L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

04 February 2008 Blog Home : February 2008 : Permalink

Economics for Environmentalists

A.k.a. sums for moonbats. Charlie Stross has a link to an excellent blog called Depleted Cranium where the authors expose lots of a bad science, statistics etc. in causes beloved of tree-huggers and others of that 'progressive' tribe. The best recent entry is the one Mr Stross linked to, the essay entitled The Top Ten Things Environmentalists Need to Learn.

This is not just a recommendation to "read the whole thing" it is also one to mark, learn and inwardly digest it too. And then go read the Skeptical Environmentalist and other related works too.

It is also interesting to read some of the comments on Stross's page as well as those at the blog itself. I think I could summarise the guidance for environmentalists as
  1. Don't try and break people's comfy lifestyle, come up with ways to improve it that are environmentally better and cheap.
  2. Scalability is an issue.
Scalability is something that a lot of people can't handle so it should be no surprise that environmentalists can't. Scalability involves doing the sums so that what works for individuals or in a community of 10 houses also works for a nation of 10 million or a planet of 1 billion. Generally speaking you can get almost anything to work at the 10 house scale. But getting the jump up from there is hard. One reason that it is hard is that the price will change as you scale up and sometimes the price doesn't decrease because of "economies of scale" the way we expect it to. Or rather it may decrease with economies of scale eventually but initially you are likely to increase demand significantly faster than you can increase supply and thus prices rise.

A good example of this is PV solar power. PV solar panels are made from fairly pure silicon and that comes, for the most part, from the same places that make the wafers to make computer chips. These silicon fabrication plants are big expensive things that take a few years to build and three or four years ago no one was anticipating an exponential growth in demand for solar panels - hence there is not enough capacity coming on stream now to make them. In another 2-3 years I expect we'll have masses of supply, especially if we see a slowdown in the world economy and particularly the demand for electronic gadgets, but right now we have a tight market.