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Friday
Dec102010

Chasing Rainbows

My review of Tim Worstall's book, Chasing Rainbows, has been slightly delayed, the reason being that my copy has been purloined by the missus. Now this is a rather remarkable thing, as 'er indoors more normally reads Aga-sagas and other genres of girl book. Economics just isn't really her thing.

But that's the nice thing about Chasing Rainbows - as a primer in environmental economics, it's wonderfully approachable, with Tim's good humour and good sense suffusing the whole thing. It's also admirably concise, running to little over a hundred pages, so few people are likely to be frightened off on that score.

It runs the gamut of current green concerns, from global warming to recycling and sneaks in all manner of economic education along the way. It should probably be gifted to every teenager as they leave the school system, by way of cleansing them of the years of indoctrination and idiocy with which they will have been drilled for the previous ten years. Even Lord Marland would be able to follow it. He would certainly derive considerable benefit from reading it. If he ever again describes job creation as a benefit of one of his government's madcap schemes, he deserves to be slapped round the head with a copy of Tim's magnum opus. On this score one might wish Tim had written a few more chapters...

Either way, it's a little gem, it really is.

 

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Reader Comments (31)

Gifted? Gifted!!! What is this verb "To gift"?

Interesting review though - you've probably generated a sale or two to me. I will be *giving* a few copies away - as *gifts* :^) .

Dec 10, 2010 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterRay

It's sitting on my desk, after taking an extremely long time to arrive (Amazon claims stock shortage or some such).

I enjoy his blog and from dipping in, the book looks to be as sharp, combative and on-the-money as you would expect.

If only I had time to do some coherent reading.

Dec 10, 2010 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Since the Bish has had his review copy confiscated, here's a teaser.

On the very first page of the introduction, Worstall neatly skewers the endlessly-repeated nonsense about 'green jobs'.

He reminds us that talking up the number of jobs 'created' by renewables is emphasising a negative: jobs are a cost of a plan, not a benefit.

So now you know: every time Huhne gets up on his hind legs and starts wittering about 'creating' tens of thousands of 'green jobs' he is illustrating two important facts:

1. Renewables are very expensive.

2. He doesn't understand basic economics.

He goes on to discuss Bastiat and the broken window but the above alone already justifies the cover price.

Must.put.it.down.now.

And work.

Dec 10, 2010 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

almost finished hockey stick illusion. must say, bish makes 450 pages go pretty quick. great book.
anyway, onto amazon........

Dec 10, 2010 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered Commentermark

"Gifted? Gifted!!! What is this verb "To gift"?" It's an entirely commonplace verb in Scottish Standard English - so The Bish may have become familiar with it.

Dec 10, 2010 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Ray -
I think we should verb more nouns.

Dec 10, 2010 at 1:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

Incidentally and a propos, I finally received and read my copy of HSI.

Your Grace, it was tremendous, infuriating, enlightening reading, and I found myself wishing I'd managed to read it sooner. If it's not too grandiose a statement, you have done the world a favour.

Now, when's the sequel coming out? You know, the one where Mike Mann gets strapped to a table, Goldfinger-style, and left on a beach for the rising waters to drown him very very slowly...?

[BH adds: Thank you Mr E. Not imminently. I think the story has to play out for a while...]

Dec 10, 2010 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterMr Eugenides

Bishop Hill

This thread offers me the opportunity to recycle a reference to
an impressively powerful article on the economic issues re
alternative energy sources that I posted on WUWT on 19 November:

'Anthony

Here’s a businessman’s take on Scotland’s current energy policy
(Rupert Soames of Aggreko):
http://www.aggreko.com/media-centre/press-releases/speech-to-scottish-parliament.aspx

The contrast with economist Lord Stern’s approach to current US
energy policy is total.

[Acknowledgements for the URL to 'rentalpower' commenting in
Roger Pielke Jr's blog]'


Stephen Prower
Stevenage

Friday 10 December 2010

Dec 10, 2010 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Prower

Does he address any of the resource depletion memes?

Dec 10, 2010 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

Frosty

Just in case you're referring to Rupert Soames rather than Tim
Worstall, in courtesy I should reply to you that although I had
no problems with Rupert Soames' speech, which was delivered to a
lay audience in lay language, I am afraid that highly technical
terms such as 'resource depletion memes' are above my head.


Stephen Prower

Friday 10 December 2010

Dec 10, 2010 at 2:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Prower

Let us form a Society of Friends to place a copy in every hotel and motel room around the World that the truth be known. (Life was so much easier not too many years ago;-)

Dec 10, 2010 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterPascvaks

"Gifted" is certainly a verb, gifted to use by the Vikings.

--gift tr.v. gift·ed, gift·ing, gifts. 1. Usage Problem. To present with a gift. 2. To endow with. [Middle English, from Old Norse. See ghabh- below.]

It would make a wonderful Christmas gift for your children. Not as much fun as a new game for the X box, or as wanted as a iPhone, but definitely much better for them.

It is not yet available in the US, according to Amazon. You would think Stacey's had learn their lesson about printing in the US by now after their fiasco with HSI

Dec 10, 2010 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

As a matter of fact I recently left HSI at Sandy Lane Hotel on Barbados in the hope that it will be picked up by Simon Cowell over Christmas. I await the new seasons of X-factor, America got talent etc with bated breath.............

Dec 10, 2010 at 3:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterH

The Germans have a "gift" too. Always had a feeling the English took it from the Germans who learned it from the Greeks.

Dec 10, 2010 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterPascvaks

Resource depletion is dealt with, yes.

Partly by pointing out that humans don't consume resources, we create them. But if that's too much for people then by pointing out that while there are resource limits (the number of copper atoms for example) they're so huge that they're way, way, beyond the more normal economic and technological limits.

Finally, even if you think we do have real, immediate, resource limits, this just means that you're arguing in favour of a market economy: for it is market (not planned) economies that grow by adding more value to resources rather than by just consuming more of those resources.

Dec 10, 2010 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Worstall

Tim, you should have insisted on Josh's cover.

Dec 10, 2010 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

If gift is not a verb how could anyone regift?

Dec 10, 2010 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterCoalsoffire

Until humans start to "create" more oil resources in order to meet growing demand, or one recognises the implications of an imminent shortfall (IEA has light crude peaking in 06) in production, any economic predictions are irrelevant IMO.

does this mean I am "arguing in favour of a market economy"? I am neither for or against, the reality is a market economy is it not, unless counting subsidies against that definition. As I understand the argument, supply gap means increased oil prices, with an economy so dependant on oil, this crucifies the economy - higher oil prices mean more investment in finding more oil is the counter argument, or alternative oil whatever. Problem is, the alternatives take too long and can't fill the decline gap, all the while entropy increases with less investment.

The result is a long slow decline in a 2 steps forward 3 steps back kind of way.

Analysing the cost/benefit economics of technology and pointing out flaws is one thing, predicting effects on the wider economy without recognising the elephant in the room has little value to me.

Don't mind me Tim, I'm the resident 'AGW is political cover for peak oil' minority view, I'm sure you wrote a good book in other respects, just not my cup of tea.

Dec 10, 2010 at 7:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

Re Resource Depletion. Here is an extract from Matt Ridley’s (excellent IMHO) ‘The Rational Optimist’: “In 1990 the economist Julian Simon won $576.07 in settlement of a wager from the environmentalist Paul Ehrlich. Simon had bet him that the prices of five metals (chosen by Ehrlich) would fall during the 1980s and Ehrlich had accepted ‘Simon’s astonishing offer before other greedy people jumped in’ (though later, while calling Simon an imbecile, he claimed he was goaded into it).”

Dec 10, 2010 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Post

"It's also admirably concise, running to little over a hundred pages"

Amazon says it's 468 pages, which seems a leeeetle over a hundred. Never mind, that still makes it more concise than the IPCC.

Dec 10, 2010 at 8:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterO'Geary

O'Geary

Yes, I noticed that. When the book arrived (before I opened the packaging) I assumed that it was something else based on its slim feel.

Still, not to worry. Less is more, especially when time for concentrating properly on reading is in short supply.

Dec 10, 2010 at 8:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Here goes on the peak 'X' meme.

There was a Bronze Age. The bronze age ended - but they never ran out of bronze. They found better and cheaper materials. There was a peak bronze - but it's still available today. Before the bronze age was a stone age. Guess what - they didn't run out of stone either.

In more recent times there were dire predictions about London getting more and more horses that the streets would be 6' deep in horse muck. And there really was a "peak horse" round about 1890. And guess what ? Horses are still available today but most people use something else.

Now peak oil. My dad bought a book in 1975 called The Titanic Effect which included all of todays eco-babble. They bigged up the idea that there were only 30 years worth of oil. That was 35 years ago.

The basic fallacy is caused by a switch between the sides of the brain. The left (rational) side tells you that "infinite X" is impossible but then inside your head you switch to the right side of the brain (emotional) which then says: "oh no we are at a tipping point".

Infinite X really is impossible - but that does not tell you that you will run out this week.

Dec 10, 2010 at 8:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Wallace Pratt, one of the great and most eminent petroleum geologist of our time, stated that "oil is found in the minds of men."
As an oil explorer myself, I concur. There are many many basins worldwide which are only lightly explored. There is plenty of oil yet to be found, through a combination of ideas, will and capital. In the last couple of years, reserves have been fully replaced. In the US production has lifted in each of the last two years.
The present oil reserves to usage cover is well over 30 years, and it won't drop any time soon.
And that is not counting tar sands, oil shales and gas to liquids conversion, which could, if the economics were right, maintain that reserves/usage cover at over 30 years for hundreds of years yet.
Like other 'ages' the oil age will pass, for sure. Not with a bang but with a whimper.
It is not reserves which limits supply, it is price. As it becomes more expensive to produce, demand will move to other energy sources and technologies.
Unfortunately, the anti oil lobbies only create a situation where those least able at present to afford energy continue to be limited on economic access to it.

Dec 10, 2010 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterSticky

"They bigged up the idea that there were only 30 years worth of oil. That was 35 years ago." No, they bigged up the idea there would be a peak in global production 35 years ago, and they were only a couple of years out.

Peak oil is not about running out, it is about production not meeting demand.

"As it becomes more expensive to produce, demand will move to other energy sources and technologies."

There is no alternative with near the same EROEI and portability that can be produced to replace oil at a 3-6% p.a. decline rate. Alternative energies are already heavily subsidised, and they're not profitable at economy crushing oil prices either, more so with more expensive embedded energy required to produce the raw materials and manufacture these alternatives - alternative energy becomes a snake eating it's own tail.

"The present oil reserves to usage cover is well over 30 years, and it won't drop any time soon."

Source please.

Dec 10, 2010 at 10:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

Frosty

"The present oil reserves to usage cover is well over 30 years, and it won't drop any time soon."
Source please.

Fossil fuel reserves of our planet are not unlimited, it’s true.

On the other hand, there is not an imminent “peak oil” crunch in site.

The optimistically estimated total remaining fossil fuel reserves of our planet are:

1. Coal (Wiki):

910 billion tons (proven reserves) – [USEIA estimate is slightly lower]
910 billion tons (optimistically estimated new finds, worldwide)
1820 billion tons total

6.4 billion tons/year = today’s consumption

284 years’ reserves at today’s consumption

If consumption increases to 10 billion tons/year (as some forecasts estimate), this equals:

182 years’ reserves


<stong>2. Oil:

1,317 billion bbl (proven reserves, O+GJ, 2007)
2,800 billion bbl (worldwide oil shale, Wiki)
500 billion bbl (other new finds: Arctic, Greenland, Offshore, new tar sands, etc.)
4,617 billion bbl total; this equals 600 billion tons

75 million bbl/day = today’s consumption

168 years’ reserves at today’s consumption

Consumption is expected to level off at around 100 million bbl/day and then gradually decline, so this equals roughly

126 years’ reserves

3. Natural Gas

176 trillion cubic meters (proven reserves, O+GJ, 2007)
180 trillion cubic meters (optimistically estimated new finds, Wiki) – includes “new finds’ incl. recoverable shale deposits but does not include recovery from hydrates)
356 trillion cubic meters total

3.2 trillion cubic meters/year = today’s consumption (Wiki)

111 years’ reserves at today’s consumption

Estimates for future consumption vary widely. If methane use as a motor fuel grows, this could cause a major increase. However, it is probable that the use for power generation would decrease in that case. Demand could level off at around 5 trillion cubic meters/year, in which case there are:

71 years’ reserves

Methane hydrates (clathrates) on the ocean floor represent a major potential source of natural gas, if technology can be developed to exploit these reserves viably. This source could more than quadruple the above estimated total world natural gas reserves.

So we’re not about to “run out” of fossil fuels anytime real soon. There will undoubtedly be a shift away from petroleum products as a motor fuel (too valuable as a petrochemical feedstock) and the use of natural gas to produce power may also decline.

As Sticky wrote:

the oil age will pass, for sure. Not with a bang but with a whimper.
It is not reserves which limits supply, it is price. As it becomes more expensive to produce, demand will move to other energy sources and technologies

And the world will undoubtedly become more energy-efficient, as we have over the past. GDP growth has outpaced growth in energy consumption historically and will continue to do so, even as the poorest countries of the world develop their own energy infrastructures and eliminate the millions of deaths caused by unclean drinking water or indoor burning.

We cannot even imagine the new technologies that will be available to sustain the energy demand of whatever population our planet has in 100 years. Fast-breeder fission reactors using thorium with essentially no spent fuel problem, nuclear fusion, or something totally new we haven’t even dreamt of today?

That is why the pessimistic conclusion reached by many alarmists that we must drastically reduce our affluence or perish is false, as all “doomsday scenarios” to date have been.

Max

Dec 11, 2010 at 6:49 AM | Unregistered Commentermanacker

Shame Wikipedia (that bastion of AGW knowledge eh) doesn't use the IEA 2010 report as a source.

the 2010 report has light crude peaking in 06, when demand picked up in 08 the price went ballistic and crashed the global economy. Saudi came out this week saying $100 oil would not increase production. Canterel is in decline, knock on effect onto Mex, N. Sea is in decline, knock on effect to out own economy - these things are well known, as if there will be no economic effects.

Coal, China has by far the greatest coal reserve, currently enjoying a diesel shortage because there are so many blackouts due to coal production falling short, everyone runs generators.

The reality on the ground does not match the optimism of wikipedia numbers. Try the IEA.

Sticky, don't bother looking for a source for that quote, unless you think flat demand for 30 years will be good for the economy.

You could look up the increase in US production and work out how long that increase would last at 30 billion barrels per year, I seem to remember it was less than 5 weeks.

Dec 11, 2010 at 7:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

Frosty

Yeah. I'll agree with all the short-term "blips" you cite.

But the data out there show that we are not likely to have a "peak oil" crunch for a while yet. In addition to new Arctic and offshore reservoirs, there is the massive amount of oil shale reserves in the USA and elsewhere. And when reserves start to get scarce and more difficult to recover, we'll have higher prices and a gradual shift to other energy sources as Sticky wrote.

As it looks right now, natural gas is likely to run out before petroleum does, unless technology can be developed to viably recover methane from clathrates.

Coal reserves are also not unlimited, but there are estimates that the total viably recoverable coal reserves are around twice the current proven reserves.

Wiki is a useful source of data on some topics - AGW is not one of these. Possibly this may improve, now that William Connolley is no longer the chief "gatekeeper and censor" on climate info - we'll have to wait and see.

The Oil and Gas Journal is also a useful source.

There are other sources that give similar estimates to those cited by Wiki. These tell us that we are not about to run out of fossil fuels yet.

But we undoubtedly will some day, and new energy sources will take over.

Max

Dec 11, 2010 at 7:37 AM | Unregistered Commentermanacker

Frosty

An interesting sideline to our discussion on global fossil fuel reserves.

The numbers I cited are “optimistically estimated” total future reserves.

There may be more out there we don’t know about, but that’s what current estimates show.

If these were all consumed (allowing for a portion to go into chemicals and fertilizers), this would increase the atmospheric CO2 level to just about 1,000 ppmv (or 610 ppmv more than today)

IPCC apparently has more optimistic estimates of reserves than I have stated, since it assumes in two “scenarios” (A2 and A1F1 – the ones that result in alarming temperature increase) that CO2 will rise to 1,280 and 1,590, respectively (or 890 ppmv, resp. 1,200 ppmv higher than today).

Just to put it all into perspective.

Max

Dec 11, 2010 at 7:54 AM | Unregistered Commentermanacker

Production always matches demand.

Unless the measure of demand includes "I wanted diesel at £1.50 but the filling stations are asking £2.20 so I stopped driving".

Dec 11, 2010 at 7:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

We'll have to agree to disagree on the oil chaps, we can't sort this out in a few blog posts, maybe 8 years reading TOD and Chris Martenson addled my brain :)

Production always matches demand is semantics, otherwise China wouldn't be experiencing a Diesel shortage due to blackouts.

Dec 11, 2010 at 9:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

If we have to use IPCC numbers to put it in perspective, we're already scuppered, they're raison d'etre is to hide the decline :^)

Dec 11, 2010 at 9:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

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