[UPDATE: Comment from Anthony: There has been a tremendous amount of discussion and dissent on this topic, far more than I ever would have imagined. On one hand some people have said in comments that Willis has completely botched this essay, and the Kaya identity holds true, others are in agreement saying that the way the equation is written, the terms cancel and we end up with CO2=CO2. It would seem that the cancellation of terms is the sort of thing that would rate an “F” in a simple algebra test. But, I think there’s room for both views to be right. It seems true that *technically* the terms cancel, but I think the relationship, while maybe not properly technically equated, holds as well. Here is another recent essay that starts with Willis’ premise, where CO2=CO2 and expounds from there. See: What is Kaya’s equation?
Further update (modified 3AM 7/12/14): Willis has posted his response in comments, and due to my own travels, I have not been able to post it into the body of the message until several hours later, see it below. – Anthony]
Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Another day, another new piece of mad garbage put out by the UN. It’s called “pathways to deep decarbonization”, all in lower case (8 Mb PDF). Their proposal is to get CO2 emissions down to zero. I didn’t get far into it before I cracked up laughing and lost the plot.
It starts with the following definition:
Deep decarbonization requires a very significant transformation of energy systems. The ultimate objective of this transformation is to phase out fossil fuel combustion with uncontrolled CO2 emissions. Only fossil fuels in conjunction with CCS [carbon capture and storage] would remain.
But that wasn’t the funny part. That was just depressing. The funny part came later.
Now, out here in the real world the most charitable way to describe this lunacy of forcing the nations of the world to give up fossil fuels is to … to … well, now that I think about it, there is no way to describe this as anything but a pathetic joke which if implemented will cause untold economic disruption, disaster, and death.
In any case, in order to figure out how to “phase out fossil fuel combustion”, they go on to describe what they call the “principal drivers” of CO2 emissions, viz:
The simplest way to describe the deep decarbonization of energy systems is by the principal drivers of energy-related CO2 emissions—for convenience, since the focus of this chapter is on energy systems, we simply refer to them as CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions can be expressed as the product of four inputs: population, GDP [gross domestic production] per capita, energy use per unit of GDP, and CO2 emissions per unit of energy:
That was where I lost it …
Now, at first glance that looks kind of reasonable. I mean, emissions must go up with population and with GDP per capita, and go down with energy efficiency.
Here’s why I laughed. Lets apply the usual rules of math to that equation. We know that if a variable occurs both on the top and bottom of a fraction, we can cancel it out. Starting from the left, Population on the top cancels Population on the bottom. Then GDP on the top cancels GDP on the bottom. Then Energy on the top cancels Energy on the bottom … and we’re left with …
Pretty profound, huh? CO2 emissions are equal to CO2 emissions. Who knew?
OK, now let’s build their equation back up again. But instead of using gross domestic production (GDP), we’ll use gross beer production (GBP) instead.
Note that this is identical to and equally as valid as their whiz-bang equation, in that it simplifies down to the same thing: CO2 emissions = CO2 emissions.
And as a result, the clear conclusion from my analysis is that the best way to fight the evil menace of CO2 is to figure out a way to make beer using less energy …
Now, there’s a carbon reduction program I could get behind.
Best wishes to all,
The Usual Request: If you disagree with someone, please quote the exact words you disagree with. This prevents misunderstandings, and lets us all understand your objection.
PS—Due to a cancelled flight, I’m stuck here in a hotel in LA on my way back from the Ninth International Climate Change Conference, which I’ll write about another time, and sitting in my hotel room wishing I were home. Not much to do but read boring UN documents … at least this one was funny.
PPS—Although it’s not mentioned in the document, their goofy equation is known as the “Kaya Identity“. Apparently, the number of innumerate people on the planet is larger than I had feared.
Well, yesterday was a long day. Up early to get to the airport, and this time the flight actually flew. Go deal with the rental car. Roll on home.
Then change clothes, I’d spent the night without luggage. Hang out with the gorgeous ex-fiancee and catch up. Put in a load of wash. Put the trash in the trash bin, the recyclables in their bin, the kitchen scraps in the garden waste bin. Roll all three of them up the driveway to the street. Unpack. Pack. Wash the dishes. Make coffee. Scrub the toilet.
Then when I got around to opening up my computer in the afternoon, after waking up from its normal sleep and running for about 15 minutes … it died. Dead. As in when I turned it on, It ran for about 5 seconds, and croaked …
So … that meant another 45 minute drive to the “local” Apple store. It also meant about an hour’s worth of waiting for an appointment. Then another three hours while they worked on the machine before finally getting It to run again. Net result?
It’s now 10 PM, and I’m back where I was last night … on line again. Oh, and a couple hundred bucks lighter.
Anyhow, that was how my day went. I hope Bart had more fun than I did.
Regarding the comments, I’m overjoyed that there is much discussion of the issue. My point, albeit poorly expressed given some of the comments, was that since the Beer Identity Is equally as true and valid as the Kaya Identity, it is obvious that we cannot use the Kaya Identity to “prove” anything.
So yes, the Kaya Identity is true, but trivially so. We cannot depend on it to represent the real world, and it can’t show us anything.
For example, folks upstream said that we can use the Kaya Identity to show what happens if the GDP per capita goes up by say 10%. According to the Kaya Identity, emissions will also go up by 10%.
But according to the Beer Identity, if Gross Beer Production per capita goes up by 10%, then CO2 emissions have to go up by 10% … and we know that’s not true. So clearly, neither identity can serve to establish or demonstrate anything about the real world.
What I tried to say, apparently unsuccessfully, is that by itself, the Kaya Identity cannot demonstrate or show or prove anything about the real world. If there is anythlng true about it, that truth must exist outside of the Kaya Identity. Otherwise the Beer Identity would be a valuable guide to CO2 emissions … but we know that’s not true.
Finally, l hear rumblings that Anthony shouldn’t have published this piece of mine. This totally misunderstands Anthony’s position in the game. The strength of WattsUpWithThat is not that it is always right or that it publishes only the best stuff guaranteed to be true.
The beauty and value of WUWT that it is the world’s premier location for public peer review of climate science. On a personal level, WUWT is of immense use to me, because my work either gets falsified or not very quickly … or else, as in this case, there’s an interesting ongoing debate. For me, being shown to be wrong is more valuable than being shown to be right. If someone can point out my mistakes, it saves me endless time following a blind alley.
And indeed, there is much value in the public defenestration of some hapless piece of bad science. It is as important to know not only which ideas are wrong but exactly why they are wrong. When Anthony publishes scientific claims from the edges, generally they are quickly either confirmed or falsified. This is hugely educational for scientists of all kinds, to know how to counter some of the incorrect arguments, as well as giving room for those unusual ideas which tomorrow will be mainstream ideas.
So it is not Anthony’s job to determine whether or not the work of the guest authors will stand the harsh light of public exposure. That’s the job of the peer reviewers, who are you and I and everyone making defensible scientific comments. Even if Anthony had a week to analyze and dissect each piece, there’s no way that one man’s wisdom can substitute for that of the free marketplace of ideas … which is why it’s not his job. Bear in mind that even with peer review, something like two-thirds of peer reviewed science is falsified within a year. And Anthony is making judgements publish/don’t publish on dozens of papers every week.
So please, dear friends, cut Anthony some slack. He’s just providing the arena wherein in 2014 we practice the blood sport of science, the same sport we’ve had for a few hundred years now, ripping the other guys ideas to bits, also known as trying to scientifically falsify another person’s claims that you think don’t hold water. It is where we can get a good reading on whether the ideas will stand up to detailed hostile examination.
It is not Anthony’s job to decide if mine or any other ideas and expositions and claims will wtthstand that test … and indeed, it is often of value for him to publish things that will not stand the test of time, so that we can understand exactly where they are lacking.
So please remember, Anthony is just providing the boxing ring. It is not his job to predict in advance who is going to win the fight. His job is to fill the cards with interesting bouts … and if this post is any example, he is doing it very well.
Best to everyone,
And a final update from Anthony:
While Willis wants to cut me some slack, and I thank him for that, I’m ultimately responsible for all the content on this website, whether I write it or not. While some people would like nothing more than to have content they deem “wrong” removed, such things generally present a catch-22, and cause more problems than they solve. Of course some people would be pleased to have WUWT disappear altogether. Some days, I’m one of them, because it would allow me to get my life back.
The value is being wrong is learning from it. If you don’t learn from it, then being wrong deserves every condemnation thrown at you. I plan on being wrong again, maybe as soon as today, though one never knows exactly when your training and experience will lead you down the wrong path. In this case I was wrong in thinking that this simple terms cancellation argument pretty much made the Kaya identity useless. I’m still unsure how useful it is, or whether its usefulness is mainly scientific or political, but rest assured I now know more than I ever thought I would know about it, and so do many of you. And there’s the value.
I thought this was relevant, and worth sharing:
“For a scientist, this is a good way to live and die, maybe the ideal way for any of us – excitedly finding we were wrong and excitedly waiting for tomorrow to come so we can start over.” ― Norman Maclean
Thanks for your consideration – Anthony Watts