Economically the world is locked into a growth cycle – despite any and all reservations and interventions. A high growth planet brings resources to solve people and environment problems. The clearest way to economic growth is markets – and the biggest risk is market mismanagement.
On climate I am inclined to think that most 20th century warming was quite natural. Anthropogenic warming in the post – war period was some 0.4 degrees K. 1944 and 1998 being the peaks of 2 successive 20 to 30 year Pacific Ocean regimes – as seen in surface temperature records. With a dimming sun and associated resurgent upwelling in the eastern Pacific suggesting a cooling influence this century. Starting perhaps with the next Pacific climate shift due in a 2018 to 2028 window. If you have not heard of this – I guess it will come as a surprise.
Anastasios Tsonis, of the Atmospheric Sciences Group at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and colleagues used a mathematical network approach to analyse abrupt climate change on decadal timescales. Ocean and atmospheric indices – in this case the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation and the North Pacific Oscillation – can be thought of as chaotic oscillators that capture the major modes of climate variability. Tsonis and colleagues calculated the ‘distance’ between the indices. It was found that they would synchronize at certain times and then shift into a new state. This was the first time that chaotic synchronization was numerically identified at the scale of a planetary system. It is no coincidence that shifts in ocean and atmospheric indices occur at the same time as changes in the trajectory of global surface temperature.
Our ‘interest is to understand – first the natural variability of climate – and then take it from there. So we were very excited when we realized a lot of changes in the past century from warmer to cooler and then back to warmer were all natural,’ Tsonis said.
With COP21 in Paris in late 2015 – the world has definitively chosen to access whatever energy resource is needed to facilitate growth and development. COP21 locked in an increase in energy emissions of 3.7 billion metric tons by 2030. If you are looking for ‘solutions’ to emissions it will have to come from elsewhere.
Carbon sequestration in soils has major benefits in addition to offsetting anthropogenic emissions from fossil fuel combustion, land use conversion, soil cultivation, continuous grazing and cement manufacturing. Restoring soil carbon stores increases agronomic productivity and enhances global food security. Increasing the soil organic content enhances water holding capacity and creates a more drought tolerant agriculture – with less downstream flooding. There is a critical level of soil carbon that is essential to maximising the effectiveness of water and nutrient inputs. Global food security, especially for countries with fragile soils and harsh climate such as in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, cannot be achieved without improving soil quality through an increase in soil organic content. Wildlife flourishes on restored grazing land helping to halt biodiversity loss. Reversing soil carbon loss in agricultural soils is a new green revolution where conventional agriculture is hitting a productivity barrier with exhausted soils and increasingly expensive inputs.
Our smart move is to restore global soils and ecosystems to build prosperous, sustainable and resilient communities globally this century. Some 100 billion tonnes of carbon can be restored to grassland and woodland globally in 30 or 40 years. By then the transition to 21st century energy will be underway.
That’s the plan but the purpose is much more inspiring. The building of prosperous and resilient communities in a vibrant landscape.
If there are focussed goals and robust economies with exacting macro management – it’s feasible. Ecologies – including our human – are best managed at a community scale. The best aid and trade empowers people to better their circumstances.
Development aid can certainly focus on important goals and support free and fair markets. Smart aid in Africa, Asia and India will solve many 21st century problems. The biggest reduction – however – of global poverty and increase in food security, health, education, biodiversity – and in better resource, soil, woodlands and grasslands management… comes from market economies – and will continue to do so.
Smart aid can make a bang for the buck allocation of scarce resources. Smart aid includes open market and innovation advocacy. It can make strategically important decisions.
‘In a world of limited resources, we can’t do everything, so which goals should we prioritize? The Copenhagen Consensus Center provides information on which targets will do the most social good (measured in dollars, but also incorporating e.g. welfare, health and environmental protection), relative to their costs.’ Copenhagen Consensus
Bjorn Lomberg argues that fewer (19 – see below) and better focused development goals are preferred over the less focused and effective 169 goals of the UN. But we can best help Africa, Asia, China and India – with open trade links and innovation. These are the bulwarks of liberal economic and social theory. Trade and Productivity. Personal freedom, robust democracies, personal property, privacy… In terms that were vouchsafed by God.
Smart money is on trade and innovation in stable economies. Stability requires a disciplined approach to markets, government regulation and spending and reserve bank interest rates. Economic growth – like a living system – requires energy. It is just as much vital for life as is water. Manage interest rates, moderate spending and taxes, prudential regulation, credibly balanced budgets, fair laws – and a steady if not exactly spectacular economic growth keeps – as much as possible – a steady hand at the economic levers. Whole economies can collapse if these things get out of hand. This does less than nothing for global peace and development.
Smart money is on energy growth – strongly in non-OECD countries.
And a transition to 21st energy. In my view modular, high temperature, fast neutron nuclear engines is clearly the front runner.
Small and self-contained – these can be placed almost anywhere. Deploy them progressively in regional networks to make liquid fuel and supply electricity to regional markets. New technology will very rapidly supplant old tech when the price is right.
There’s not a huge future for oil, gas and coal – but what future there is needs to unfold according to fundamental economic principles. Prices will rise with demand and scarcity. Fracked gas has decades before it basically just stops flowing. Fossil oil production has peaked and will decline. Coal has 60 years reserves at current use. Innovation will drive technology – and markets will freely and rapidly adapt – with higher productivity – to changing technology.
But over decades at least the use of gas, oil and coal will continue to expand – strongly in the developing world. That’s as it should be. Non-OECD energy growth must occur with the cheapest and safest sources – if we are to grow economies globally and alleviate dire problems in food security, health, education, social services, environment and human rights more generally.
The smart development goals of the Copenhagen Consensus below focus on high priority targets. Aid and markets can work together – to educate, assist, open markets and share technology and information in globally vibrant, prosperous and resilient communities.
Lower chronic child malnutrition by 40%
Halve malaria infection
Reduce tuberculosis deaths by 90%
Avoid 1.1 million HIV infections through circumcision
Cut early death from chronic diseases by 1/3
Reduce newborn mortality by 70%
Increase immunization to reduce child deaths by 25%
Make family planning available to everyone
Eliminate violence against women and girls
Reduce trade restrictions (full Doha)
Improve gender equality in ownership, business and politics
Boost agricultural yield increase by 40%
Increase girls’ education by 2 years
Achieve universal primary education in sub-Saharan Africa
Triple preschool in sub-Saharan Africa
Reaching these global targets by 2030 will do more than $15 of good for every dollar spent. The goals have implications for population, carbon and black carbon emissions, energy technology and sequestering carbon in soils. But they go well beyond climate change. They open doorways to a brighter world.
The site more generally discusses technical, economic and institutional design factors that must come together to build peaceful and prosperous communities this century and to have an ecologically vibrant world. There is a linked Facebook page – that I have called An Australian Iriai. Iriai is a Japanese word meaning to enter into the joint use of resources. There are ways to a bright future for the planet, its peoples and its wild places – but these need to be consciously designed in a broad context of economics and democracy, population, development, technical innovation, land use and the environment.