Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The IPCC 1.5° C Report and the Ten-Hour Week

I read the IPCC summary for policy makers so you don't have to. You may have heard that CO2 emissions have to fall by 45% by 2030 to avoid the possibility of overshooting 1.5°C global warming. Actually emissions must decline by 45% from 2010 levels, which are already substantially lower than 2018 levels. The strategies for reducing emissions by that amount are quite complex and depend on hundreds of governments adopting scores of policies that they have no intention of adopting.

So, burn in climate catastrophe Hell, grandchildren!

But wait! Didn't Keynes write something long ago about the economic possibilities for our (their) grandchildren? "What can we reasonably expect the level of our economic life to be a hundred years hence?" Keynes asked that in 1930 -- which just happens to be a hundred years before the IPCC 2030 target date! What about the ecological survival possibilities for our grandchildren?

I have translated the IPCC report into terms compatible with Keynes's prognostications. Remember his prediction of a 15-hour week being "quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us"? How rapidly and how steeply would we have to reduce workweeks to achieve the 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, assuming no other changes in technology (or population)?

I've taken quite a few short-cuts to calculate these estimates. For starters, I only look at the twenty top emitters of CO2 from 2015. I assumed that emissions reductions targets for each country should be allocated on the basis of convergence toward a uniform emissions per capita standard, which would be 45% below average emissions per capita in 2010 (for the 20 countries).

Several countries among the top twenty currently emit fewer tons per capita of carbon dioxide than the hypothetical 2030 standard. These include Brazil, India and Indonesia. Mexico is currently emitting close to what its 2030 quota would be. So my estimates are concerned only with the remaining 16 countries.

To achieve emissions reduction through hours and population limitations alone would require annual reductions in working time of between one percent for Turkey and twelve percent for Saudi Arabia. Also near the top end are the U.S., Canada and Australia at around an eleven percent per annum reduction. With considerable rounding and a generous allowance for holidays and vacations, these reductions in annual hours would indicate a workweek in 2030 of around ten hours.

In the middle range, France and the U.K. could look forward to workweeks of around 20 hours a week. China, currently the world's largest emitter of CO2 would see its workweek cut to somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 hours per week.

Of course some of these reductions in working time could be reversed by de-industrialization -- that is the substitution of less energy intensive but more labor intensive methods of production. Hours reduction could also be moderated by transition to solar and wind energy, by energy conserving technological advances and by the introduction of carbon-capture technologies, including large-scale reforestation.

This hours reduction exercise is only meant to give a simplified view of the scale of transition required. But it also alludes to an earlier transition that consolidated the central place of fossil fuels in an expanding industrial economy.

In 1847, after decades of struggle by factory workers, the U.K. parliament passed the Ten Hours Bill. In response, manufacturers turned to the high-pressure steam engines to compensate for the loss of factory working time with faster, more powerful, more fuel efficient machinery that could do more work in less time. By the end of the 1850s, steam power had decisively eclipsed water power and high-pressure steam had surpassed the low-pressure Watt steam engine.

It was not the intention of the ten-hour legislation in the mid-19th century to deliver the "coup de grâce," to water power, as Andreas Malm termed it, but that was its effect. Might not a working time policy designed and intended to enforce a transition away from fossil fuels be worthy of serious consideration?


Anonymous said...

The essay is fascinating, but what you are asking is that less developed countries stay less developed forever and that needs to be considered. Even China which is developing quickly is not going to slow down since that would put the country at risk of US dominance or control and that would be intolerable.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the sadly most likely coming president of Brazil has promised to remove Brazil from the Paris climate accord.

Anonymous said...

The question then becomes, what to do to insure development of less developed countries? Slowing growth without a wealth transfer from developed countries is just not viable, no matter what I may hope.

Sandwichman said...

"what you are asking is that less developed countries stay less developed forever"

No, what I stipulated is that carbon dioxide emissions per capita would have to rapidly converge. If development of less developed countries depends on their emitting more carbon dioxide than everyone else, then yes they would have to stay "less developed forever" given that the alternative is that they would also stay less developed forever because of catastrophic climate change.

It's like the old joke, the mugger says, "your money or your life!" and the victim replies, "take my life, I'm saving my money for my old age."

Anonymous said...

Meaningful development in lesser developed countries means either wealth transfer from the most developed countries, which will not happen, or more energy intensive production and consumption. Cnina is becoming increasingly envirnmentally sound, but not so sound as to allow GDP growth below 6.5%.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was careless in proof-reading:

Meaningful development in lesser developed countries means either wealth transfer from the most developed countries, which will not happen, or more energy intensive production and consumption. China is becoming increasingly environmentally sound, but not so sound as to allow GDP growth below 6.5%.

Sandwichman said...

You are blurring the distinction between development and growth, anonymous. Growth, by definition means more of the same. Thus more consumption of fossil fuels. Development implies change, which could involve transition to other energy sources or even a more profound change such as taking a different path and definition of development that doesn't involve "more of the same."

Wouldn't it make more sense for China to LEARN from the mistakes made the U.S. and other rather than insisting on its right to REPEAT those mistakes?