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Green New Deal v. Slow Motion Apocalypse
May 20, 2021
by William P. Meyers

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Spending Makes Demand Rise, Not Decrease

I support the Green New Deal despite what I am going to show you as this essay progresses. The Green New Deal is the admission by the body politic of the United States of America that global warming is real and is caused primarily by emissions of carbon dioxide and other gasses. My problems with the Green New Deal are about its specific methods and the almost certain outcomes. I see it as something to build off of, once the public gets used to it, and understands what reality we are facing, and so what a more effective plan would be.

I begin by drawing your attention to the following Bulk Shipping Demand chart. I am used to seeing this type of chart, but you may not have seen it before. It was not created by non-profits. The data was researched by a business, Clarkson Research Services, and used to create the chart by another business, Star Bulk Shipping, for an investor presentation. International shipping falls into three main categories: container ships, liquid or gas shipping, and bulk shipping. Bulk shipping is used for raw materials like unprocessed grains, ores, and minerals.

With regard to planetary ecological destruction, we are there because of growth in overall human demand. That demand has two factors: population and consumption per person. Some consumption is worse than other forms for the planet, or for specific aspects of the environment, but on the whole when total consumption rises, the rate of ecological destruction rises. Like the arctic ice, over the decades since the industrial revolution started, when the world population was 1 billion, the ecosystem has been gradually degrading, so that the destruction of today day is besieging a small ecological remnant from the pre-industrial past.

The dry bulk trade in the chart is only for ocean and waterway shipping. To get products to and from the ships there is roughly the same amount of overland shipping. In addition, for instance with coal in China and India (and formerly in the U.S., Germany and Britain), some goods go entirely overland, so are not included in the chart.

Starting with the Total Dry line, you can see substantial growth between 2015 and 2019, followed by a pandemic pause in 2020, and an expected strong resumption of growth in 2021 and 2022. Now look at the grains line. This is the area of strongest growth, reflecting increased demand for food, both from a growing global population and some increase in demand in regions where rising incomes are allowing people to eat a little better. You might not think increased grain production is a bad thing, but from an environmental perspective you would be wrong. Growing more grain requires some combination of more land, water, fertilizer, and mechanization. In particular fertilizer and mechanization are energy intensive, and therefore emit carbon dioxide.

Now look at coal, often seen as the big enemy by environmentalists, because it is mostly carbon and therefore emits the most carbon dioxide per unit of energy production of any of the fossil fuels. You would think demand would have shrunk by now, but in fact is has increased by about 100 million tons per year, assuming the 2022 projection is right. Not on the chart is that India has greatly increased its internal coal production to meet rising per person energy demand from its 1.35 billion people.

The elephant in the room is iron ore. It is not a fossil fuel, so it is often overlooked by environmentalists. It is used to make iron and steel, essential for infrastructure and for high-density housing. Iron ore is iron oxide. To make iron the oxygen needs to be burned off. That requires coal (called coke in this case), which combines with the oxygen in the ore, at high temperatures, to form carbon dioxide. So when you build a new bridge in America or anywhere, or high density housing, whether for the rich, the poor, or the middle class, you add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Back to the Biden infrastructure plan and the separate Green New Deal. Both are being sold to the American public as job creators. They will be, if passed. But all economic activity in a fossil fuel economy leads to greater carbon dioxide emissions. If the plans are passed they will lead to faster carbon dioxide emissions and faster global warming. There might be some longer-term benefits to the infrastructure plan, if public transportation improvements result in less fuel consumption per person. But mainly it is a Bigger is Better plan, and for the environment bigger is never better.

Most people can understand that argument, but think the Green New Deal is in a different category. The theory is that solar farms and windmills, while they have an initial environmental cost (ore extraction; carbon dioxide released to make silicon, aluminum, or steel; transportation and installation) will greatly reduce fossil fuel consumption in the longer run. If the economy gets better for working people, they will almost certainly consume more and have more children, offsetting any benefit from solar energy. The reality is that with population continuing to grow, and demand for power and goods per person continuing to grow, the solar and wind industries have not been able to supply the new demand. For the past two decades most new energy demand has been supplied by natural gas (obtained largely by fracking, which environmentalists hate).

In the United States demand per person could be substantially reduced by turning off all air conditioners. Show me a politician who can survive that policy proposal, and I'll show you an election district where it never gets hot. In India (just for example) almost a billion people want air conditioners, refrigerators, and washing machines. Should they be frozen out of the middle-class wonderland because they came late to the game?

So: the Green New Deal will not be very green. It will be the beginning of a conversation. That conversation must be about what are fair economic expectations for anyone living on this planet. And it certainly must address overpopulation.

Expect it to get hotter. Expect fire and famine. Expect people to vote out of office any politician who tells them the unvarnished truth. Birth Control is the only thing that might save the world. But given religious opposition to birth control, and the opposition of industrialists to a shrinking economy, I don't see any path of escape from this Slow Motion Apocalypse.

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