Carbon begins at home

Carbon begins at home

Letters– Sustainable economics From Peter Brooks Thomas Hogg says your discussion on the perils of growth (18 October, p 40) is naive – but it seems t...

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Letters– Sustainable economics From Peter Brooks Thomas Hogg says your discussion on the perils of growth (18 October, p 40) is naive – but it seems to me that it is he who doesn’t understand the situation (8 November, p 20). The point at issue is whether or not an exponentially growing economy is sustainable. Instead of attempting to refute the case that it is not, Hogg argues that a static economy won’t be popular or simple to devise. This is not rational. Some unpopular arguments are true, just as some popular ones are false. Even if it were true that a static economy is unachievable this wouldn’t constitute evidence that growth is sustainable, but merely evidence that the economy will grow until civilisation collapses. Unemployment is not the only way to limit output: reducing working hours is also an option. Hogg’s requirements, such as “creative destruction” driving innovation, could be met if businesses competed for market share and on the basis of productivity per worker hour. Government would meanwhile ensure resource use remained stable through legislation to reduce working hours. This will only work, of course, given international cooperation to ensure that nation states compete on a level playing field. Braintree, Essex, UK From Peter Brown Thomas Hogg suggests using economic incentives to create more sustainability. On the same page Andrew Clifton provides some ideas (8 November, p 20). I suggest that we should recognise the limited availability of nonrenewable resources by making them available only for rent. To do this would be difficult, but not impossible. It would create a chain of recycling from raw material to consumer, and encourage long-lasting products designed to be dismantled and 22 | NewScientist | 6 December 2008

reused – as proposed by Herman Daly (18 October, p 52). In the case of fuel, which cannot be returned, users would rack up charges indefinitely for their use to date. The promise to introduce such a charge gradually at some time in the future should affect behaviour. York, UK From Damien Flinter Thomas Hogg writes that your authors “do not appear to understand the dynamics of the capitalist model”, before launching into a selective eulogy of “creative destruction” as a high-tech, industry-spawning dynamo generating everincreasing circles of prosperity and social evolution. He then disparages an all-knowing central agency that might regulate his utopian market; one that no contributor had actually suggested. The figures I have say that close to a billion of our 6.7 billion population are living in hunger, and 10,000 children a day die in Africa from starvation. Perhaps Hogg has better data: if not, I hope he might consider that there is objective evidence of fundamental systemic pathology in the capitalist model. It will require teamwork and radical rethinking of our presumptions and rationalisations if the world is to avoid degenerating into a series of warring totalitarian regimes, like those created by the last global economic meltdown. Or perhaps he might ask the Aboriginal peoples of his native land to present data on the centrifugal social effects of centripetal wealth accumulators on the destructive side of his creative equation. Headford, Galway, Ireland

Carbon begins at home From Henry Bainbridge Why should industry have to pay a price for carbon emissions when they are free for the rest of us? Conversely, if putting a price on

carbon emissions through cap-and-trade is such a wellresearched idea (11 October, p 13), why don’t we get paid carbon credits when we install energysaving light bulbs, insulate our home or use our car less often? The “cap-and-share” carbon scheme mentioned by James Bruges (19 July, p 20) is little better: forcing a reduction in annual fuel sales to a sustainable level and compensating people for the rise in the cost of living is not the same as rewarding people for reducing their own carbon footprint of their own accord. It implies that we have a right to

emit carbon, instead of having a duty to reduce emissions, just as industry does. It may be easier to target big industry, but a sustainable scheme that facilitates and rewards individuals weaning themselves off fossil fuels is also needed. Bristol, UK

Driven to extremes From John LeBrun Your interview with Jack Martin (25 October, p 42) used up two precious pages in which you could have interviewed someone more relevant to the current problems of overuse of oil resources. The most important way to reduce planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles is to use diesel engines. A two-stroke diesel with a supercharger (rather than crankcase compression) to fill the cylinder could achieve 2.8 litres

per 100 kilometres (100 miles to the imperial gallon) at 100 kilometres per hour with an average car. Problems such as particulate emissions have been solved. It is cheaper to extract diesel from crude oil, you get more of it per barrel, and diesel engines are sturdier and last much longer. These are some of the reasons that over 75 per cent of cars bought in France are diesel-powered. Prades sur Vernazobre, Hérault, France

The ozone gap From John C. Bowman I was particularly interested in your report on Joe Farman’s discovery of the ozone hole (20 September, p 46) because I was secretary to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the parent body of the British Antarctic Survey, from 1981 to 1989. I visited the head of NASA in Washington on several occasions, and the agency never claimed to have found the ozone hole before Farman asked for its original data. My understanding is that NASA missed the decline in ozone because its systems automatically excluded all readings which were more than two standard deviations from the long-term mean. No one noticed that an ever-increasing number of readings were being discarded, as the then US president’s deputy science adviser confirmed when he visited me in the mid-1980s. I also recall much discussion in NERC about whether it was worth continuing measurements of atmospheric composition over the base at Halley Bay in Antarctica, since they seemed to have shown little change over the previous 25 years. Collecting long-running environmental data series can mop up a lot of money and often yields little of interest – but you never know when something might turn up. Merriott, Somerset, UK