) in order to work themselves up from the drudgery and terror of surviving at a subsistence level, to safer more secure and comfortable modes of living. Many of the fortunate people experiencing relatively secure lives within the advanced highly developed economies of the First World would like greater access to, and cheaper prices for, exosomatic energy so as to extend the scope of their materialistic pleasures. Whether justified or unjustified, most people want more exosomatic power, and that demand drives the relentless expansion in the use of fossil fuels; and so global warming advances.

What should you do about climate change? There are as many answers to this question as there are commentators, critics, charlatans, careerists, environmentalists, philosophers, politicians, preachers, scientists, sages, saviors, speculators, know-it-alls and know-nothings with an axe to grind. The purpose of this essay is to whet your Occam’s Razor to slice through it all.

Consider the following Bayesian Statistics model problem, “Four Societies,” an abstraction of an extremely complex ‘what to do about climate change’ reality, to help organize our thoughts in hopes of eventually pointing to the correct actions we, individually, should take.

The purpose of Bayesian analysis is to logically select the best course of action from a set of available options, despite uncertainties about the probabilities of the outcomes that may occur, and where the decision-making process takes into account your own personal preferences regarding those outcomes. You can easily learn the mechanics of basic Bayesian analysis by looking up articles on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Also, I give a patient explanation of decision-making using Bayesian statistics, with examples, at [1].

Four options for configuring our society are presented above (Bayesian outcomes), two capitalist and two socialist. For each of the capitalist and socialist formats there are two economic modes: politically unrestricted economic growth, and highly regulated and politically programmed economic contraction. Each is labeled somewhat fancifully to suggest its characteristics.

The “Billionaire Boys & Girls Club” (BB&GC) is the unrestricted capitalism of Ayn Randian dreams, and such dreamers as Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the many millions of people enthralled by their income-generating activities. These are people who see their life’s blood as issuing from their successful dog-eat-dog competition within a growing economy under capitalism.

The “Green New Deal,” (GND) as used here, is the idea of a 21st century interpretation of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration public works programs of the 1930s, and the military Keynesianism of the 1940s, to combine economic stimulation for the uplift of the bottom two-thirds of America’s standard-of-living pyramid, with a revolutionary revamping of American energy, housing, transportation, healthcare and social services infrastructure, that in sum total aggressively acts to minimize the further stimulation of global warming. The popular idea here is that America’s existential threat from climate change had its analog 80 years ago as the existential threat from the Great Depression and World War II, and that a Rooseveltian-style socialism now would be just as effective as it was then for overcoming the threat.

“Carbon Limited Capitalism” (CLC) is my term for the regulation and carbon-emission taxing of capitalism to significantly, if not entirely, eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels. Objectively, this would mean a contraction of economic activity for quite a while (perhaps forever) since green energy technology, though growing, is still too insufficient to supply the entire quantity of power consumed by our industrialized civilization — as we presently choose to wastefully conduct it.

“Enviro Co-op Simplification” (ECS) designates an intentional simplification of every aspect of American life so as to eliminate any reliance on fossil fuels. This format of American life would be centered on environmentalism, rather than gargantuan consumerism, and of necessity be a tightly interwoven network of cooperative associations and groupings — lots of socialism. It would be the “Certified Organic” model of American life and work, instead of our current ‘Fast Junk Glitz-o-tainment’ isolation-in-parallel format.

Each one of us will have preferences for or against residing in each of these four possible societies, and those preferences can be quantified on a purely subjective basis, as desirabilities D1, D2, D3 and D4, and assigned as follows.

A person primarily concerned with wealth accumulation might choose desirabilities as D1=100, D2=20, D3=10, D4=0.

A person primarily concerned with minimizing climate change and revitalizing Earth’s environments might choose desirabilities D1=0, D2=10, D3=20, D4=100.

There are as many possible sets of choices (D1, D2, D3, D4) as there are choosers. I will lead this presentation toward some general results, eventually.

What I (and you) — as the person in this model problem asking “what should I do about climate change?” — have to do is to decide: what am I going to commit myself to, both in my personal life and in any social and political activism I may engage in?

The two choices given here are for either economic growth or economic contraction.

What is unknown is whether our society will remain in its current capitalist format or transition into socialism because of the force of geophysical and sociological pressures. Let the quantity p designate the probability that socialism will arise in the historical near future in time to organize American society’s response to climate change. The quantity p is a number between 0 and 1. Thus, the probability that capitalism will remain the societal paradigm is the quantity (1-p).

Given “my” desirabilities (D1, D2, D3, D4) for the four potential outcomes (BB&GC, GND, CLC, ECS), and the probability, p, of uncertain magnitude (between 0 and 1) for a socialist transformation, how would I nevertheless quantify my expectations — or utility values — regarding my two possible courses of action: committing to economic growth or committing to economic contraction? As follows.

Here, the symbol * designates multiplication.

Given my subjectively quantified desirabilities (D1, D2, D3, D4) for the four potential societal outcomes, along with the as yet unknown probability p for a near-term socialist transformation, the utility value or expectation (a quantification of my potential satisfaction or dissatisfaction) for committing to economic growth is

Eg = D1*(1-p) + D2*p.

Similarly, the utility value or expectation for committing to economic contraction is

Er = D3*(1-p) + D4*p.

While “I” can pick desirabilities out of my own subjective preferences, feelings and biases, I can only guess — or ‘guesstimate’ — at what p might be. So, making such a guesstimate, I can then actually calculate a numerical value for each of Eg and Er. Comparing these, I would then choose to act according to whichever expectation quantity had the higher value. This is Bayesian decision-making, you choose the action that is subjectively of higher value to you, given your estimate of the probabilities of the uncertainties.

For example, the wealth seeker whose desirabilities are D1=100, D2=20, D3=10, D4=0, and who estimates the likelihood of a socialist transformation at p=0.5 (50%), would have utility values of

Eg = 50 + 10 = 60.

Er = 5 + 0 = 5.

Obviously, this capitalist bull would choose to devote himself to economic growth.

Similarly, the “Earth First” environmentalist whose desirabilities were listed earlier as D1=0, D2=10, D3=20, D4=100, and who estimated the probability of a socialist transformation at p=0.5 would have utility values of

Eg = 0 + 5 = 5.

Er = 10 + 50 = 60.

Obviously this environmentalist would choose to devote herself to economic contraction.

But not everybody is so lopsided in their preferences. An individual pulled in different directions by the need to make a living and enjoy a bit of consumerism, a yearning for greater social solidarity, a concern about global warming, and who has few ideological rigidities might select desirabilities D1=3, D2=8, D3=2, D4=10.

For this mild liberal

Eg = 3*(1-p) + 8*p,

Er = 2*(1-p) + 10*p.

It turns out that for this individual Eg=Er when p=1/3 (33%).

So, for the probability of socialism, p, estimated at greater than 1/3, Er is greater that Eg; committing to economic contraction will have more personal value that committing to economic expansion.

Obversely, for the probability of socialism, p, estimated at less than 1/3, Eg is greater than Er; and committing to economic expansion will have more personal value than committing to economic contraction.

For this mild liberal individual, if they believe that socialism has a better than 33% chance of happening, they should commit to economic contraction, environmentalism and consequently socialism. If they believe that socialism has less than a 33% chance of occurring then they should commit to being an economic growth capitalist. All this is based on personal subjectivities that arise from the confrontation with the objective realities of this American’s life in a world of climate change, and an assumed probability of future political change.

How would you quantify your preferences and inclinations into a set of numbers D1, D2, D3, D4 and p, and then what would your utility values be for the two actions of: working for economic growth, or working for economic contraction? How much are you willing to give up in order to forestall climate change? It might take more than you imagine. [2]

Now, I’ll state some general results for this model problem, and spare you the mathematical details.

For the probability, p, of socialist transformation to be a positive number between 0 and 1 (where any real probability must be within), the desirabilities must satisfy the following conditions.

Both (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) are greater than 0, or both (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) are less than zero.

Given these conditions, the value of probability at which Eg is equal to Er is designated as q, and has the value

q = (D1-D3)/[(D1-D3)+(D4-D2)].

For p less than q, one of either Eg or Er will dominate; and for p greater than q that dominance will switch. The “mild liberal” example shown earlier exhibited all this.

Another general result is that individuals with positive (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) — or D1 greater than D3, and D4 greater than D2 — can be ideologically capitalist and not really concerned about climate change; wanting economic growth under capitalism to strengthen it, and economic contraction under socialism to weaken it.

Similarly, individuals with negative (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) — or D3 greater than D1, and D2 greater than D4 — can be ideologically socialist and not primarily concerned about climate change; wanting economic contraction under capitalism to weaken it, and economic expansion under socialism to strengthen it.

Individuals who only care about economic expansion without regard to either capitalist or socialist ideology, and obviously don’t care about climate change, will have D1 greater than D3, and D2 greater than D4. Their utility value for economic growth, Eg, is always dominant regardless of any numerical value of probability p (which is in fact irrelevant to them).

Similarly, individuals who only care about economic contraction — our deeply committed climate change-confronting environmentalists — will have D3 greater than D1, and D4 greater than D2. Their utility value for economic contraction, Er, is always dominant regardless of any numerical value of probability p (which is only of interest as a political indicator of a national shift to economic contraction).

Finally, for both totally committed economic expansionists and economic contractionists, those who are inclined to favor capitalist ideology will see a decrease in the happiness of their unwavering efforts as the probability, p, of the transformation to socialism increases; and conversely, those inclined to favor socialist ideology will see an increase in the happiness of their unwavering efforts as the probability, p, of the transformation to socialism increases.

Those of you who are charter members or committed aspirants of the Billionaire Boys & Girls Club, or the Enviro Co-op Simplification Movement have no need for this Bayesian analytical method of making the emotional decision of how to conduct your life in the presence of climate change. But for us “regular people” this kind of theoretical exercise can help clarify the mind on what one’s priorities and concerns really are, and how best to focus your limited energies in the face of uncertain political shifts in a world of advancing climate change. What are you and I willing to accept — and sacrifice — in order to forestall climate change? Bayesian analysis is one way to personally come to grips with that question.

My wish would be for a socialist Green New Deal that miraculously disappeared fossil fuel usage without a loss of the exosomatic energy we now enjoy — achieved by some combination of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy (solar, wind and gravity derived) — and that such a transformation of the energy technologies powering our society and civilization were accomplished without further greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, that the required rapid contraction of fossil fueled economies, to forestall climate change, was also simultaneously a societal transformation to a new highly equitable economic paradigm operating harmoniously within the limits of nature. But I know that is impossible. Even the best effort in that direction will necessarily be an approximation to the ideal that is deficient to some degree, perhaps significantly. Climate change may now be beyond the ability — and the willingness — of humanity to avert; the best we can likely do is to minimize our further exacerbation of it. [3], [4]

Personally, I think that Enviro Co-op Simplification Socialism could be alright if we all made an effort for it.

Notes

[1] Bayesian Bargains: Jail, Shopping, Debt, And Voting
MG,Jr., (30 January 2012)
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci39.html

[2] That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
Stan Cox, (13 January 2019)
http://greensocialthought.org/content/green-growth-heart-green-new-deal-it%E2%80%99s-malignant

[3] End-of-life anxiety and finding meaning in a collapsing climate
Leonie Joubert (20 November 2019)
https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-11-20-end-of-life-anxiety-and-finding-meaning-in-a-collapsing-climate/

[4] Choosing Dignity During Climapocalypse
MG,Jr., (26 May 2018)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/05/26/choosing-dignity-during-climapocalypse/

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