Do the World’s Energy Policies Make Sense?

The world today has a myriad of energy policies. One of them seems to be to encourage renewables, especially wind and solar. Another seems to be to encourage electric cars. A third seems to be to try to move away from fossil fuels. Countries in Europe and elsewhere have been trying carbon taxes. There are also programs to buy carbon offsets for energy uses such as air travel.

Maybe it is time to step back and take a look. Where are we now? Where are we really headed? Have the policies implemented since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 had any positive impact?

Let’s look at some of the issues involved.

[1] We have had very little success in reducing CO2 emissions.

CO2 emissions for all countries, in total, have been spiraling upward, year after year.

World CO2 Emissions

Figure 1. Carbon dioxide emissions for the world, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy.

If we look at the situation by part of the world, we see an even more concerning pattern.

Figure 2. Carbon dioxide emissions by part of the world through 2018, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Soviet Empire is an approximation including Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, based on the BP report. It would not include Cuba and North Korea.

The group US+EU+Japan has been able to reduce its CO2 emissions by 5% since 2005. Emissions were slowly rising between 1981 and 2005. There was a dip at the time of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, followed by a downward trend. A person might get the impression that CO2 emissions for the EU tend to rise during periods when the economy is doing well and tend to fall when it is doing poorly.

The “star” in emissions reductions is the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. I refer to this group as the Soviet Empire. Emissions fell around the time of the collapse of the central government of the Soviet Union in 1991. This big decrease in emissions seems to be related to huge changes that took place at that time. Instead of one country with a single currency, the individual republics were suddenly on their own.

The high point in CO2 emissions for the Soviet Empire came in 1990, the year before the collapse of the Soviet Union central government. By 1999, emissions had fallen to a level 37% below their 1990 level. In fact, even in recent years, emissions for this group of countries has stayed low. Much industry collapsed and has never been replaced.

The group that has more than doubled its emissions is what I call the Remainder Group. The group includes many countries, including China and India, that ramped up their manufacturing and other heavy industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the World Trade Organization added members. The Remainder Group also includes many countries that suddenly found new export markets for their raw materials, such as oil, iron ore, and copper. The Remainder countries became richer; they became more able to pave roads and build more substantial homes for their citizens. With all of this GDP-related activity, CO2 emissions increased rapidly.

[2] Population growth has followed a pattern that is in some ways similar to CO2 growth. 

Figure 3. Population from 1965 to 2018, based on UN 2019 population estimates.

In Figure 3, we see that population has been virtually flat in the former Soviet Empire (2% growth between 1997 and 2018). With the economy not doing well, young people emigrate to countries that seem to provide better prospects.

Population in the US+EU+Japan Group grew by 11% between 1997 and 2018.

The group that is simply outstanding for population growth is the Remainder Group, with 35% growth between 1997 and 2018. A big part of this population growth comes from improved sanitation and basic medical care, such as antibiotics. With these changes, a larger percentage of the babies that are born have been able to live to maturity.

It is hard to see any bend in the trend lines, which would indicate that recent actions have actually changed the course of activity from the way it was headed previously. Of course, the trend is only “linear,” implying that the percentage growth is gradually slowing over time.

This rapidly growing population feeds into the CO2 problem as well. The many young people would all like food, homes and transportation. While it is possible to obtain some version of these desired products without fossil fuels, the version with fossil fuels tends to be vastly improved. Most people prefer homes with indoor plumbing and electricity, if given an opportunity, for example.

[3] Deforestation keeps growing as a world problem.

Figure 4. Chart showing World Bank estimates of share of world forested by economic grouping.

High Income Countries keep pushing the deforestation problem to the poorer parts of the world. Heavily Indebted Poor Countries are especially affected. Worldwide, deforestation continues to grow.

[4] With respect to fossil fuels, there is a great deal of confusion with respect to, “What do we need to be saved from?” 

Do we have a problem with too much or too little fossil fuel? We hear two different stories.

Figure 5. Author’s image of two trains speeding toward the world economy.

Climate modelers keep telling us about what could happen, if indeed we use too much fossil fuel. In fact, the climate currently is changing, bolstering this point of view.

It seems to me that there is an equally great danger of collapse, accompanied by low energy prices. For example, we know that energy production in the European Union has been declining for many years, without the countries being able to do anything about it.

We also know historically that many civilizations have collapsed. The Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991, illustrating one type of collapse. The Soviet Union was an oil exporter. Its collapse came after oil prices were too low to allow adequate investment in new oil fields for an extended period of time. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 offers a much smaller, temporary version of what collapse might look like.

Another example of low prices accompanying collapse comes from Revelation 18: 11-13, warning of possible collapse like that of ancient Babylon. The problem was inadequate demand and low prices; even the energy product of the day (human beings sold as slaves) had little value.

11 The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

What we have been seeing recently is falling prices and prices that are too low for producers. Such a result can lead to collapse if too many energy producers go bankrupt and quit.

Figure 6. Inflation adjusted weekly average Brent Oil price, based on EIA oil spot prices and US CPI-urban inflation.

If we are in danger of collapse from low prices, renewables would not seem to be of much assistance unless they (a) are significantly less expensive than fossil fuels and (b) can be scaled up sufficiently rapidly to more than replace fossil fuels. Neither of these seems to be a possibility.

[5] Early studies overestimated how much help renewables might provide, especially if our problem comes from too little energy supply rather than too much.

Renewables look like they would be great from many points of view, but when it comes down to the real world situation, they don’t live up to the hype.

One issue is that while wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and other devices for capturing energy are called “renewables,” they are really only available through the use of the fossil fuel system. They are made using fossil fuels. If a part breaks, or if insects eat away the insulation on wires, replacements need to be made using the fossil fuel system and transported using the fossil fuel system. At best, renewables should be considered fossil fuel extenders, using less fossil fuels than conventional electricity generation. They are also dependent on other resources, which may eventually deplete, but which are not a problem at this time.

A second issue is that it is extremely difficult to do a proper cost-benefit analysis on renewables because they can only be used as part of a larger system. They tend to look inexpensive, when viewed in isolation. But when total system costs are viewed, they often are quite expensive.

One difficulty in a proper cost-benefit analysis is the fact that renewables are often sited at quite a distance from where electricity is to be used, leading to the need for a significant number of long distance transmission lines. Furthermore, if renewables provide intermittent power, they need to be sized for the maximum output, not their average output. All of these long distance lines need to be properly maintained, or they tend to cause fires. In some instances, burying the lines underground at significant cost is the only solution. Somehow, these higher costs need to be recognized as part of the cost of the system, but this is rarely done.

Another difficulty in a proper cost-benefit analysis is the fact that renewables’  intermittency must be overcome, if the electricity is to be of benefit to a modern economy that requires electricity 24/7/365. In theory, we could greatly overbuild the renewables system and the transmission. This might work, but we would end up with a large percentage of the system that is not used most of the time, greatly adding to costs.

Batteries can be added, but the cost tends to be high. One commenter on my site recently observed:

EIA reports the average cost for utility scale battery systems to be about $1500 per kWh. At that rate the batteries needed for backing up a solar or wind facility for three days cost around 30 times as much as the RE facility. But wind is often unpowered for more like seven days, during huge stagnant high pressure episodes. Thus the backup battery cost is more like 100 times the wind farm cost. Batteries are not feasible.

The major intermittency problem is season-to-season, especially saving up enough for winter. We do not have a way, today, of storing energy from one season to another, short of making it into a liquid (such as ammonia), and storing the liquid from season to season. This would be another way of driving up costs of the overall system. It has not been included in anyone’s cost calculations.

For the time being, we are forcing nuclear and fossil fuel to provide backup electrical services to intermittent renewables without adequately compensating them for their services. This tends to drive them out of business. This is not an adequate solution either.

A third issue is that renewables really need to be “economic” to work. In other words, they need to generate a profit for their owners, when comparing the unsubsidized costs with the benefits of the system. In fact, their owners need to be able to pay fairly substantial taxes to governments, to cover their share of governmental costs as well. If renewables truly were providing substantial benefit to the system, their use would tend to “take off” on their own, because they would be providing “net energy” to the system. Instead, renewables tend to act like “energy sinks.” They need endless subsidies. They can never substitute for fossil fuels. In fact, they can’t even pay their own way.

A related issue is that, because of the high total costs (as well as their lack of true net energy benefits), it is almost impossible to ramp up the quantity of renewables such as wind and solar very high. The EU has been a big supporter of renewables other than hydroelectric. Figure 7 shows a chart of the EU’s own energy production, together with its energy imports.

EU Energy by Type and Whether Imported

Figure 7. EU energy by type and whether imported, based on data of BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Renewables are non-hydroelectric renewables such as wind, solar, and geothermal.

After at least 20 years of subsidies, the EU has been able to increase renewables (other than hydroelectric) to about 10% of its total energy supply. The EU’s oil imports are roughly level, and its natural gas imports have been increasing. Even with rapid growth in non-hydro renewables, the EU has been experiencing a decrease in total energy consumption.

[6] Looking at the actual outcomes, a person might ask, “What in the world were policymakers really thinking about?”

We are told that the reason policymakers made the decisions they did was because they thought that they could reduce CO2 emissions in this way. Really? If a person really wants to reduce CO2 emissions, it is easy to see how to do it. A person simply has to take steps in the direction of reducing global co-operation. One step would be to reduce international trade. Another would be to get rid of umbrella organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and the European Union. In fact, within individual countries, the top level of government could be removed, leaving (for example) the provinces of Canada and the states of the United States. In other words, policymakers could push economies in the direction of collapse.

Another way collapse could be encouraged would be by rapidly raising interest rates or cutting off credit. With less purchasing power, the world would be pushed into recession.

At the time of the Kyoto Protocol, policymakers moved in precisely the opposite direction of pushing the economy toward collapse. They moved in the direction of adding international trade and more debt to enable the growth. The countries with greater trade had huge coal resources that had not been used. With the help of this coal, the world economy was able to continue to grow. This approach only made sense if the real problem at the time of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 was too little energy resources, not too much. The economy needed the stimulation that more low-cost energy and more debt could provide.

It is now more than twenty years later. The coal resources of China are starting to deplete. Coal is also causing serious ground-level pollution problems, both in China and India. Without growing coal production, world GDP growth starts slowing. We are again facing low oil prices and other commodity prices–a problem similar to the one present when the government of the Soviet Union collapsed. The world economy seems again to be headed toward having some of its governmental organizations collapse from inadequate energy. Political parties are becoming more extreme; countries are enacting new tariffs. If we go back to Figure 5, the concern should again be collapse, on the left side of the figure.

[7] The scenarios considered by the IPCC climate model need to be revisited.

A climate model looks to the past and tries to forecast what would happen in alternative “scenarios.” The concern I have is that the scenarios evaluated are not realistic. To get to the level of CO2 that would produce the most extreme scenarios, coal production would need to continue at a high level for many, many years. This seems unrealistic because world coal production has been fairly flat for several years, and prices tend to be lower than producers require if they are to stay in business. The likely direction for coal production seems to be down, rather than up.

Figure 8. World Energy Consumption by Fuel, based on data of 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

In order for coal production to grow as much as the higher emission scenarios assume, there needs to be a major turnaround in the situation. World coal prices would need to rise substantially. In fact, coal in very difficult locations for extraction, such as under the North Sea, need to become profitable to extract. This situation seems very unlikely.

It seems to me that climate modelers should be considering more realistic scenarios regarding CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. One scenario which should be considered is the possible near term collapse of several governmental organizations, such as the European Union, World Trade Organization, and the governments of several oil exporting countries.

[8] The push toward renewables makes little sense without a firmer foundation than currently exists.

Early studies looked only at the cost of renewables themselves, without the cost of extra long-distance grid transportation and battery storage. Such an estimate makes renewables look far more valuable than they really are.

We now have enough experience that we can see what goes wrong. A hydroelectric plant that operates during the wet season in a tropical country may be of little practical use, for example, if there is no fossil fuel energy available to provide backup electricity production during the dry season. The total cost of the overlapping systems needs to be taken into consideration, including the need to hire staff year around for both the fossil fuel and hydroelectric facilities. Electricity transmission will likely be needed for both types of generation.

There are many other real-world examples that can be examined, before blanket “use renewables” recommendations should be issued. If renewables are not truly very inexpensive (around 2 cents per kWh or less), without subsidies, they are likely not to be long-lasting. Subsidies become more and more difficult to maintain, as a system scales up.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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1,380 Responses to Do the World’s Energy Policies Make Sense?

  1. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Little more than a decade after consumers binged on inexpensive mortgages that helped bring on a global financial crisis, a new debt surge — this time by major corporations — threatens to unleash fresh turmoil…

    ““We are sitting on the top of an unexploded bomb, and we really don’t know what will trigger the explosion,” said Emre Tiftik, a debt specialist at the Institute of International Finance, an industry association…

    ““This is part of a much bigger issue: an increased amount of collateral damage and the unintended consequences of an excessive reliance on central bank liquidity,” said Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser to Allianz, the German financial services giant.”

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/corporate-debt-nears-a-record-10-trillion-and-borrowing-binge-poses-new-risks/2019/11/29/1f86ba3e-114b-11ea-bf62-eadd5d11f559_story.html%3foutputType=amp

  2. Harry McGibbs says:

    ““We’ve seen extraordinary demand for safe-deposit boxes ever since we started offering them in 2015, and that demand has really gone up since the late summer,” said Ludwig Karl, a spokesman for Swiss Gold Safe Ltd., which operates high-security alpine vaults. “Most people say they are planning for difficult economic circumstances.””

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-11-30/worlds-rich-are-rattled-and-seeking-old-fashioned-security%3f_amp=true

    • Harry McGibbs says:

      “Boats are a supremely cuttable expense when the economy starts turning south, and the industry has been anxiously debating what’s behind a recent sales drop in certain boat categories of up to 7% compared with a year ago.”

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bloomberg.com/amp/news/articles/2019-11-08/even-super-rich-rethink-yacht-buying-amid-economic-uncertainty

      • We haven’t seen yet what the new emission rules will do to international ship transport after January 1, 2020. Those operating refineries clearly wanted more revenue for themselves. But ship owners are powerless to raise rates on a commodity. Someone has to lose out in this grab for more of the profit pie. It may be that the demand for fuel drops further.

        Fuel doesn’t seem to be much different than vehicles and medical care. It is always possible to raise standards, in an attempt to get more revenue for one’s own sector of the economy. But at some point the squeeze must stop.

  3. Yoshua says:

    Energy and machines allows us to do amazing things…but they also allows us to strip mine the resources…on a finite planet.

    • Good points! And debt allows us to make machines and pay for them over their useful lifetime.

      Debt also allows us to kid ourselves with spending that has virtually no value, except to provide jobs in the present. Examples include bridges to nowhere, expressways that are not needed, and homes workers cannot afford.

      • Xabier says:

        It is in fact the Magic Wand – and as in the Disney film, its effects can’t be stopped by the foolish apprentice who thought that waving it would make life so much easier…..

  4. milan says:

    An interesting essay over at Winterwatch:

    https://www.winterwatch.net/2019/11/survey-of-a-paper-tiger-debt-implosion

    An industry in which a bond bust is well underway is the extremely capital intensive energy fracking sector. Chesapeake Energy’s (CHK) debt is nearly $10 billion. In a Nov. 5 SEC filing, the company warned of its own demise unless oil and gas prices surge sky high ASAP:

    • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

      quite the survey of the imminent debt implosion…

      and so many juicy quotes!

      “Debt out the wazoo…”

      “The portion of the Ponzi scheme pyramid that implodes first are the lower-grade bonds. During the last two years, downgrades in the B- and below markets have increased steadily. This is probably the reason the Fed has started “Not QE 4.” Will it work? We doubt it, as the emperor wears no clothes.”

      “Not QE 4”!!!!!!!

      “There is a slew of big publicly traded companies that stopped being startups years ago, that are burning huge amounts of cash to this day and that need to constantly get even more cash from investors to have more fuel to burn. This includes Tesla, which succeeded in extracting another $2.7 billion in cash in early May from investors. Tesla duly rushed to burn this cash. And it also includes Netflix, which extracted another $2.2 billion in April. From day one, these two companies – just Netflix and Tesla alone – have burned tens of billions of dollars in cash and continue to do so, though they’re mature companies.
      This also includes Uber, which received another $8 billion from investors during its IPO in May. It’s now busy burning up in its furnace.”

      thanks for sharing…

    • okboomerfromOK says:

      Well thats a great article. CHK has been a dead man walking a long time. and it just keeps on walking. Its walking a marathon.
      Here is CHK statement
      “If continued depressed prices persist, combined with the scheduled reductions in the leverage ratio covenant, our ability to comply with the leverage ratio covenant during the next 12 months will be adversely affected which raises substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.”

      leverage ratio covenant. Its going to be amended. thats what the jist of it is. here is another example.

      https://www.marketwatch.com/story/teva-shares-rise-2-on-debt-covenant-amendments-2017-09-19-8912537

      CHK will be here next thanksgiving IMO. Its a no brainer “amend leverage ratio covenant” or stop energy extraction.

      • Robert Firth says:

        CHK is a zombie. In traditional horror movies, zombies are the undead who shamble around crying “fresh brains, fresh brains!” (For a more detailed analysis, read my Amazon review of ‘High School of the Dead’). Zombie companies likewise shamble around, crying “fresh debt, fresh debt!”. The solution is the same in both cases.

  5. Brendon Crook says:

    I’d be interested on what people think about this. It’s an article on the state of Western Australia’s solar energy causing problems for the WA grid.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-01/rise-of-rooftop-solar-power-jeopardising-wa-energy-grid/11731452

    • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

      “In September, the utility handed down a massive $657 million loss for the 12 months to June 30, the biggest reverse ever recorded by a government enterprise in WA.”

      all owners of houses with solar panels should have a special solar tax to make up for this loss…

  6. Brendon Crook says:

    I’d be interested on what people think about this. It’s an article on the state of Western Australia’s solar energy causing problems for the WA grid.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-01/rise-of-rooftop-solar-power-jeopardising-wa-energy-grid/11731452

    • People do not understand the scale of the problem. They really need fossil fuels. Solar can’t do much on its own. Batteries are hopelessly expensive on the scale they would be needed. Citizens need to fossil fuels a lot for backup power. This is part of the cost of having solar energy. The system cannot use very much intermittent electricity without huge problems.

    • Robert Firth says:

      The problem seems to be explained quite well. But I’m skeptical about the solution, which seems to be just “replace dumb with smart”. Once again, a complex system is found to be dysfunctional, and the proposed solution is to add more complexity. Colour me doubtful.

      • Kowalainen says:

        Bad system engineering isn’t fixed by worse system engineering.

      • Tim Groves says:

        Grid operators are expected to be jugglers.

        First and foremost, they have to juggle output to match customer demand, which varies minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, season by season, etc.

        This is possible of the combination of power plants can produce electricity at a stable rate and their overall output can be adjusted as required.

        However, when solar and wind are added to the mix, the grid operators have no means of controlling its output, so they have to juggle the output of the rest of their plants to compensate for the minute-by-minute instability, unreliability and capriciousness of the solar and wind components while simultaneously adjusting to match varying customer demand.

        This is comparable to juggling while riding a unicycle back and forth along a high wire—very entertaining for the spectators, but not a very practical means of providing reliable, stable and affordable electricity year-round.

        • Kowalainen says:

          That is exactly the point, provide shitty service and people applaud you for doing that, because ‘green’ and ‘renewable’.

          Thus can the government corporate complex secure their place in the supply chain and continue the theft, brain washing, cruelty and degeneracy.

        • This is a good way of describing the problem. The more intermittent electricity is added, the worse the problem becomes. Most researchers cannot quantify the effect of too much variability, so they simply leave it our of analyses. They assume that something will offset, for example.

          • Robert Firth says:

            The analysis is not that hard. A conventional electricity supply system is metastable: small variations in supply and demand can be managed with negative feedback loops. It takes a massive perturbation to cause even partial collapse.

            But add renewable energy, which as presently configured has no way of controlling supply, and the system becomes less stable. Eventually, with enough renewables, it tips over into instability, and variations in demand can no longer be managed.

            You know, this really is basic systems theory, and I don’t understand why people should be so surprised when the predictable result happens.

            • Kowalainen says:

              Because nobody cares until the problems start to surface. “Green” and “renewable” is a genius marketing method mixed with with Glowball Warmongering to scam people into a malinvestment of epic proportions.

  7. Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

    we did it! we really did it! seriously:

    https://finance.yahoo.com/news/u-posts-first-month-70-154903996.html

    “The U.S. solidified its status as an energy producer by posting the first full month as a net exporter of crude and petroleum products since government records began in 1949.
    The nation exported 89,000 barrels a day more than it imported in September… While the U.S. has previously reported net exports on a weekly basis, today’s figures mark a key milestone…”

    but the article does have some humour:

    “Going forward, the United States will be energy independent on a monthly basis, and by 2030 total primary energy production will outpace primary energy demand by about 30%,”

    • It has been getting very close. Some weekly reports have shown net exports, but this is the first monthly report to show net exports.

    • i1 says:

      I wonder if the total fracking cash vaporization rate is equal to the US crude and petroleum product net export rate. Plus, I wonder why fracking only works in countries minting the world’s reserve currency.

      • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

        it probably makes sense from an internal US point of view to produce fracked oil at a cost of $70-$80 per barrel rather than pay $60 per barrel for imported oil…

        because the domestic costs are paid internally and the money circulates internally, and of course there is higher employment because of the fracking industry…

        would you buy $60 worth of food from a stranger or the same amount of food for $70 from a family member who owns a farm?

      • Fracking is dependent on lots of cheap capital. Some of it comes from sales of stock to people who believe that “of course” prices will rise, and everything will be fine. Some of it comes from debt, either from banks or from the sale of bonds. There seems to be a new trend to selling mineral rights below the fracking, if I understood a recent article correctly. That would be another source of revenue.

  8. Sven Røgeberg says:

    From an open letter to Greta Thunberg;
    Your generation needs to be taught the morality of wealth creation, rather than only parasitically benefiting from it. The only revolution you will lead is one into nihilism and civilization regression. You need to learn about the moral case for fossil fuel. You owe it to yourself to understand how as, Kathleen Hartnett White has detailed, the harnessing of the vast store of concentrated energy in fossil fuels allowed mankind, for the first time in human history, to escape intractable constraints and energy limits that had left all but the very privileged in total poverty and depravity. Before the Industrial Revolution all societies were dependent on a very limited flow of solar energy captured in living plants for subsistence needs such as food, fuel and shelter.
    https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/2019/11/open-letter-greta-thunberg-jason-d-hill/?fbclid=IwAR0esQ7WzGd0axCLSLerYF1098MwZz34L8aHWvLYsi4SAs8pDS2E80OJ5Ok#.XeK6rwewsO2.facebook

    • Robert Firth says:

      Where would you rather live? In fifteenth century Urbino, one of the most stable and prosperous city states of the Renaissance, or today’s San Francisco, surrounded by poverty and depravity?

      Kathleen Hartnett White, by the way, has degrees in “humanities and religion”, and one year of law school. She is almost completely ignorant of both history and science.

      • Kowalainen says:

        She is the archetype of a lackey running errands for her masters. Ignorant, cheap, self entitled and full of herself. Just like the priesthood of old Europe.

        But the comedy she provides is priceless.

      • Tim Groves says:

        If pressed, I would take 21st century San Francisco with all its needles and feces in the street over 15th century Urbino, which despite its considerable attractions as a center of commerce, culture and learning, was also surrounded by considerable poverty and depravity apparently. Urbino was also very much an outlier being one of the very nicest places on Earth to live in the 15th century.

        On the other hand, I would take Federico da Montefeltro, lord of Urbino from 1444 (and Duke from 1474) until his death in 1484, over any or all of the San Francisco Mayors over the past half century.

        By the way, what do you think of Kathleen Hartnett White’s letter to Greta Thunberg, Robert? Despite what you see as her lack of credentials to speak publicly on this issue, her education trump’s Greta’s failure to finish middle school. What makes you say she is almost completely ignorant of both history and science? Do you know her personally?

        More importantly, do you think she has made any valid points?

        • Robert Firth says:

          Thank you, Tim

          No, I don’t know her, but I looked her up and read a little of her work, hence my assessment And she does make valid points, though somehow overlooking that Greta has at least “walked the talk” on becoming closer to climate neutral. But the tone of the letter is a disaster: the strident, holier than thou attitude, its use of insult as a first resort, and its gratuitous verbal abuse of a teenage girl just trying to do her best. If the climate change movement has friends like these, it has no need of enemies.

          • Tim Groves says:

            I totally agree with you. I hadn’t heard of Kathleen Hartnett White before seeing her name here. But I found the tone of the letter insulting and unhelpful.

        • Robert Firth says:

          A small point, Tim, but Duke Federico da Montefeltro is a man I greatly admire. I’m glad you feel the same. I last visited San Francisco in 1994, and found it again one of the most liveable cities in the US. But even then… Here is an extract from the trip report on my return to home base:

          “But… the signs were clear, and the changes were bad. Rebuilding; and always a building designed for humans had been torn down, and one designed for cars or corporations erected. More abandoned places. More litter and dirt. More urine – what else is new? the stink of human urine is the hallmark of the postmodern urban United States – more graffiti. Beggars every hundred feet, even near the city centre. Three times, I saw fly posters, calling for volunteers. Volunteers for the local ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ patrol. Twice, I saw Guardian Angels. Guardian Angles on Geary Street! – Geary Street, the place on this continent closest to a civil society in the old sense, the sense of the polis, the urban community. And nowhere, never, did I see a policeman on foot, on patrol.”

          • When we visited Japan a couple of years ago, there was never a piece of trash on the street anywhere. Beggars were not apparent. There were lots and lots of police. Also, many uniformed school children on tours to shrines. They had assignments to be completed as they visited the shrines. The young people lined up wherever they went.

            I don’t know whether there was a lot of original thinking, but there certainly was a lot of order.

            • doomphd says:

              Gail, there are/were entire city parks in Tokyo populated by unemployed men. I’ve walked through them in the Shinjuku district back in 2002. Maybe they sorted that out, but when visiting Yokohama, near Tokyo, in 2016, the homeless were living, albeit neatly, under the overpasses. At first I thought it was construction, but it was pointed out by our guide that those were living habitations for the homeless. I think the Japanese have similar social problems, but are better at covering it up. Apparently drug use it rampant among them, as in the US.

            • I was wondering about whether the homeless were being kept somewhat away from tourists. I hadn’t realized that drug use was rampant among the homeless.

              Of course, Japan has a huge debt problem. A big reason for that debt seems to be the desire by Japan to provide jobs for people, doing something, even if it the job is close to unnecessary.

            • John Doyle says:

              What makes yo think Japan has a huge debt problem, Gail

            • As long as interest rates are negative, I suppose the government doesn’t have a problem. The people holding the debt have a problem, because they are effectively becoming poorer and poorer, helping to hold down world commodity prices. The system fails because of prices too low for producers, not too high for consumers.

          • Xabier says:

            The death-knell for the immigrant-dominated boroughs of London was the appearance of ‘Mothers Against Gun Crime’ posters. I rubbed my eyes when I first saw them.

            And the ubiquitous posters warning that ‘Violence against our staff will be prosecuted’ etc are very depressing – everywhere!

            • Robert Firth says:

              “Mothers against Gun Crime”. Typical bleeding heart liberal double think. Guns don’t commit crime; criminals commit crime. And what better place for crime to flourish that a city where guns are freely available on the black market, while ordinary citizens are kept defenceless?

              “The right to bear arms is the right to be free.”

    • Xabier says:

      Kathleen White is quite as mistaken in her analysis – and her very partial view of the past – as Greta Thunberg. It’s merely a caricature.

      To say that everyone except a few aristocrats ‘lived in depravity’, etc, before fossil fuels is just nonsense. The quality of life, as we would judge it, varied greatly from class to class, and region to region – even town to town. Comfort is always relative, not an absolute.

      What fossil fuels have given us – the privileged people of the advanced economies, rich or ‘poor’ – since WW2, above all is uniformity and convenience, with a great reduction, in fact near-elimination, of very harsh physical labour and freedom from infectious disease (for now….) And, principally, they have enabled the mass of people to move away from agriculture.

      Nor should we forget that the medieval aristocracy were engaged in almost constant warfare, with a very high mortality rate from wounds and infectious disease in camp: while an innkeeper grew fat and merry screwing his customers in town, eating the best food and drinking good wine….

      Dervla Murphy’s book on her trip across Ethiopia with a mule is a good read, and serves to show how even in a primitive economy the standard of living was regional: wretched people in shabby huts in one part of the country, happy plump peasants in stone-walled huts in another. ( I grew irritated, though, with the presumptious way the author would show up and expect people to house her and give her hospitality – some nerve!)

      Now we expect the same amenities, public services and standard of living across a whole region, and even if there is no longer any economic rationale for having a settlement there, as in the case of many post-industrial cities. And we can do that, more or less, so long as fossil fuels flow…..

  9. Harry McGibbs says:

    “As global investors get accustomed to a world deep in the red, they have repriced risk — which some argue is only inflating a bubble. Around $12 trillion of bonds have negative yields.

    “Anne Richards, CEO of Fidelity International, says negative bond yields are now of systemic concern.

    ““With central bank rates at their lowest levels and U.S. Treasuries at their richest valuations in 100 years, we appear to be close to bubble territory, but we don’t know how or when this bubble will burst.”

    “…“Debt is not a problem as long as it is sustainable,“ said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Natixis SA in Hong Kong, who previously worked for the European Central Bank and Bank of Spain. “The issue is whether the massive generation of debt since the global financial crisis is going to turn out to be profitable.””

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bloomberg.com/amp/news/articles/2019-12-01/the-way-out-for-a-world-economy-hooked-on-debt-yet-more-debt

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