Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I was reading an interview with Adrian Bejan (worth taking a look at), and I got to musing about his comments regarding the relationship between energy use and per capita income. So I pulled up GapMinder, the world’s best online visualization software. Here’s a first cut at the relationship between energy and income.
Figure 1. Energy use per person (tons of oil equivalent, TOE) versus average income, by country. Colors show geographical regions. Size of the circle indicates population. The US is the large yellow circle at the top right. Canada is the overlapping yellow circle. China is the large red circle, India the large light blue circle. Here’s a link to the live Gapminder graph so you can experiment with it yourself.
Clearly, other than a few outliers, the relationship between energy use and income is quite straightforward. You can’t have one without the other. Well, that’s not quite true, you can have energy without income. You can have (relatively) high energy use without having the corresponding income, plenty of Africa is in that boat. But the reverse is not true—you can’t have high income without high energy use. You need the energy to make the income.
Now, James Hansen is the NASA guy who is leading the charge to stop all forms of cheap energy. Coal is bad, terrible stuff in his world. He calls trains of coal “death trains”. He wants to deny cheap energy to all of those folks in the bottom half of the graph above. Well, actually, he wants to deny access to cheap energy to everyone, but where it hurts is the bottom half of the graph. For example, the World Bank and other international funding agencies, at the urging of folks like Hansen, have been turning down loans for coal plants in developing countries.
But as you can see, if you deny energy to those folks, that is the same as denying them development. Because when there’s less energy, there’s less income. The two go hand in hand. So what James Hansen is advising is that we should take money from the poor … actually he wants to deny them cheap energy, but that means denying them income and the development that accompanies it.
A look at the history of some of the countries is instructive in that regard, to see how the income and the energy use have changed over time. Figure 2 shows the history of some selected countries.
Now, this is showing something very interesting. It may reveal why Hansen thinks he’s doing good. Notice that for countries where people make below say $20,000 of annual income, the only way up is up and to the right … which means that the only way to increase income is to increase energy use. Look at India and China and Brazil and Spain and the Netherlands as examples. (Note also that crude birth rate is tied to increasing income, and that the crude birth rate in the US has dropped by about half since 1960.)
Above that annual income level of ~ $20,000, however something different happens. The countries start to substitute increased energy efficiency for increased energy use. This is reflected in the vertical movement of say the US, where the 2011 per capita energy use is exactly the same as the 1968 per capita energy use. And Canada is using the same energy per person as in 1977 … so let’s take a closer look at the upper right section of the chart. Figure 3 shows an enlargement of just the top right of the chart, displaying more countries.
Now, this is interesting. Many, perhaps most of these countries show vertical or near vertical movement during the last twenty years or so. And the recent economic crash has caused people to be more conservative about energy use, squeezing more dollars out per ton of oil equivalent.
But that only happens up at the high end of the income spectrum, where people are making above about twenty or even twenty-five thousand dollars per year. You need to have really good technology to make that one work, to produce more income without using more energy. You need to be in what is called a “developed” nation.
When people think “development”, they often think “bulldozers”. But they should think “energy efficiency”, because that is the hallmark of each technological advance—it squeezes more stuff out of less energy. But you have to be in an industrialized, modern society to take advantage of that opportunity.
So this may be the reason for Hansen’s attitude toward energy use. He may not know that most of the world is not in the situation of the US. This may be the reason the he claims that we should curtail energy use by all means possible. He may not see that while the US and industrialized countries can get away with that, in part because we waste a lot of energy and have a lot of both money and technology, the poor and even the less well off of the world have little energy or money to waste.
For those poorer countries and individuals, which make up the overwhelming bulk of the world’s population, a reduction in energy use means a reduction in the standard of living. And the part Hansen and his adherents don’t seem to get is that for most of the world, the standard of living is “barely” … as in barely making ends meet.
As is usual in this world, the situation of the rich and the poor is different, and in this case the break line is high. Twenty grand of income per year is the line dividing those who can take advantage of technology to get more income with the same energy, and the rest, which is most of the world. Most of the world are still among those who must use more energy to increase their income. They don’t have the option the US and the developed nations have. They must increase energy use to increase income.
And when you start jacking up energy prices and discouraging the use of cheap energy sources around the planet, as Hansen and his adherents are doing, the poorest of the poor get shafted. James Hansen is making lots and lots of money. He’s comfortably in the top 1% of the world’s population by income, and he obviously doesn’t give much thought to the rest. We know this because if he thought about the poor he’d realize that while he is mouthing platitudes about how he’s doing his agitation and advocacy for his grandchildren’s world in fifty years, what he’s doing is shafting the poor today in the name of his grandchildren. Of course Hansen is not the first rich white guy to do that, so I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised, but still …
Increased energy prices, often in the form of taxes and “cap-and-trade” and “renewable standards”, are THE WORLDS MOST REGRESSIVE TAX. Hansen proposes taxing the living daylights out of the poor, but he won’t feel the pain. He can stand a doubling of the gas prices, no problem. But when electricity and gas prices double around the planet, POOR PEOPLE DIE … and Hansen just keeps rolling, he has quarter-million-dollar awards from his friends and a fat government salary and a princely retirement pension you and I paid for, he could care less about increased energy prices. He’s one of the 1%, why should he pay attention to the poor?
Forgive the shouting, but the damn hypocrisy is infuriating, and I’m sick of being nice about it. James Hansen and Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt and Phil Jones and Peter Gleick and the rest of the un-indicted co-conspirators are a bunch of rich arrogant 1%er jerkwagons who don’t care in the slightest about the poor. Not only that, but they’ve given the finger to the rest of the climate scientists and to the scientific establishment, most of whom have said nothing in protest, and far too many of whom have approved of their malfeasance.
Their patented combination of insolent arrogance and shabby science would be bad enough if that was all they were doing … but they are hurting poor people right now. Their policies are causing harder times for the poor today, as we speak … and they mouth platitudes about how they are saving the poor from some danger they won’t see for fifty years?
If you ask the poor whether they’d rather get shafted for sure today, or possibly get shafted in fifty years, I know what they’d tell you. To me, hurting the poor today under the rubric of saving them in half a century from an unsubstantiated and fanciful danger is moral dishonesty of the first order.
So let me say to all of you folks who claim the world is using too much energy, you have the stick by the wrong end. The world needs to use MORE energy, not less, because there is no other way to get the poor out of poverty. It can’t be done without cheap energy. We need to use more energy to lift people out of bone-crushing poverty, not use less and condemn them to brutal lives. And to do that, energy needs to be cheaper, not more expensive.
Let me be crystal clear, and speak directly to Hansen and other global warming alarmists. Any one of you who pushes for more expensive energy is hurting and impoverishing and killing the poor today. Whether through taxes or cap-and-trade or renewable subsidies or blocking drilling or any other way, increasing energy costs represent a highly regressive tax of the worst kind. And there is no escape at the bottom end, quite the opposite. The poorer you are, the harder it bites.
So please, don’t give us the holier-than-thou high moral ground stance. Spare us the “we’re noble because we are saving the world” BS. When a poor single mother of three living outside Las Vegas has her gas costs double, she has little choice other than to cut out some other essential item, food or doctor visits or whatever … because her budget doesn’t have any of the non-essential items that James Hansen’s budget contains, and she needs the gas to get to work, that’s not optional.
For her, all her money goes to essentials— so if gas costs go up, her kids get less of what they need. You’re not saving the world, far from it. You’re taking food out of kids’ mouths.
You are causing pain and suffering to the poor and acting like your excrement has no odor … but at least there is some good news. People are no longer buying your story. People are realizing that if someone argues for expensive energy, they are anti-human, anti-development, and most of all, without compassion for the poor. They are willing to put the most damaging, regressive, destructive tax imaginable on the poorest people of the planet.
Now those of you advocating for higher energy prices, after reading this, you might still fool the media about what you are doing to the poor. And it’s possible for you to not mention to your co-workers about the real results of your actions. And you could still deceive your friends about the question of the poor, or even your wife or husband.
But by god, you can no longer fool yourself about it. As of now, you know that agitating for more expensive energy for any reason hurts the poor. What you do with that information is up to you … but you can’t ignore it, it will haunt you at 3 AM, and hopefully, it will make you think about the less fortunate folk of our planet and seriously reconsider your actions. Because here’s the deal. Even if CO2 will damage the poor in 50 years, hurting the poor now only makes it worse. If you think there is a problem, then look for a no-regrets solution.
Because if you truly care about the poor, and you are afraid CO2 will increase the bad weather and harm the poor fifty years from now, you owe it to them to find a different response to your fears of CO2, a response that doesn’t hurt the poor today.