Friday, August 24, 2012

The Economy is the Pied Piper

Those who claim that our economy can't afford to replace fossil fuels with renewables are mesmerising us with lies and leading us to a wasteland, just as the Pied Piper led the children of Hamelin off into the wilderness.
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
And honey-bees had lost their stings,
And horses were born with eagles' wings.
Robert Browning

The glittering promises of a joyous future based on coal, oil and natural gas are as real as the Piper's promise of sparrows as bright as peacocks.

Every credible economic advisor says that tip-toeing around carbon emission reduction will cost more in the long run. Here's what the very excellent Australian Treasury (the guys whose advice has made Australia the stand-out OECD economy) says. 
Early global action is cheaper than delayed action. For economies like Australia, deferring action on climate change will only lead to higher long-term costs as emission-intensive technology, processes and outputs are locked in.

Nevertheless, we have governments that seem to be mesmerised by a magical Piper as they continue to subsidise fossil fuel industries and give permits to new coal mines, oil wells, and gas wells as though fossil fuels are not destroying our future with their carbon emissions.

In Australia, we have a government that brought in a carbon price of $23/tonne based on a world where CO2-e emissions can rise to 550ppm. Yes, 550ppm, not the 450ppm that gives a 75% chance to keep average global warming within the 2°C guardrail, and not the 350ppm that many credible scientists recommend as the maximum for a safe climate.

When will they wake from sleep and understand that countries can't be run to the misbegotten tunes of economists? As we come ever closer to the absolute resource limits of a finite planet, some economists are beginning to realise that growth economics is a fantasy.

Tim Jackson, economics commissioner on the UK government's Sustainable Development Commission says,
The idea of a non-growing economy may be an anathema to an economist. But the idea of a continually growing economy is an anathema to an ecologist.

So, don't be taken in by those who say that the 'joyous land' of the future will be based on coal, oil and natural gas. Recognise them for what they are - persuasive folk who spin yarns about horses born with eagles' wings.


In the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Browning describes how government officials responded when the Piper claimed his fee for ridding the town of rats.
A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the Corporation too.
For council dinners made rare havoc
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar's biggest butt with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gipsy coat of red and yellow!
They refused to pay the thousand guilders and ended up paying a much higher price when the Piper led all their children away. Right now, we're acting like that Mayor and Corporation. We're not willing to pay the price of an immediate transition to a low-carbon economy. Our children and grandchildren will pay a very heavy price. As extreme weather events become daily fare, oceans acidify, and sea levels rise, many will pay with their lives.

We have to pay the piper, dance with the one who brought us.

We can't argue with Mother Nature, but we can, and must, side with ecologists against economists.


H/T David Oertel for noting that the economy is the Pied Piper.


Snippet from the Transformation tab.

China estimated it may spend $373 billion on projects for conserving energy and reducing emissions in the five years through 2015. The State Council announced a plan to reduce by 2015 the amount of energy it uses to produce every unit of gross domestic product by 16 percent from 2010 levels. In the five years through 2015, China is aiming for energy savings equal to 670 million tons of standard coal equivalent energy. Source: Bloomberg.


  1. Thanks for your visit to my blog. Yours is truly an inspiration to make my own more constructive (and use shorter sentences).

    Humanity needs to wake up to the fact that the future will inevitably be low-carbon. The question we seem to be inexplicably struggling with is whether or not we also want it to be low-human.

  2. Hello Martin, I was glad to find your blog. I really enjoy the multiplicity of voices raised in concern about the inadequate responses to climate change.

    I suspect that you and I have similar concerns about the seriousness of the situation, and the impact on future generations.

    I see that I have largely moved on from discussing whether or not we have a problem. I've become more solution focused. It's hard to read my Transformation page and still keep saying "Most people think it's not happening." It is blazingly clear that many/most govts and businesses are preparing for a low-carbon future. Suddenly, it seems that the die-hard deniers have been left behind in No Man's Land where their cries sound more like pleas for relevance than valid views that deserve attention.

  3. Thanks Gillian. Forgive the impersonal comment (I was not sure if your name was in the public domain). Lionel Smith has just left an interesting comment on my blog regarding current developments in climate denial: We do indeed, as per the Chinese proverb/curse, appear to be living in "interesting times"...

    BTW, how did you find my blog (i.e. which category/tag?)

  4. hmmm... I can't recall the pathway to finding your blog. I may have seen "Catastrophe of indifference" somewhere. Certainly, the phrase caught my attention. Or I may have arrived at "Prosperity without growth" because I was reading something on the Guardian about that.