Our pace of innovation comes at a heavy cost. The price of innovating new technologies has led to extensive environmental harm in the past few decades alone. So how can we come together and answer the climate emergency before it’s too late?
Mark Jaccard has a keen focus on energy efficiency and systems. His work is dedicated to discovering how they should be used and engineered for our future. In this episode, Alexander McCaig discusses climate stability in the backdrop of Mark’s book, entitled The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success.
Awareness encourages political action. Policies that mitigate the emission of greenhouse gasses, for example, are going to be crucial in saving the environment. Mark Jaccard believes that this phenomenon is already happening in developed areas, such as Canada, the United States, and Europe.
What’s important to consider is that we don’t have to make everybody agree. As Mark points out, the world has successfully acted on ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). While not everybody understood the full breadth of the problem, the governments of developed countries were prepared to act.
However, Mark also believes that making climate stability a priority in developing countries will be one of the world’s most pressing issues. This is because while CFCs are mostly generated in developed countries, the bigger problem is in developing areas where inferior refrigeration technologies cause more harm to the environment.
In addition, the level of awareness is much lower. It’s not just because of lower levels of education. The reality is also that people in developing areas have very different priorities. It’s difficult to tackle long-term and large-scale issues like the environment when your day-to-day welfare is constantly challenged.
To effectively tackle the climate change issue, we need to address several realities. First, greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow and will be especially prevalent in the developing world. Second, energy use on the planet will increase.
Mark believes that preventing the worst of climate change calls for energy systems that don’t emit CO2, especially in the developing world. This is why, he explains, his book doesn’t just call for individuals to change their behavior. It’s also about how we can hold communities and governments, at large, accountable.
To make this happen, Mark suggests global diplomacy. Tariffs and sanctions will send the message that the climate is a global problem, and you need to be a part of the solution. Since this kind of action takes place between governments, many view this as a top-down approach. However, Mark emphasizes that this approach needs to be paired with an effort to raise awareness on the ground.
In addition, Mark believes that climate stability can be achieved when we refine our approach to fossil fuels. They produce plenty of quality energy (which Mark refers to as “exergy) and as we move away from fossil fuels, we can still use them by converting them into hydrogen and electricity, and capturing the carbon dioxide.
For as long as humans exist, we will indulge in energy-intensive activities that hurt the environment. However, it is possible that as our quality of life improves, so does the rate of energy used per person. Mark points out that this is already occurring in Europe and North America.
Also, we can invest in building additional infrastructures for fossil fuels so that we can still enjoy its high energy quality without harming the environment. This involves technologies that can capture the carbon dioxide out of the smoke stack and bury it underground.
Preserving the environment for the generations after us is not an easy feat. We need to undo (or at least refine) several elements of our society that we’ve grown so used to. For example, we need to think about making cars and air conditioners more energy-efficient and eco-friendly. We need to look at the way we’ve built our cities. We need to make difficult, sometimes expensive lifestyle choices.
And that’s just on an individual level. We also need to think of raising awareness within our community. Lobbying for laws and policies for the environment. Holding our government and corporations accountable for their own impact on the climate.
This sounds like a massive undertaking. But remember: all you need to get going is to take one small step. And then another. And then you keep going until it all builds up.
Get to know more about TARTLE’s advocacy and our Big 7 through this link here.
Alexander McCaig (00:08):
Hello, Mark. Thank you for joining me today on Tartle Cast. I wanted to bring you on, and I'm also very fond of climate scientists. And you have such a keen focus on energy and energy systems, how they should be used and how we can engineer them for better use for our future, considering that we're on a pretty detrimental path going forward. And you had recently written a book called The Citizens Guide to Climate Success. And a big majority of that in your subtitle was to speak about essentially dispelling myth so that we can drive ourselves closer to solution. And I do want to congratulate you for writing that. It is very difficult. It's a highly politically charged area to talk about things like that. And so I think it's a very commendable process, so thank you for coming on the show to speak about it.
Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure.
Alexander McCaig (01:01):
Oh, absolutely. So actually, I want to kick off with one of the later parts of the book. When I got to it, you had a quote here about the most paramount message that you want to deliver to those who are reading this. And I'm going to read it off right here. "... is that the climate concerned citizens must concentrate on transforming a few key sectors of our economies, on focusing our politicians on a few key policies, and on changing a few key technologies." So I just, I have some questions that will start to build off that and hopefully you can help me educate myself on the matter. Climate concerned citizen, so those are the ones that are in a state of belief or not in a state of belief. Those are the ones that readily accept the 97% of climate scientists that actually say that we're on a very detrimental path for the earth going forward. Is that correct?
Alexander McCaig (02:10):
Okay. So they're not within that function of belief. So what portion of the population, whether it be domestically here in the United States or in a global sense, how many people are actually climate concerned citizens that are actively trying to make this sort of change, which you're delivering the message towards?
Right. So, I mean, I will speak for the wealthier countries because that's where we do a lot of surveys. And of course in the developing world, the level of awareness of even the climate threat that scientists are telling us about is lower and that makes sense in a way. There's lower levels of education, but there's also very different priorities for people.
Alexander McCaig (02:51):
Literally just getting some of what we take for granted in terms of energy, so electricity, or fuels to move around, or of course, healthcare, social welfare, education and so on. So when I think about what we've surveyed to death are people in the United States, north America and in Europe, of course, asking them do you accept the climate science and believe that yourself as a citizen and the consumer and that your government should be taking actions to reduce human caused greenhouse gas emissions? And that percentage of people I'm confident, and I don't have numbers in front to me right now, I'm confident that in the United States, it's more than 50%.
Alexander McCaig (03:44):
There are certain organizations and institutions, the PEW Center and others, that do major surveys of the United States and Canada, and in most European countries, certainly north European, well, actually all of Europe, the numbers would to be closer to 70 or 80%. And so what I'm trying to say, and I use examples in the book, is that if we look at other times where humans have acted collectively and that's personal decisions, but it's also what our political leaders agree to as policy. And in the book, I use the risk of smoking to health.
Alexander McCaig (04:25):
We've acted on those when maybe 70% of the population was smoking and health concerned citizens. And so I'm saying that in Europe and in north America, we're in a situation where at least 70%, I will argue roughly 70% just based on surveys I see, I don't do the surveys, that we have people who are climate concerned. So that's what I'm defining as climate concern. And my book, as you say, has various ways of trying to help them be more effective.
Alexander McCaig (04:58):
Right. So then how do we deal with the fact that there's natural asymmetries in the amount of people that are actually educationally aware of the issues at hand? So you can survey developed countries like the United States or in Europe. And maybe it occurs to a billion people across Europe and the United States, but there's a billion people in India alone. There's a billion in China. Those are massive amounts of the population and the grand majority of those people still burn biomass. They still have massive amounts of children. And within the size of those families, each of those child has to eat. It has to go to the bathroom. It requires an energy deposit for that person to survive. They require space, they require air, which gets changed into carbon dioxide. How is it that you even drive that awareness over to those countries, which are really some of the largest producers of those greenhouse gas emissions that we do look at? How is it that you raise the education and awareness outside of just surveying them alone?
Excellent question. And you've segued a little bit towards the developing world, which I do want to do. So the key point I was trying to make is that you don't need to make everybody aware. So the key thing is in the rich countries [crosstalk 00:06:23] we're already there. We're close enough to try to get political action. And the United States has come so close a couple of times, incredibly close. Europeans are there, Canada is there. And even the United States is doing things so that its greenhouse gases are going down. And my point is that you don't have to make everybody agree. And in fact, if we get into this in the questioning, I'm going to challenge people who think we have to talk everyone into this, because I see that as ...
I'm a follower of Isaiah Berlin, who was writing in the middle of the 1900s during a period of fascism and communism as dominant ideologies, which were a kind of totalitarianism, believing that everyone should think the same thing. And he was making the argument for liberal democracies that'll be highly flawed, that are not able to make some important decisions sometimes even with the threat of Nazism and so on. But nonetheless, our least worst option that we have right now. Now you carry that over to how do we get the entire world to act on a global problem like climate change? Which is like a problem that we have successfully acted on, which was ozone depleting substances, chlorofluorocarbons that we were emitting in the atmosphere that were cutting the ozone hole. Well, we acted on that. When we acted on that in rich countries, not that many people actually understood the problem. It was way below 50%, but governments were ready to act. In the developing country, almost no one understood the problem and yet they're [crosstalk 00:08:03]
Alexander McCaig (08:03):
Were they using CFCs in the developing countries? Because for instance, when I think of CFCs, I think of refrigerants.
Alexander McCaig (08:09):
And if I'm in a developing country, not everybody has a refrigerator. There's not very large industrial applications for refrigerants and things of that nature, or any sort of compressed aerosol. So even if they don't understand, they're not the highest user of it. We know that if you look at developing countries through the body of affluence and our commercial activities, we have the ability to consume more. Right? So even though we don't have as many people in our households necessarily to a developing country, we do have less people that are consuming at a much higher rate and more things. And for instance, if it's not something that is made, albeit locally, you have carbon transportation costs bringing that thing to you, right? Because of [crosstalk 00:08:47]
I want to answer your point because I want to challenge it a little bit.
Alexander McCaig (08:52):
Oh, I love challenges. Yeah.
The chlorofluorocarbons, most of them were from rich countries, but actually the problem was most egregious in the developing world where you have inferior refrigeration technologies, which had greater leaks and so on. And some of the big gains we made were initially in the developing world. So I just wanted to push back on your suggestion that, well, it wasn't a problem for them. It was, and we got them to act. And that's what I wanted to just finish was this point, because you earlier asked, how do you get people in the developing world to act when they don't have that level of consciousness? And that's why I was using that example.
So just before you divert me from that example, I want to stay on it for a sec and I'll stay on it for two reasons. One, you're correct. The growth in greenhouse gas emissions is and is especially going to be in the developing world. And it's for all the reasons you pointed out. Energy use on the planet is going to go up. So if we're going to prevent the most horrendous of climate change, we're going to have to have energy systems that don't emit CO2 and that has to happen in the developing world. And that's why my book was not just about individual behavior. So it isn't like, am I going to teach everyone in Iraq tomorrow or over the next decade even to focus their own behavior on veering away from anything that causes greenhouse gas emissions? We can't even do that in rich countries.
What we can do is use global diplomacy and some of its carrots, some of its sticks, like tariffs and sanctions, that say to everyone, this is a global problem. You're going to have to be part of the solution. And if you're unwilling to do that, we're not going to come in with tanks or weapons and try to take over your country. But we're going to use the usual mechanisms we use, which is tariffs on your goods to discourage you from producing goods, steels, cement, whatever it is you're selling, wanting to sell to us, plastic products, using technologies we now know are available to prevent the CO2. So I shift there and I'm happy to explore any area with you now, but I wanted to just get out the point that I'm trying to give us some optimism that action happens without this total awareness of everyone just as it happened with ozone depleting substances.
Alexander McCaig (11:18):
Okay. So then if I understand it from what you say, focus on top down approaches, even in developed countries, transition it over into non developed countries so that when you take on certain taxes in a sense through financial economic models, that the ideas of the negative effects of not following through with a policy hurting you capitalistically would cause you in an incentive based manner to change your habits. And then that from the top down approach would naturally affect those people and end up solving that problem at a much faster scale than trying to raise educational awareness globally to all these individuals who are albeit even quite hard to communicate with in general.
So yes, and you've said top down and you're right, but I wanted to say that ... and so I don't know where you're going to go with that, but some people really push back on me like, oh, you want a top down approach that just forces this on people to change their behavior. And so I think it is fair that you use the word top down because it is this between governments kind of thing, so that's fair. At the same time, we should always be trying to raise awareness. And so I guess I'm not saying that I favor a top down approach. I'm saying I've seen three decades of failure with the, oh, we'll all just raise everyone's awareness around the planet. And they'll suddenly change their priorities from feeding the family tomorrow, or as you said, going to the bathroom.
Alexander McCaig (13:00):
We're not going to be able to do that, so we're also going to have to do the top down. So I just wanted to be careful. And I'm not saying you were doing this, but I want to be careful that other people don't take away, oh, he prefers top down. I don't.
Alexander McCaig (13:12):
No, no. I think you're [crosstalk 00:13:14].
I prefer the opposite but ...
Alexander McCaig (13:14):
I feel like you're talking more of a combination approach, even though you have a preference towards 100% awareness, right? Majority of the world has a religion. They're aware that there is a God. Well, maybe there would be a climate change god that would be helpful for us, right? But we don't have that. So while they are in their slow growth curve, right, and changing cultures and habits over time is not an instantaneous process, signing a piece of paper in a government doesn't all be less time restrictive one for us to start with.
Alexander McCaig (13:46):
So while you're educating one base, you can also meet them from the top and come down into the middle and to say, okay, as we're doing this, offering this solution and coming in and incentivizing people to act otherwise, this will afford the benefit to those who are within those systems to be like, oh, I didn't directly make the change. But those who are larger resource holders that are producing the goods and services which I use are burdened in some sort of sense to change their behaviors because it's easier to bind them politically to do so than rather force an entire nation of people to do that.
Yes. And I'll just qualify as well that I've said behavior change, you've said behavior change. Most of the greenhouse gas reduction is what we will call a technological change where people don't even change their behavior. Now I might like them to change their behavior, eat less meat, fly on airplanes less, whatever, but I'm not going to try to force that on them when I know that there are technological ways. So we have this debate in cities in north America today where I'm interacting with a lot of people who say, we've got to stop having cars in cities. And I'm like, okay, but you're not a totalitarian dictator. So you're actually going to have to win elections in which you convince a majority of your fellow citizens to ban cars from cities.
And they'll say, but we have to do that because we have to stop greenhouse gases cars. And I'll say yes, but you could also use electric cars. So why don't you ban polluting cars from cities and maybe also try to convince your fellow citizens? Because you're not going to do this violently, so you have to win elections. And so try to convince your fellow citizens we'll have less car use in cities, which is going on in European cities, certainly in north American, but at the same time requirements that vehicle manufacturers only offer zero emission vehicles, which they can easily do over the next decade. And we've seen it already with evidence.
So the point is the technological change allows some people to say, no, I drive my elderly grandparents every day and I want a car for that. And I take little children and I bring food to the poor and I want to use a vehicle for that. And it doesn't say to them, Nope, sorry, you're going to have to put it on a bike and ride around and do that. It says, okay, but that vehicle you use has to be zero emission. That's a much easier change. It's a technological change and the behavior might not change much at all.
Alexander McCaig (16:16):
So for these personal mobility devices ... I hope I got that right.
Alexander McCaig (16:25):
Thank you. Yeah, because I know you wanted to change that from car. Yeah. I appreciate that. So say I do have all these energy efficient items. I've driven through Texas many, many times and they install absolutely massive wind turbine operations, right? The 18 wheelers that have to drag these things out and put them out there, there's a lot of energy to that. Forging the metal through the processes to create these larger pieces, to capture more air, to generate more electricity has an energy cost involved. So what I see is that as we still consume more, whether it's green products or regular products, the consumption rates are still increasing because the population continues to increase. So whether they're good, green, no CFCs, doesn't hurt the ozone, right, low methane, whatever it might be, there's still so much of it being purchased. And there's still a massive energy demand for the actual creation of that item, and then the transport of that item to get it to those people that actually want to use it.
Alexander McCaig (17:35):
So say for instance, someone goes in and puts political policy in place and they say, we're only doing zero emission cars. Well, then what happens to all the stuff that's purchased? It's already been built into the system, right, financed with debt through the capitalistic centers. And then people have lots of these cars that are in zero emissions, so what do they do? Where do they get shipped to? Do they try to make the money by shipping them off to developed countries that don't have that regulation in place, right? And then you got to buy whole new fleets of vehicles with new technologies? There's such a capitalistic investment to do these things when we put those tariffs or political bands in place that something has to come in and fix that. Right? But the consumption rate's still continuing to increase. So how is it that you try to strike that balance so that works essentially effectively?
I really love this question. I think it's a really good question. And I'm in enjoying how much you seem to know about this field and yet you're not an expert, so [crosstalk 00:18:34] kudos to you.
Alexander McCaig (18:35):
So I've actually got two parts of my ... I think there was two parts of your question. The first was isn't humanity's existence still going to be energy intensive? And possibly you asked, does it become even more energy intensive as we try to not have greenhouse gas emissions? So fossil fuels are fantastic. They are a wonderful form of energy. And we use a jargon term called exergy, which means the quality of energy. They're fantastic. And so as you move away from them, you might still use them. You could convert them to hydrogen and electricity and capture the CO2.
15 years ago, I wrote a book called Sustainable Fossil Fuels. I just pointed out that fossil fuel use, because of its high energy quality, can still be part of that energy future for humanity for thousands of years. But it is going to be a little more capital intensive, more investment, as you said, because you're actually having to do more structures for in this case to capture the CO2 out of the smoke stack and bury it underground.
So a couple of things. One, as we get wealthier energy use per person does decline. Okay. I mean north America, not so much, but it's starting to. Europe has been declining for a long time. Energy use per unit of economic value that we create has always been declining as our economies are growing in north America and in Europe. So, when you say there'll still be lots of energy in the future, yes, but we weren't even trying before to really energy efficiency. When we try, we will use less energy per person in richer countries, not for a long time in poorer countries. And so that is good news.
I'll just give you an example. On the planet, mostly driven by rich countries, in 2000, the amount of energy system, the global human energy system was 12 times greater than it was in 1900. So in 100 years it just exponentially grew a crazy amount. I estimate and others that in the next 100 years, so let's say from 2000, well, we're already 20 years in, to the year 2100, it might grow three or four times. So I point this out because I see this as a confirmation of the point that you're making, Alexander, that the energy system will be larger. So it's going to be a lot of capital investment because a wind turbine, it has no operating cost, a small operating cost for [crosstalk 00:21:16] but it's basically the capital investment.
So we are going to move to where we're going to have more cap in energy storage, more capital investment. Whereas with fossil fuels, we are able to get away ... fossil fuels are also capitally intensive, a lot of equipment refineries, all of the stuff about fossil fuels, but even renewables are likely to be even more so. Then finally you said, and what about the old stuff that's there? Is it just wasted, like the trucks that were running? And there I have good news for you. We are trying to transform over a several decade period. And our jargon term is the retirement rate or the turnover rate of the capital stock. It just means how long do cars last? How long do electricity plants last? How long do the process in a cement plant before you have to renew it?
And so there are things that are really long lived, urban form. We're trying to make cities more dense. That's almost a century kind of project, but when it comes to big energy users, for individuals like you and me, it's the heating system in the home and the transportation device we use, the personal mobility device. Those take care of a lot of it and those don't last more than 20 years, 20, 30 years. And you have to replace them anyway. So this is why if an environmentalist comes and says to me, by 2030, we need to reduce emissions by 80%, I'll tell them that is so expensive, because you're going to have to throw away cars and vehicles and furnaces that are only a few years old and could have lasted a long time and provided service. But if you tell me we're doing it over three years and we put the policies in place now to affect the incremental investments, which are a lot of the regulations and things that I talk about in the book, and carbon pricing, then it's not so bad. It's not as bad as what you were worried about.
Alexander McCaig (23:18):
I used to work in private equity. I speak with venture capitalists all the time and very large institutional investment firms. They know that investing in energy projects, energy efficient projects to specific is not a profitable investment. How is it that you get those with resources, Mark, to take something and put it towards something that they know is going to be a loss leader for them?
So, excuse me, frog in my throat.
Alexander McCaig (23:59):
You're all right. You're good.
Just one sec. So I don't know if you meant to say this, but you said energy efficiency. And what I'm really talking about that we need to do is invest in zero emission energy sources. Now, as I said to you, energy efficiency is actually happening all the time. And the reason is because energy is not a free resource. So I do a lot of work or have done a lot of work with industry. In fact, my PhD thesis 35 years ago was about industry energy use and energy efficiency. And I run a data center funded by the Canadian government that we also work with the U.Sg government and other governments on collecting data. Industries are always trying to get more energy efficient, cement production processes, steel processes, and they by and large succeed. So that's why energy per unit GDP keeps falling like this.
And so the energy efficiency investments, I'm not worried about. The zero emission investments are the problematic ones if we don't have a regulation or a price on the atmosphere. And that's where businesses will say, I'm not going to invest in a zero emission cement production process. It'll increase my cost of production by 30 or 40% and I'm out of business. So that's why the book is about how climate concerned citizens have to get the policy changed. And also when it's big industry, how we have to get a global agreement or at least a club of countries that can be influential with tariffs because we have to change the financial calculation of zero emission, not emitting versus emitting, because right now, emitting, as you said, is the most financially lucrative cheapest way to go. And I don't blame industry for doing that because they're in a competitive global environment. They can't [crosstalk 00:26:06] ignore this.
Alexander McCaig (26:07):
So if I get this then, what happens? Let's just in a hypothetical stance, you put tariff on the United States and we'll use your example of concrete to make it zero emissions, which is probably what I should have used, a more closed systems approach so that the there's no waste. If I put a tariff on on a concrete plant and they're like, well, what the hell? Well, actually concrete's not good because you have to deliver it within a 45 minute range most times, unless you have to add an additive. So some sort of manufacturing outlet that's important. And they're like, this doesn't work. It's not cost efficient. What happens when they shift ... it's cheaper for them to pick up their plant and put it in a place where the tariffs actually don't exist? Does that create then just to shift and it's not really effectuating on a solve?
Alexander McCaig (27:06):
Because if you think about many extremely wealthy people, where do they put their money? Tax havens. What do they look for? Tax deductions. They're going to do the same exact thing with their companies. There's no reason why they shouldn't. If they're in a competitive nature, well then I want to save as many resources as possible. So how is it that you get those individuals making those decisions who are trying to be as economically efficient as possible, essentially creating a zero waste system for themselves to stay in an area when they're actually going to get the crap kicked out of them financially for doing what they're doing? How do you get them to stay?
So I think we've got a misunderstanding of how a tariff works, but I'll use the example of Europe because they expect to have carbon tariffs in, in the next 12 to 24 months. And they're aggressively moving on this. Why are they doing this? Right now, I'm an industry cemented. So I'm talking about cement, so I'm not talking about concrete, as you said. I'm talking about cement that does travel all over the planet in a dry form for export and import. And so in Europe, I'm a cement plant and right now Europe has been ... well, since 2005, it's been slightly increasing my cost of production by charging me for some of my pollution. And right now the rest of the planet is the pollution haven that you are talking about.
And so right now the cement plant will not survive in Europe if we tell it to get its emissions down any more than the small amount we've been requiring so far. But the Europeans are saying, I'm sorry, we're on a path to zero. And so those cement plants in Europe are going to have to be on a path to zero emission, and now we have production processes, so we know, but we know it'll increase their cost of production. So right now the rest of the planet is the haven that you're talking about. People can make cement somewhere else. The Europeans are putting in tariffs so that no one can import into Europe without paying the tariff. And what you're doing is you are removing the safe haven. And it's interesting, in financial markets, I know the Americans are trying to do this as well about movements of capital, but this is what the whole point of tariffs are. And we've used this before, we know it works.
Alexander McCaig (29:31):
So who eats that cost then? Whether I ship the cement in and I turned it into whatever sort of foundation, right, for a house or for some sort of industrial building, who eats that cost? The person at the end, buying that facility, building that house?
Alexander McCaig (29:49):
It gets transferred to me? The person who's actually over time, not making more money?
Yes. Humanity for a zero emission energy system. So this goes back to my earlier point about how wonderful fossil fuels are, except for destroying our planetary system. To have a global energy system that is zero emission, our best estimates, whether it's Bill Nordhaus who won the Nobel Prize, economist at Yale modeling. I've been involved in at the global energy assessment, the inter-governmental panel on climate change, Stanford's energy modeling forum. We bring together the leading people in the world. We fight about aspects in our estimates, but in general it looks like getting to net zero is going to cost about 3% to 7% of global GD. But this is a global GDP that is growing by, let's say two to 4% a year. So it means that when you get to 2050, instead of your wealth having grown by 50% on the planet, it might have grown by 47% or 44%.
But you were willing to do that because you knew you weren't going to get all these costs of wildfires and floods and droughts and heat waves. So you are actually better off. So yes, you, a European wanting to buy cement that the European commissioned or government is now saying is going to have to be zero emission cement, you're either going to buy it from China with a high tariff on it, or more likely you're going to buy it from a European producer who's producing it with almost no emissions, but they have a higher cost of production.
And it looks like the GDP effect over 30 years is pretty small compared to preventing the horrendous economic impacts of climate change. And it means that energy costs for a typical family ... and this is similar work for the United States, but I'm using Europe just because they're so close to putting those tariffs on, and they're moving faster on reducing emissions. It looks like the cost of energy for a typical family in the United States or Europe to date is between six to 7% of their personal budget, the energy services. When we get to a zero emission system, it will still be less than 10% of their services. So what I'm saying is, yes, you're right. Energy is important. And yes, energy will be more expensive if it's zero emission. But what does that mean in terms of our standards of living? It's really small compared to the thing that could really wreck our standard of living, which is climate change.
Alexander McCaig (32:34):
Right. Okay. So when these models are produced, when you are doing your global surveys, when you project out those estimates for where things are headed, is that on the current historical trajectory with the increase in population growth, the increase in GDP growth and many other changes that we have historically seen? Is that what it gets extrapolated forward? And then from that, the decision towards what type of tariff should be made depending on the historical trajectory going forward?
Yeah, but the thing is you can change. You never say that you know what the world will be like in 2050 or 2060, and you don't need to. I mean, our governments are adjusting policies all the time. And I'm not saying you're doing this, but we get a little bit defensive if people are like, but you guys can't predict the world in 2060. And it's like, you're right, we can't. So we're looking at trajectories. So what we do just to give you one example is population. When I was involved in the global energy assessment, we got the top population modelers in the world to give input to us on three different occasions, over a five year period.
And there was some nice consistency there. We got the range, but they were basically convinced that the global population would stabilize. And the biggest determining factor was women's education. And that as women's education goes up, it's correlated so strongly with the declining birth rate that the population would peak in the 2060 to 2080 time frame in and around nine billion, 10 billion, maybe above 10 billion. And that's what we put into our models. That's just an example for you.
Alexander McCaig (34:25):
No, I think that's a good example. I'm not attacking a model in any sort of way. What this was leading into is, so if I understand from your example, now, the key factor in all of this is essentially the human element. For every one person that gets added to this planet, there's a resource requirement. There's a draw for their survival in terms of an energy cost. Whether it's energy of a nuclear plant or bioenergy that's happening inside of an individual, it has to pull from that somewhere. So when you look at those models, if I were to say that the largest waiting factor outside of GDP, outside of tariffs, outside of these things, would then have to be just the human element itself. Is that logical?
Yes. Yes, but there's some fun parts here. The planet [crosstalk 00:35:22]
Alexander McCaig (35:21):
I like fun parts. I like fun parts.
Good. It's interesting, in my graduate seminar, I'm just teaching the definitions of sustainability. And I'll give you a name, Robert Heirs, who does some really good work on this. He's a physicist, but he understood economics. He's was a follower of George [inaudible 00:35:39] Rogan, so these are just names of people. But couple of things, people say the earth's planet is a closed system. And materially, it basically is, the odd asteroid or whatever, but it's a closed system. So you got a growing population on that closed system. Already you're like, wait a minute, something's not sustainable. So I really do believe humanity can't be sustainable unless our population is stabilized.
The point is though, is that our system is not a closed system. We get solar exergy, so quality of energy from the sun all the time. And the solar flux is about 10,000 times larger than the current human energy system, so 10,000 times larger that flux all the time compared to how much we use. Secondly, a lot of that flux is being used in photosynthesis, but the photosynthetic process is really inefficient, right? I forget what it is. It's less than 5% efficient.
Alexander McCaig (36:42):
And actually makes it through to the cell, that's correct.
Yeah, and we already are figuring out ways of doing things better than that in getting something of ... So thinking of the cell as energy, thinking about thermodynamics, there's nothing to stop human innovation from moving towards using more of that solar energy. And when we do use it more efficiently, so wind turbines getting more efficient with the wind that's caused mostly by solar energy, photo will take panels, getting more efficient and putting them where there's lands like desert, which I value deserts, but the photosynthesis going on in that desert is smaller in terms of energy production than this row of solar panels. You're not going to cover all the deserts, but you don't have to cover that much desert to make a lot of energy.
So the point I'm making is that while you're talking about limits, and this has been an obsession of mine, I don't do research in this area, but I teach on it and have for 30 years, so I love the literature. And the point will be, we are in a finite planet. It is fixed. We can't be talking about infinite growth of people and even infinite growth of material throughput on our system. We're going to have to constrain ourselves. But the value we get and the energy system has a lot of potential for benign growth, relatively benign growth. So, as I said, you're still going to have panels on that desert, but one could argue it's not interfering with much photosynthesis and so on and so forth.
Alexander McCaig (38:20):
Okay. I've spoken with quite a few physicists, especially ones that do climate models and the sort. And if I understand this correctly, that the light reflectivity of our planet and seven other planets in our solar system have actually increased because where we are relative to the central sun of the Milky Way galaxy, we've had a change. So that the actual solar energy being radiated from the center has increased over these planets and their luminosity has essentially increased. And then through that brightness, you get an increase in heat, electromagnetic radiation, things of that nature.
Alexander McCaig (39:02):
So when we have an exacerbation of a naturally occurring event outside of our control, moving through our solar system within our galaxy, and then you compound that with the human element, which seems to step beyond how much the amount of airable land is currently on this planet for us to sustain ourselves properly off of, that we have a little bit of a problem here. It's that nature is naturally evolving, but as we are evolving, we're also eating a lot of harm to ourselves that may actually exacerbate effects that really shouldn't be exacerbated.
Alexander McCaig (39:45):
And so when I look at that human element, when I look at where we change in the sense of astrophysics, our alignment in those vectors of space, I just want to know that when we go to control things that we can control, we have the right focus. And I 100% agree that as education for women increases so does the realizations that my only value is not just having children. And many of their cultures or religions tell them that specific thing, that there is more that they can do, there's more they can do to give back. There's more value to their life because someone is educated to say that you need to rework how we're looking at these things. And when I look at those aspects that I want to make sure we can continue to sustain and stabilize the climate the best we can outside of things that are completely outside of our control.
Alexander McCaig (40:43):
So if I look at this and I look at a climate concerned individual, I want to be focusing on education and global format. I want to open up the ability to survey individuals on a global scale, so we can hear their voice. I want to institute some top down approaches to meet us in the middle. And then understand that our evolving process for us is a slow process because cultures and religions aren't some things that change overnight, that's going to take that time. So that function of patience and focusing on the right goals for us is the thing that will really help stabilize what needs to be stabilized. Am I articulating that properly?
Wonderfully, wonderfully. I was going to add a few things, and then as you tied it together, I was just really happy and impressed. And I feel really good about how you're summarizing the challenge and the path. And as you know, with the book and, well, throughout my career, I'm focused on a strategic path. I think humans have to be careful and think about where are we doing stuff that's diversionary. What is that path? And I'm not saying we'll all agree on the path, but I liked how you talked about what it's general characteristics are bound to be. I agree with you completely.
Alexander McCaig (42:04):
All right. That's awesome, because I think for any of us, whether it's a daydream, right, or some sort of personal goal that we have, we have to maintain a focus. And if we can generally point all of ourselves, and you use the word consciousness enough, if we can point our consciousness, all of us towards how we want our future to look, have the prosperity, have the beauty, have the joy, have all those great things, but also do it with great stability and respect for the planet, the thing that affords us that life, I think that's a great way for us all to continue to take that path forward.
Agree, well said. Yeah.
Alexander McCaig (42:41):
Thank you. No, I appreciate that. And again, I'm not trying to intellectually flex. I don't know much on the subject.
Alexander McCaig (42:48):
I only look at things logically in a systems based approach. And so when I look at these things, some things just seem inherently obvious. And so I want to make sure that we take that obvious and continue to speak about it, dispel the myth, put the religion and the culture aside for a second and talk about the things that will have a direct effect on human life.
Alexander McCaig (43:09):
And it's all well and good that your GDP increases, but GDP is no good if there's no one there to spend money, right? If there's no one there to actually live and buy the object, it doesn't do you any good, no matter how rich your country is.
Yeah, absolutely. That's why even this idea that it affects GDP to stop horrendous fires and floods and hurricanes is bizarre. Right? So that's why I had to qualify it that way, but absolutely. It's crazy.
Alexander McCaig (43:36):
No, it's an interesting qualification and I'll share one more personal story. I was recently driving through California and I was extremely excited to see Mount Shasta, very, very excited. I had read about it. I've seen pictures online and I'm a big mountaineer. I love to climb mountains, but the wildfires were so horrendous that as I drove through, I couldn't see more than 300 feet in front of me. And then when I got to the sloping hillsides that led up to those areas in the national forest, it was completely scorched dirt. The only thing that was left was the rock base. Everything was completely incentivized/ and every bridge I would drive over and I would look at the mapping that would show that there was a body of water that uses underneath is no longer existent.
Alexander McCaig (44:25):
And it's not there because it's displaced itself to go somewhere else, but through that displacement, it has harm in those local regions. And it's really tough for us, for people to actually feel that empathy for the earth, feel that empathy for the others when they're not actually there, because when things are out of sight, they're out of mind. So when you write a book like this, when you do these surveys, when you do this research, when you talk to politicians, create the workflows, try and reframe these ideas for people, you try and bring these things closer to them because when it's closer to them, then it can help them with that understanding, even if it's a 1% change. But if you get seven billion people out of 1% change, the change become absolutely enormous. Right? So that's essentially my hope is through that education, through the formats like you're doing, that's where we start to find that change.
Well, Alexander, that is a good description of why I agreed and was excited to do this talk with you because I am, by necessity now, with all my experience, somewhat of ... I spent a lot of my time as a policy nerd because governments ask me or politicians ask me, and so I'm helping them with the details of a zero emission vehicle standard and that's very time consuming. And I'm always there thinking, I hope there are people out there who are not as nerdy as me, but have vision and care and are out there doing the hard work that you're doing. So I just want you to know that I see a complementary in what we're doing, and that's why I said yes. And I'm very appreciative of the kind of thing you're doing. I think it's essential, very essential.
Alexander McCaig (46:01):
Thank you. Listen, I need to continue to find more people that would reinforce the fact that we're on that right path. And if you and I can find that cooperative effort, rising tide lifts all ships, right? So I think that's the approach we need to continue to take.
Alexander McCaig (46:19):
And Mark, the book was great. I really did enjoy reading it. I appreciate putting the workflows, the stories about your students, how you teach that, applying the policies, speaking about Arnold Schwarzenegger, his changes in the political format. And still maintaining that flexibility and understanding that when things change, we do have to adapt to it. Even though the politics might say you got to stay strong to one side, adaptation is always the solution for us. And if people want to purchase your book, if they want to find out more about you, Mark, if they want to read the research, if they want to look at the surveys, where would they go to do stuff like that?
Yeah. So Mark Jaccard, so just my whole name as one, M-A-R-K, J-A-C-C-A-R-D.com. We have short videos about the book, talks I've given, reviews of the book. I've done other books. I've never had a book that had nothing but positive reviews, but that's all this one had. So I'm not cheating when I just put the positive reviews up there. And so you can find it, yeah, at markjaccard.com, and it's ... yeah, and Cambridge University Press. But anyway, markjaccard.com would be your easiest. And I'm on Twitter also @markjaccard, so all one word. I appreciate you putting that out there.
Alexander McCaig (47:38):
Yeah, no, most definitely. And thank you again for coming on, for doing everything we can to dispel belief systems and myth around these things that are really affecting us. You might not see it because the changes are slow, but they are absolutely there. So thank you for coming on and helping support in that effort for individuals. And I do look forward to staying in touch with you in the future about it.
And again, thank you for discovering the book and making this effort to get the word out there. I really appreciate that, so thank you, Alexander.
Alexander McCaig (48:11):
Most definitely. Thanks again, Mark.
Speaker 3 (48:13):
Thank you for listening to Tartle Cast with your hosts, Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby, where humanity steps into the future and source data defines the path. What's your data worth?