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PICS Seminar May 31st: Is it possible to decouple economic wealth from carbon dioxide emission rates?

Presented by: Dr. Tim Garrett, University of Utah
Date & Time: Monday, May 31 2010| 10:30 am – 11:30 am
Location: Social Sciences & Mathematics Bldg. Room A110, University of Victoria
Live Web Stream: http://www.pics.uvic.ca/broadcast.php

Where does money get its value? What physically is economic value? For climate studies, this is a highly relevant question. As the economy grows, so does its emissions of carbon dioxide. And, of course, increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are changing global climate.

In a recently published study, I used a mixture of physical principles and economic data to look at the relationship between civilization’s current global rate of primary energy consumption and its historical accumulation of economic wealth. It was expected that the relationship between wealth and energy consumption rates would be a constant, independent of time. This turned out to be true based on available statistics. The value for the relationship is 9.7 ± 0.3 milliwatts per inflation?adjusted 1990 US dollar.

So perhaps money is power. If so, the implications for controlling CO2 emissions rates are rather stark. Merely to stabilize emission rates at current levels, growth in wealth must cease, meaning that the inflation?adjusted GDP of civilization would need to drop to zero. Alternatively, we would need to switch to non?CO2 emitting power supplies at a rate equivalent to building about one nuclear power plant per day. This is unlikely, of course. In fact, because civilization has inertia, it may even be possible to make forecasts of humanity’s wealth and its CO2 emission rates well into this century.

Dr. Tim Garrett is an Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. A native of Canada, he obtained a B.Sc. in Physics in 1992 from the University of Waterloo before receiving his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington in 2000. His current research focuses on the role of clouds in climate and climate change.

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