This Eminent Scientist Vaclav Smil Says Climate Activists Need to Get Real – The New York Times

“The “really” in the title of Vaclav Smil’s newest book, “How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going,” is doing some heavy lifting. Implicit in the renowned energy scientist’s usage is the idea that most of us are uninformed or just plain wrong about the fundamentals of the global economy. He aims to correct that — to recenter materials rather than electronic flows of data as the bedrock of modern life — largely through examining what he calls the four pillars of modern civilization: cement, steel, plastics and ammonia. (The production and use of all four currently requires burning huge amounts of fossil carbon.) Which brings us back to that “really.” In the context of Smil’s book, which will be published May 10, the word is also a rebuke to those calling for rapid decarbonization in order to combat global warming. “I am not talking about what could be done,” says Smil, who is 78 and who counts Bill Gates among his many devotees. “I’m looking at the world as it is.” ”

David Lindsay: A sobering and depressing converstation about the climate crisis. We are really in trouble, and not doing very much about it.  Just a smattering of suggested solution, like a stipend on small efficient cars, and a tax on SUV’s. But, there was one comment that stood out, for clarity, and direction.


Interesting article, but an international comparison shows that the US can cut its emission to *half* without significantly impacting its standard of living.

Country,  CO2 emissions per  annual capita in tons,    Carbon Tax

US 16.06  No (as in No Carbon Tax

United Kingdom 5.48 Yes  (as Yes, they have a carbon tax)

France 4.97 Yes

Spain 5.41 Yes

Sweden 4.26 Yes

Americans emit four times as much green house gases per person than Sweden. But the Swedes live just as well as Americans, and by some measures such as cost of education, social safety nets etc better And a chief reason for it, is that Sweden has the highest carbon tax in the world. And yet, there is NO carbon tax in the Biden plan. Nor does the word appear in the interview. To an economist, this is strange Biden’s plan is to reduce US emissions by 2030 to half of what they were in 2005 (19.59); that would 9.795 tons per capita in 2030 TWICE what Swedes emit now. Clearly, that is can be done – if US voters agree. It is the attitude of US voters that is the obstacle. And the solution is an education campaign on the scale of that essentially eliminated cigarette smoking in the US Start there

228 Recommended

You Asked: How Much Does the U.S. Subsidize Renewable Energy Versus Fossil Fuels? – You Asked

You Asked” is a series where Earth Institute experts tackle reader questions on science and sustainability. In honor of Climate Week NYC and the Covering Climate Now initiative, we’re focusing on your questions about climate change.

The following question was submitted through our Instagram page by one of our followers. The answer was provided by Peter Marsters.

Could you please compare US subsidies for coal and fossil fuels to US subsidies for renewables, annually over the last 10 years?

Peter Marsters Headshot

Peter Marsters is a research associate at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy. He studies the policy levers and economic outcomes of deep decarbonization and carbon pricing.

At its most basic, this question gets to what, as a nation, do we want to encourage in our energy system beyond what the market produces. Though the answer might seem cut and dried, it’s not as simple as you might think. For example, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program aids households struggling to pay for winter heating, but it encourages carbon-intensive fuel oil. Wind and solar investment and production tax credits encourage more renewable energy on the grid, but they also cost billions of dollars per year. As you might imagine, each subsidy may have different goals, ranging from helping low-income households, to encouraging domestic production of oil and gas, to getting new technologies to scale. The costs and benefits of these goals are sometimes hard to quantify and the topic gets very political, very quickly.”

DL: Go see the graph in the original article. If accurate, subsidies have changed dramatically away from fossil fuels to green energy.

Source: You Asked: How Much Does the U.S. Subsidize Renewable Energy Versus Fossil Fuels? – You Asked

Yuval Noah Harari Believes This Simple Story Can Save the Planet – The New York Times

“With the publication in the United States of his best-selling “Sapiens” in 2015, the Israeli historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari arrived at the top rank of public intellectuals, a position he consolidated with “Homo Deus” (2017) and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” (2018). Harari’s key theme is the idea that human society has largely been driven by our species’s capacity to believe in what he calls fictions: those things whose power is derived from their existence in our collective imaginations, whether they be gods or nations; our belief in them allows us to cooperate on a societal scale. The broad sweep of Harari’s writing, which encompasses the prehistoric past and a dark far-off future, has turned him into a bit of a walking inkblot test. “The general misunderstandings of me,” says Harari, 45, co-author of the recently published “Sapiens: A Graphic History, Volume 2” (the latest in a series of graphic-novel adaptations of his work), “are that I’m the prophet of doom and then there’s this opposite view that I think everything is wonderful.” Both, of course, might be true. “Once the books are out, the ideas are out of your hands,” he says.”

Ezra Klein| The Economic Mistake Democrats Are Finally Confronting – The New York Times

“But before we get to that, I want to widen the definition of “supply,” a dull word within which lurks thrilling possibilities. Supply-side progressivism shouldn’t just fix the problems of the present; it should hasten the advances of the future. A problem of our era is there’s too little utopian thinking, but one worthy exception is Aaron Bastani’s “Fully Automated Luxury Communism,” a leftist tract that puts the technologies in development right now — artificial intelligence, renewable energy, asteroid mining, plant and cell-based meats, and genetic editing — at the center of a post-work, post-scarcity vision.

“What if everything could change?” he asks. “What if, more than simply meeting the great challenges of our time — from climate change to inequality and aging — we went far beyond them, putting today’s problems behind us like we did before with large predators and, for the most part, illness. What if, rather than having no sense of a different future, we decided history hadn’t actually begun?”

Bastani’s vision is bracing because it insists that those of us who believe in a radically fairer, gentler, more sustainable world have a stake in bringing forward the technologies that will make that world possible. That is a political question as much as a technological one: Those same technologies could become accelerators of inequality and want if they’re not embedded in thoughtful policies and institutions. But what Bastani sees clearly is that the world we should want requires more than redistribution. It requires inventions and advances that render old problems obsolete and new possibilities manifold.

Climate change is the most pressing example. If the Biden administration gave every American a check to transition to renewables, the policy would fail, because we haven’t built that much renewable capacity, to say nothing of the supply chain needed to deploy and maintain it. In a world where two-thirds of emissions are now coming from middle-income countries like China and India, the only way for humanity to both address climate change and poverty is to invent our way to clean energy that is plentiful and cheap, and then spend enough to rapidly deploy it.”

Peter Coy | ‘The Most Important Number You’ve Never Heard Of’ – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“There’s a good reason climate change is called the policy problem from hell. Several good reasons, actually, but let’s start with a big one: Fighting climate change forces society to spend real money today to reap benefits that will occur over hundreds or even thousands of years. We’re not set up to be that farsighted, either financially or mentally.

Ideally, we would know precisely how much damage each ton of greenhouse gas emissions does to the environment (we don’t). We would know how much each dollar of economic output contributes to emissions, now and in the future. We would know how quickly the population and the economy will grow, including how rich we’ll all be in the future. Does it make sense for us to deprive ourselves today in order to make the planet more habitable for our great-great-grandchildren? If you answer yes, how much should we tighten our belts — a little or a lot?

Trying to answer such questions is “totally ridiculous and no one in their right mind would attempt to do it,” James Stock, a Harvard University economist, said on Sept. 9 at a virtual conference put on by the Brookings Institution.

Ridiculous, yes, but also essential, as Stock recognizes. There is no alternative. Stock moderated a session on a new paper that attempts to calculate the social cost of carbon — that is, the economic harm done by each incremental ton of carbon dioxide. That paper, which draws on the wisdom of the world’s top experts in economics, climatology and other fields, aims to inform the Biden administration, which has promised to announce its own calculation of the social cost of carbon in January.”

Dieter Helm – Wikipedia

I heard Dieter Helm speak at a Yale forum today on zoom. Climate Change and Global Development: Net-Zero after Covid-19?
“The seventh in a series of virtual panel discussions, The Yale Development Dialogues – a collaboration between the Yale Economic Growth Center, the South Asian Studies Council at Yale MacMillan Center, and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.”

Sir Dieter Robin Helm CBE (born 11 November 1956) is a British economist and academic.


Helm is Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford, and Fellow in Economics at New College, Oxford.[1][2][3]

He was a member of the Economics Advisory Group to the British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and Chair of the Natural Capital Committee.[1][4][5]

His research interests include energy, utilities, and the environment.[6]

Helm was knighted in the 2021 New Year Honours for services to the environment, energy and utilities policy.[7]

The Carbon Crunch[edit]

In his book The Carbon Crunch (2012) and in print media, Dieter Helm criticised efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through current regulation and government intervention, and the deployment of renewable energy, particularly wind power.[8][9][10][11]

He recommended establishing a carbon tax and carbon border tax, increased funding for research and development, and an increased use of gas for electricity generation to substitute coal and to act as a bridge to new technologies.[12]



As author

  • Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change (September 2020), Harper Collins, ISBN 9780008404468.
  • Green and Prosperous Land (March 2019), William Collins, ISBN 978-0008304478.
  • Burn Out: The Endgame for Fossil Fuels (March 2017), Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300225624.
  • Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet (May 2015), Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300210989.
  • The Carbon Crunch: How We’re Getting Climate Change Wrong – and How to Fix it (September 2012), Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300186598.
  • Energy, the State, and the Market: British Energy Policy since 1979 (February 2004), revised edition, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199270743.

Source: Dieter Helm – Wikipedia

Climate Change Could Cut World Economy by $23 Trillion in 2050, Insurance Giant Warns – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — Rising temperatures are likely to reduce global wealth significantly by 2050, as crop yields fall, disease spreads and rising seas consume coastal cities, a major insurance company warned Thursday, highlighting the consequences if the world fails to quickly slow the use of fossil fuels.

The effects of climate change can be expected to shave 11 percent to 14 percent off global economic output by 2050 compared with growth levels without climate change, according to a report from Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest providers of insurance to other insurance companies. That amounts to as much as $23 trillion in reduced annual global economic output worldwide as a result of climate change.

Some Asian nations could have one-third less wealth than would otherwise be the case, the company said. “Our analysis shows the potential costs that economies could face should governments fail to act more decisively on climate,” said Patrick Saner, who is in charge of global macroeconomic forecasts for Swiss Re.

The projections come as world leaders gather Thursday and Friday for a virtual climate summit in Washington hosted by President Biden, who has urged countries to do more to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Biden is expected to pledge to cut the United States’ emissions by about half by 2030.   . . . “

Opinion | New York State’s Divestment Threat Is a Victory for Climate Activists – By Bill McKibben – The New York Times

Mr. McKibben is a founder of the climate advocacy group and a leader of fossil fuel divestment efforts.

Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

“New York State’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, announced on Wednesday that the state would begin divesting its $226 billion employee pension fund from gas and oil companies if they can’t come up with a legitimate business plan within four years that is aligned with the goals of the Paris climate accord. Those investments have historically added up to roughly $12 billion.

The entire portfolio will be decarbonized over the next two decades. “Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 will put the fund in a strong position for the future mapped out in the Paris Agreement,” he said in a statement.” . . .

Thank you Bill McKibbon.

Here is denier comment, followed by my response to it:

Jonathan Katz
St. Louis56m ago

It may be a victory for climate activists, but it’s a defeat for humanity. Fossil fuels are the reason we aren’t living like medieval peasants in cold smoky (burning biofuels) huts. Climate change is real, and anthropogenic, but it isn’t hurting us. Net, it is probably beneficial, extending growing seasons, making it easier and cheaper to keep warm in the winter, enriching the atmosphere with CO_2 that plants need, and increasing rainfall in arid regions. I am a professor of Physics, and understand much more about greenhouse gases than Mr. McKibben. I am interested in the welfare of humanity, not in McKibben’s mystical pre-industrial Eden.

3 Replies7 Recommend

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | Pending Approval
@Jonathan Katz You start off so well, I didn’t expect you to argue that we are not being hurt. Have you spoken to anyone from the Gilbert Islands in the South Pacific. One Virginia think tank that does work for the Pentagon reported in the last year or two, that Iran will probably run out of water in the next 50 years. About 3 years ago, Johannesburg, South Africa almost ran out of water completely. The UN High Commission on Refugees estimates that we have 30 million climate change refugees now, and several hundred million in a a the next 30 years. (We do need to refresh or check these numbers, but they are staggering.) God bless you Sir, but beware of Dante’s inferno. 7.7 billion people now on the planet, Scientists are saying we are the meteor causing the 6th extinction of species, going on now.
David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion” and blogs at

Federal Report Warns of Financial Havoc From Climate Change – By Coral Davenport and Jeanna Smialek – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — A report commissioned by federal regulators overseeing the nation’s commodities markets has concluded that climate change threatens U.S. financial markets, as the costs of wildfires, storms, droughts and floods spread through insurance and mortgage markets, pension funds and other financial institutions.

“A world wracked by frequent and devastating shocks from climate change cannot sustain the fundamental conditions supporting our financial system,” concluded the report, “Managing Climate Risk in the Financial System,” which was requested last year by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and set for release on Wednesday morning.

Those observations are not entirely new, but they carry new weight coming with the imprimatur of the regulator of complex financial instruments like futures, swaps and other derivatives that help fix the price of commodities like corn, oil and wheat. It is the first wide-ranging federal government study focused on the specific impacts of climate change on Wall Street.

Perhaps most notable is that it is being published at all. The Trump administration has suppressed, altered or watered down government science around climate change as it pushes an aggressive agenda of environmental deregulation that it hopes will spur economic growth.

The new report asserts that doing nothing to avert climate change will do the opposite.

If People Grasped the Full Cost of Cars, They Might Make Greener Choices

“If more consumers understood the total costs of car ownership it could promote a shift to cleaner, lower-emission alternatives, according to a new paper co-authored by an economist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).

In a survey of more than 6,000 consumers in Germany, researchers found that people underestimate the total cost of vehicle ownership by €221 ($240) per month on average. Although they correctly estimated their spending on fuel on average, they “severely” underestimated all other major expenditures, including depreciation, repairs, taxes, and insurance. The misjudgment amounts to 52 percent of the actual costs.

We discuss a set of potential solutions. For example, rather than having a label on new cars only showing the future fuel costs, the label could include the full expected monthly costs of ownership.
— Kenneth Gillingham
If these consumers were aware of the true costs, the researchers then calculate, it could reduce the number of cars in Germany by as much as 17.6 million, or 37 percent.

“If people underestimate how much it costs to own a car, they are more likely to own cars, rather than use other, cleaner, modes of transportation,” says Kenneth Gillingham, an associate professor of environmental and energy economics at F&ES and corresponding author of the paper. “And because repair costs are higher for conventional gasoline-powered cars, the underestimation could affect the uptake of electric vehicles as well.”

The researchers suggest that these miscalculations can be used as leverage in creating new policies that promote cleaner transportation choices — for instance, car sharing, alternative-fuel vehicles, public transport, biking or walking.”

Source: If People Grasped the Full Cost of Cars, They Might Make Greener Choices