A response to A conversation with Dr. Roger Pielke Jr.
Guest essay by Scott Bennett
Willis Eschenbach described the Kaya Identity as being “trivially true”, his opinion is uncontested by Dr Pielke Jr., whose only retort in its defence was, ‘the math is simple’.
The Kaya is a simple Identity, used as a tautological instrument. To deny this, would be to deny the very heart of its utility. The algebraic cancellation and isolation of its terms is de rigueur for its use.
Fig. 1. The “Kaya Identity” as depicted in the lecture by Dr Roger Pielke Jr. : Climate Policy for a High Energy Planet4
I really wanted to understand how the Identity was actually applied, both mathematically and as a “tool” of policy discourse. To that end, I spent several days grappling with Kaya, as demonstrated by Dr Pielke Jr. .
When I felt I fully understood its application, I turned to the real world, from whence the model was presumably derived.
It doesn’t take very long to see why the Kaya is being used as an instrument of policy. Examining the real world, makes it abundantly obvious, just what a stake-to-the-heart, reality is, for policy wonks!
The Kaya’s real value is in its use, as a claim to authority. It is a construct, designed to frame the debate and thus isolate and compartmentalise contradiction.
Everywhere I looked, the terms as factors of total emissions where erroneous. But how could this be, I wondered? It seemed reasonable to suppose that the factors as given in the Kaya, according to Dr Pielke Jr., are the ‘only levers available in the tool box’.
I spent some time gathering data and comparing real places. More and more I began to see, that there was a fundamental factor missing. How is it possible that emissions weren’t a direct measure of the energy intensity of GDP and the efficiency of its energy production? Clearly there was a missing factor that was making the proportionality of the Kaya’s terms aberrant. Some hidden input was providing efficiencies that oddly, reduced the size of real world terms, making their ratios, counter intuitive!
But before I reveal what it is, I will tell you why it was left out! It was censored because it exposes the fact that the relationships of the Kaya are not universally applicable (Across the countries of the world). The inclusion of this important term renders the Kaya impotent as a tool of national policy.
Truly, the phrase “one size does not fit all” could never be ascribed more applicably than to the Kaya Identity!
Land area1 is the missing term and including it makes it very difficult to compare economies directly, and at the same time keep a straight face!
Ratios like, population density and emissions per km, would seem to be, essential aspects of any genuine and realistic analysis. Without this quantity it is irrational to compare national emissions and their individual contribution to the global total.
Singapore, with the world’s highest population density, is 11,000 times smaller than Australia. Australia’s land area represents 5% of the Earth’s surface, while its emissions are just 1% of the global total. The entirety of Europe2 fits inside Australia with room to spare.
Singapore’s population is 4 times smaller than Australia, its GDP is 5 times smaller, its emissions are 3 times smaller and its total energy usage is 45 times smaller. Yet, using the ratio of Emissions/GDP3, we find that Singapore produces 1.7 times more CO2 emissions for every dollar of GDP than Australia. This isn’t a real mystery, when you realise that not all GDPs are equal, of course!
It is probably safe to say that the resources in Australia’s vast land area, something Singapore lacks, is the missing factor in this case. The numbers are also strongly at odds with the assumptions spruiked by Kaya devotees, because Singapore produces all its electricity from natural gas while Australia is coal fired!
It is also probably not a surprise, that with such a small land area, Singapore produces 3,500 times the CO2 per km compared to Australia’s tiny contribution of just 5.5 kt/km.
This is the weakness of the Kaya. It can’t be universally applied. As soon as you compare figures across countries you discover the logical fallacies inherent in it.
Australia’s ratio of, emissions to GDP, is just double that of France. If emissions per square kilometre are compared however, France emits 12 times that of Australia.
It is clear why governments around the world aren’t rushing to embrace the logic of the Kaya. They understand, that they would be ill advised to do so. The Kaya is a tool of the global minded, useless for national policy, that reveals with perfect clarity, the hubris of groupthink and the latent stupidity of collectivist ambitions.
1. Absolute values are given here, rather than “Real Land Area” which is of less relevance to the geography of climate.
2. Western Eurasia excluding Asia and Russia. The West or Western Europe.
3. This ratio is demonstrated in Dr Pielke’s lecture! The intent here, is to highlight that its “usefulness” also extends to invalidating the relationships between all four terms of the Kaya itself ;-)
UPDATE: Dr. Roy Spencer has a nice simplification of the terms cancelling issue here in The Kaya Identity Crisis
UPDATE2: Elevated from a comment.