On Burning Carbon: The Case for Renaming GDP to GDB

Burning Carbon

Following is a single sentence description of our predicament that includes a simple proposal for how we might increase awareness and shift behavior in a positive direction.

Given near perfect historic correlation,

and sound physics to expect causation,

between energy consumption and wealth,

more specifically US$1 (1990) = 10 mW;

and given over 85% of energy comes from burning carbon,

including ancient (oil, coal, gas), old (wood), and recent (biomass),

and the remaining 15% of energy requires burning carbon

for materials, construction, maintenance, and energy distribution,

for example, cement from natural gas, steel from coal, and diesel

machines to mine and transport the concrete, steel, and uranium,

required to build and operate hydroelectric dams and nuclear plants;

and given wind and solar can’t scale up to replace 18 TW of burning carbon,

which, for comparison, is 300 billion 60 watt bulbs, about 40 per person,

because of low power density, intermittency, and high storage cost,

and because wind and solar requires burning carbon

for materials, construction, maintenance, and energy distribution,

for example, concrete, steel, copper, glass, silicon, and composites,

and diesel trucks to transport, install, and maintain the equipment,

and diesel machines to build and maintain the access roads,

and because wind and solar equipment wears out and must be replaced

after 25 years, when there will be little remaining oil to do so;

and given that most do not understand the tight dependencies between:

burning carbon to create the wealth we enjoy and want more of, nor

burning carbon to make the nitrogen fertilizer our food requires, nor

burning carbon to pump the water we drink and irrigate crops with, nor

burning carbon for tractors and combines that permit us to specialize, nor

burning carbon to transport everything we depend on to survive, nor

burning carbon to make the concrete, steel, and glass we live in, nor

burning carbon for the vacations, recreation, and internet we enjoy, nor

burning carbon and population growth from 1 to 8 billion, nor

burning carbon and climate change that threatens our children, nor

burning carbon and sea level rise that threatens many cities, nor

burning carbon and aerosols that mask 0.5+C additional warming, nor

burning carbon and ocean acidification that is killing coral reefs etc., nor

burning carbon and the sixth great extinction, nor

burning carbon and the collapse of fisheries, nor

burning carbon and rising ground level ozone that is killing trees;

and given that most are not aware of, or preparing for,

the coming shitstorm, caused by

an energy price high enough to cover extraction costs,

that are rising 10+% per year due to depleting low-cost reserves,

is an energy price too high to permit economic growth,

and without growth, debt defaults causing a depression;

so we conjure growth with new money,

created out of thin air by increasing debt,

which is a useful trick when real growth is possible,

but a deadly trick when there are limits to growth,

because it is equivalent to eating seed corn;

and this debt is exploding to unprecedented levels worldwide,

because it now takes more than $3 of debt for $1 of growth,

with total debt about US$300 trillion, triple that in 2000,

forcing central banks to print money to keep interest rates low,

0% interest is not normal, as all grown-ups know;

and this free money has created an illusion of oil abundance,

because fracking companies can operate despite losing money,

meaning much oil will disappear when interest rates rise;

and this free money has created bubbles of unprecedented size,

in stocks, bonds, real estate, education, healthcare, etc.,

that must eventually burst and revert through their mean,

hurting even the innocents who did not participate;

thus printing money will someday cause suffering and social unrest,

via a deflationary or hyperinflationary monetary collapse,

depending on how politicians respond,

from a much higher and harmful elevation than it needed to be,

because there is no such thing as a free lunch,

and we chose not to acknowledge limits and to live within our means,

despite being warned of the dangers since at least 1972,

even though our means compared to most of history are excellent,

for example, a poor Canadian lives better than a pharaoh;

with our real wealth of net energy per person falling,

so falls our productivity,

because everything we do uses energy,

for example, 1 barrel of oil does 4.5 years of manual labor,

so $80 of oil replaces $120,000 of minimum wages,

and we burn about 33 billion barrels of oil per year,

meaning each of our 7 billion is helped by 20 energy slaves,

plus a similar number from coal, gas, hydro, and nuclear;

and because we’ve already captured most efficiencies,

so falls our real incomes,

for all except the upper 1%, which profit from money printing;

and in addition to using debt,

we further masked declining real incomes,

by lowering the cost and price of manufactured items,

by consolidating shopping at Walmart and Amazon,

and by moving good paying manufacturing jobs to poorer countries,

which made us more vulnerable to supply chain disruptions,

because everything we need is now made elsewhere,

and because trucks, trains, and ships all burn diesel oil,

and cannot practically be made to run on anything else;

and this loss of good jobs further lowered incomes,

making citizens angry, for example, Brexit and Trump;

and if citizens continue to not understand the cause of decline,

nor the plentiful reasons to be thankful,

they may someday support a despot, like Hitler,

who was supported because of harm from Weimar money printing,

and who blamed other tribes and promised war for gain;

but unlike past wars that rewarded victors with booty,

for example, the US empire and its reserve currency,

the next war will return few rewards to the victor,

because we’ve already burned most of the good booty,

and we’ll burn a lot more waging war,

and we’ll risk annihilation with nuclear weapons,

that a desperate country without oil and hope may use;

so it’s therefore a really good idea for citizens to understand,

that geology, biology, and thermodynamics caused our predicament;

so citizens can’t be persuaded to blame another person or tribe;

and so citizens see the blessing for their children of burning less carbon,

because a 1C rise caused the climate problems we’ve already experienced,

and another 1C rise is baked in no matter what we do,

because CO2 passed 400 ppm, and is still rising,

meaning our great, great, great, great, grandchildren

already have to contend with at least 10 meters of sea level rise,

and we’re on a catastrophic path to another 2C rise, or more,

meaning most humans in a few generations will not survive,

unless we soon mostly stop burning carbon,

which depletion will force anyway, unfortunately too late;

and so citizens see the wisdom of using some remaining carbon wealth,

to build a softer landing zone,

in preparation for a world with local food and local economies,

and much less energy, wealth, complexity, and population;

and given that our culture, leaders, and news,

focus almost exclusively on GDP growth,

which, as we’ve seen, is actually growth in burning carbon;

and given our need for constant reinforcement,

to fight our human tendency to deny unpleasant realities,

which blocks awareness, discussion, and action,

on every issue that matters, for example,

climate change, peak oil, and over-population,

all symptoms of overshoot,

which the Green Party doesn’t even mention;

we should seize a simple public education opportunity,

by renaming

GDP (Gross Domestic Product)

to

GDB¹ (Gross Domestic Burn);

so every time we discuss the economy we worship,

we are reminded how fortunate we are to be alive,

on an extraordinarily rare and beautiful planet,

with extraordinarily rare and beautiful eukaryotic life,

with an extraordinarily rare and intelligent brain,

during the brief 100 year period, out of 4 billion,

with abundant burning carbon,

and the many reasons for

thankfulness and temperance².

 

¹I first heard the term “GDB” in a presentation by Nate Hagens.

²tem·per·ance /ˈtemp(ə)rəns/ (noun): moderation or self-restraint in action, consumption, statement, etc.

A good place to go next is You know you are in trouble when…

 

Learn Not to Burn

 

Or, if you prefer to read as a paragraph…

Given near perfect historic correlation, and sound physics to expect causation, between energy consumption and wealth, more specifically US$1 (1990) = 10 mW; and given over 85% of energy comes from burning carbon, including ancient (oil, coal, gas), old (wood), and recent (biomass), and the remaining 15% of energy requires burning carbon for materials, construction, maintenance, and energy distribution, for example, cement from natural gas, steel from coal, and diesel machines to mine and transport the concrete, steel, and uranium, required to build and operate hydroelectric dams and nuclear plants; and given wind and solar can’t scale up to replace 18 TW of burning carbon, which, for comparison, is 300 billion 60 watt bulbs, about 40 per person, because of low power density, intermittency, and high storage cost, and because wind and solar requires burning carbon for materials, construction, maintenance, and energy distribution, for example, concrete, steel, copper, glass, silicon, and composites, and diesel trucks to transport, install, and maintain the equipment, and diesel machines to build and maintain the access roads, and because wind and solar equipment wears out and must be replaced after 25 years, when there will be little remaining oil to do so; and given that most do not understand the tight dependencies between: burning carbon to create the wealth we enjoy and want more of, nor burning carbon to make the nitrogen fertilizer our food requires, nor burning carbon to pump the water we drink and irrigate crops with, nor burning carbon for tractors and combines that permit us to specialize, nor burning carbon to transport everything we depend on to survive, nor burning carbon to make the concrete, steel, and glass we live in, nor burning carbon for the vacations, recreation, and internet we enjoy, nor burning carbon and population growth from 1 to 8 billion, nor burning carbon and climate change that threatens our children, nor burning carbon and sea level rise that threatens many cities, nor burning carbon and aerosols that mask 0.5+C additional warming, nor burning carbon and ocean acidification that is killing coral reefs etc., nor burning carbon and the sixth great extinction, nor burning carbon and the collapse of fisheries, nor burning carbon and rising ground level ozone that is killing trees; and given that most are not aware of, or preparing for, the coming shitstorm, caused by an energy price high enough to cover extraction costs, that are rising 10+% per year due to depleting low-cost reserves, is an energy price too high to permit economic growth, and without growth, debt defaults causing a depression; so we conjure growth with new money, created out of thin air by increasing debt, which is a useful trick when real growth is possible, but a deadly trick when there are limits to growth, because it is equivalent to eating seed corn; and this debt is exploding to unprecedented levels worldwide, because it now takes more than $3 of debt for $1 of growth, with total debt about US$300 trillion, triple that in 2000, forcing central banks to print money to keep interest rates low, 0% interest is not normal, as all grown-ups know; and this free money has created an illusion of oil abundance, because fracking companies can operate despite losing money, meaning much oil will disappear when interest rates rise; and this free money has created bubbles of unprecedented size, in stocks, bonds, real estate, education, healthcare, etc., that must eventually burst and revert through their mean, hurting even the innocents who did not participate; thus printing money will someday cause suffering and social unrest, via a deflationary or hyperinflationary monetary collapse, depending on how politicians respond, from a much higher and harmful elevation than it needed to be, because there is no such thing as a free lunch, and we chose not to acknowledge limits and to live within our means, despite being warned of the dangers since at least 1972, even though our means compared to most of history are excellent, for example, a poor Canadian lives better than a pharaoh; with our real wealth of net energy per person falling, so falls our productivity, because everything we do uses energy, for example, 1 barrel of oil does 4.5 years of manual labor, so $80 of oil replaces $120,000 of minimum wages, and we burn about 33 billion barrels of oil per year, meaning each of our 7 billion is helped by 20 energy slaves, plus a similar number from coal, gas, hydro, and nuclear; and because we’ve already captured most efficiencies, so falls our real incomes, for all except the upper 1%, which profit from money printing; and in addition to using debt, we further masked declining real incomes, by lowering the cost and price of manufactured items, by consolidating shopping at Walmart and Amazon, and by moving good paying manufacturing jobs to poorer countries, which made us more vulnerable to supply chain disruptions, because everything we need is now made elsewhere, and because trucks, trains, and ships all burn diesel oil, and cannot practically be made to run on anything else; and this loss of good jobs further lowered incomes, making citizens angry, for example, Brexit and Trump; and if citizens continue to not understand the cause of decline, nor the plentiful reasons to be thankful, they may someday support a despot, like Hitler, who was supported because of harm from Weimar money printing, and who blamed other tribes and promised war for gain; but unlike past wars that rewarded victors with booty, for example, the US empire and its reserve currency, the next war will return few rewards to the victor, because we’ve already burned most of the good booty, and we’ll burn a lot more waging war, and we’ll risk annihilation with nuclear weapons, that a desperate country without oil and hope may use; so it’s therefore a really good idea for citizens to understand, that geology, biology, and thermodynamics caused our predicament; so citizens can’t be persuaded to blame another person or tribe; and so citizens see the blessing for their children of burning less carbon, because a 1C rise caused the climate problems we’ve already experienced, and another 1C rise is baked in no matter what we do, because CO2 passed 400 ppm, and is still rising, meaning our great, great, great, great, grandchildren already have to contend with at least 10 meters of sea level rise, and we’re on a catastrophic path to another 2C rise, or more, meaning most humans in a few generations will not survive, unless we soon mostly stop burning carbon, which depletion will force anyway, unfortunately too late; and so citizens see the wisdom of using some remaining carbon wealth, to build a softer landing zone, in preparation for a world with local food and local economies, and much less energy, wealth, complexity, and population; and given that our culture, leaders, and news, focus almost exclusively on GDP growth, which, as we’ve seen, is actually growth in burning carbon; and given our need for constant reinforcement, to fight our human tendency to deny unpleasant realities, which blocks awareness, discussion, and action, on every issue that matters, for example, climate change, peak oil, and over-population, all symptoms of overshoot, which the Green Party doesn’t even mention; we should seize a simple public education opportunity, by renaming GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to GDB¹ (Gross Domestic Burn); so every time we discuss the economy we worship, we are reminded how fortunate we are to be alive, on an extraordinarily rare and beautiful planet, with extraordinarily rare and beautiful eukaryotic life, with an extraordinarily rare and intelligent brain, during the brief 100 year period, out of 4 billion, with abundant burning carbon, and the many reasons for thankfulness and temperance².

 

12 thoughts on “On Burning Carbon: The Case for Renaming GDP to GDB”

      1. Yes, it’s even more thorough and accurate now, but, unfortunately, it’s also overwhelming. One of the lessons I’m trying to learn myself these days is the importance of limits and constraints and saying more by saying less.

        In any event, keep up the great work!

        ~ M

        Like

  1. Well put! It seems to me that the oligarchs went from controlling resources, to controlling production, to “making nothing-selling everything” to create, control, and tap into any and all flows of money and syphon off as much as possible. Whats next?

    Like

      1. You too believe in a reset? Somehow I can not work that one out, try as I might. Do you know of any articles or blogs that flesh this out a bit?

        Like

        1. I don’t spend much time thinking about the details of the coming reset because I think it is inherently unpredicatble due to politics and emotions. For example, as energy declines we know we will become poorer. But this can occur via deflation (less money) or inflation (lots of worthless money) and which path we take is a political choice.

          What we can say with certainty is that global wealth, complexity, energy, food, and population will all decrease. Some regions of the world may do better than others.

          To explore further I might start with David Korowicz’s Trade Off,
          http://www.davidkorowicz.com/publications

          or Paul Chefurka’s essays
          http://www.paulchefurka.ca/

          or Jack Alpert’s videos
          https://www.youtube.com/user/RapidPopDecline/videos

          In case you missed it, all of the best resources I am aware of are listed in the Resources section of the right hand column of this blog.

          Like

  2. How Energy Flow Shapes The Evolution of Life – Professor Nick Lane

    GreshamCollege
    Published on Feb 14, 2018

    “Nick Lane will explore the importance of energy flow in shaping life from its very origins to the flamboyant complexity around us, and ask whether energy flow would direct evolution down a similar path on other planets. The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:
    https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/how-energy-flow-shapes-the-evolution-of-life

    Gresham College has been giving free public lectures since 1597. This tradition continues today with all of our five or so public lectures a week being made available for free download from our website. There are currently over 2,000 lectures free to access or download from the website.”

    Like

    1. Yes, our fiat system is permitting us to use debt to pretend we don’t have an energy problem. We’ve now boxed ourselves in by creating a huge debt bomb that will explode when growth stops.

      Like

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