Why China Is Mad At India

China is well and truly mad at us. The latest provocation was a diplomatic coup that India pulled on China, getting the US, Japan and even Pakistan to vote for ADB funding for a $2.9 billion Indian development project, which includes a $60 million watershed development project in Arunachal Pradsh, a state, which China lays claim to.

Having refused assent a couple of months ago, China, this week lost a diplomatic battle as India got others on the board to vote for the project. China's refusal had India hopping mad, with the MEA telling ADB that it would reconsider its relationship with the multilateral financial institution.

Pranab Mukherjee, who was then the foreign minister, rallied his troops together to mount a diplomatic offensive, in the manner of the nuclear deal days. Pakistan, for instance, was told India would spike its funding requests for projects in the Northern Areas. Moreover, Pakistan and India have had a long tradition of voting with each other in multilateral institutions.

China was speechless with rage when the ADB meeting this week carried the project through. In retaliation, the Chinese foreign ministry lashed out at the organization, but actually lashed out at the other countries who voted for India.

In recent days China has taken a hardline against India's decision to station troops and elite fighter aircraft in the northeast. In a scathing editorial in Global Times, China basically asks India to back off.

"India has long held contradictory views on China. Another big Asian country, India is frustrated that China’s rise has captured much of the world’s attention. Proud of its "advanced political system," India feels superior to China. However, it faces a disappointing domestic situation, which is unstable compared with China's.

"India likes to brag about its sustainable development, but worries that it is being left behind by China. China is seen in India as both a potential threat and a competitor to surpass. "But India can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale. India apparently has not yet realized this."

The editorial goes on to say, "India's growing power would have a significant impact on the balance of this equation, which has led India to think that fear and gratitude for its restraint will cause China to defer to it on territorial disputes.

"But this is wishful thinking, as China won’t make any compromises in its border disputes with India. And while China wishes to coexist peacefully with India, this desire isn't born out of fear.

"India's current course can only lead to a rivalry between the two countries. India needs to consider whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China. It should also be asking itself why it hasn’t forged the stable and friendly relationship with China that China enjoys with many of India's neighbors, like Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

"Any aggressive moves will certainly not aid the development of good relations with China. India should examine its attitude and preconceptions; it will need to adjust if it hopes to cooperate with China and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome."

Indian officials fully expect many more ADB incidents to happen in the foreseeable future, and their view is, these should be tackled quietly. So they’ve been livid with the guys in uniform who have been vocal about articulating the "china threat." Which is unfair, because articulating these apprehensions or otherwise doesn’t alter reality.


Richest lord of Kaliyuga

The diamond-studded crown gifted to Lord Venkateswara may be the latest, most publicised gift, but it is by no means the only valuable offering...

The Rs 42 crore diamond-studded 2.5 feet tall crown gifted by Karnataka tourism minister Gali Janardhan Reddy on Thursday could be the most significant contribution to Lord Venkateswara's ever growing wealth of gifts but the Lord of the Seven Hills has by now become so familiar with these riches that few are surprised by this latest offering. His riches are such that they are guarded by armed security personnel in a treasury, the location of which remains a closely guarded secret by top brass of the temple . With the total worth of the offerings made to the Lord estimated to be somewhere between Rs 30,000 crore to Rs 50,000 crore, the deity's title of the 'Richest Lord of Kaliyuga' is not without reason.

Devotees enrich Tirumala treasury
While Gali's gift was the seventh crown offered to the Lord, the earlier crowns in his glittering kitty were no small gifts either. In the past, Sri Venkateswara Hatcheries ' owner had gifted a gold crown weighing 13 kg and another business tycoon gifted a 10 kg gold crown. In 2001, an industrialist from Pune had donated a pure gold crown weighing about 14.3 kg costing nearly Rs 1 crore.

Gold and diamond-studded gifts have been streaming into the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam's coffer regularly, more so in the last three to five years. From a diamond parrot to a golden prawn, the 'Srivari Hundi' is glittering like never before since the beginning of this millennium. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) officials say that the donations have touched an all time high mark since 2005.

In 2005, a businessman from Tamil Nadu donated a valuable golden crown studded with precious American diamonds to the processional deity of Lord Malayappa Swamy, the cost of which was estimated as Rs 2 crore. In 2006, Lord Venkateswara received his most precious set of ear rings (Karnaabharanaalu) when a devotee from Chennai, Alagappa Chettiyar offered diamond studded Karna Patralu worth Rs.1.01 crore and if this offering wasn't enough he went on to give a 'Sahasranamakasulaharam' , golden chain worth over Rs 50 lakh to Goddess Padamavathi.

And in April 2009, when the world was reeling under the meltdown and real estate activity was still at a standstill, a cement baron donated Rs 5 crore worth gloves, Kati and Varada Hastam, to Lord Venkateswara. Not too long ago, a business tycoon from Pune offered a diamond studded parrot and 'Nagabharanams' worth Rs 1.5 crore. Not to be left behind, the King of good times, UB Group Chairman Vijay Mallya donated Rs 7 crores towards the gold plating inside the sanctum sanctorum about three years ago. And last year, when gold prices went through the roof, a Hyderabad-based businessman Rajendran offered Rs 1.7 crore worth Lakshmi Haram (a garland of gold coins) to the deity while another Bangalore-based businessman donated a diamond crown to Goddess Padmavati which was worth Rs. 1 crore.

The not-so-rich, small humble gifts are also quite a booty at TTD. Devotees promising replicas of their limbs in gold if their wish of a cure to an ailing hand or leg is fulfilled, or businessmen dropping gold and silver replicas of cigar packets, liquor bottles, watches, shoes (offerings reflective of the work they do) in the hundi are fairly common. Even smaller offerings such as gold chains etc are collected and sent to the Bombay Mint and the gold melted and sent back to TTD. Some gold is converted into a given number of coins, which is then sold by the temple at the market rate.

Jewel's Day Out
While there are no exact estimates of the value of the jewellery of Lord Venkateswara, since many of these gifts have a high antique value, temple sources peg the entire jewellery property to be worth anywhere between Rs.30,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore.

All these precious jewels are safe guarded inside the sanctum sanctorum at a sacred hall called Bokkasam (Jewel Gallery), which is guarded by half a dozen armed security personnel and has CCTV cameras installed to monitor every movement in arguably one of the world's richest treasury. There is, in fact, a Thiruvabharanam (holy jewels) register meant to list out the jewellery items. The register has been maintained strictly for gold and diamond studded offerings from the time TTD took over charge of the temple in 1933.

The precious jewels leave the treasury only on special occasions - auspicious days when the Lord is adorned in the diamond-studded love of his devotees. For such auspicious days, the temple priests give the list of jewels needed for the Lord's decoration a day in advance to the temple peshkar and Bokkasam-in-charge. They, under the supervision of temple deputy executive officer, assistant executive officer, and in the strict vigil of security personnel, open the Thiruvabharanam box and take out the items. These items are later returned in the same manner.

Rs 42 crore for God, Mr MLA? How much for man?

Gali Janardhan Reddy is a very pious man and he must now think he has just bought a one way ticket to heaven after gifting Lord Venkateswara at Tirupati a diamond-studded crown that came for a staggering Rs 42 crore. Of course, the crown is heavy at 20 kg and would probably break the neck of the God if He ever attempted to wear it.

But then Reddy, Karnataka's tourism minister and Bellary mine baron, doesn't give the impression that he is a very sensitive man. Had he been, he would have set aside most of the money that went into procuring 32kg of 'aparanji (pure)' gold, 70,000 diamonds weighing 4,000 carats and a huge 890-carat emerald from Africa, to some trust that benefited fellow human beings in his impoverished country - a surer ticket, I am sure, to heaven if there be one.

This display of superfluous piety, in stark contrast to the deprivation faced by millions of us all around, merely underlines two very important aspects of our society - the misplaced sense of benevolence and the utter lack of a culture of true charity in India. Why is this so in our country? In January, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation edged past Britain's Wellcome Trust to become the largest in the world, with assets of $21.8 billion. The Microsoft man has given away most of his fortune to those in need and says he will give more.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Andrew Carnegie donated - to man, not God - $350 million before he died in 1919, a sum that would be worth about $3 billion today. John D Rockefeller contributed $540 million to various organizations before his death in 1937, an amount that would be more than $6 billion today. It would be interesting to know how much our rich, the Ambanis, Mittals, Birlas, Tatas, Hindujas, Premjis et al, have given to the cause of humanity.

This is a problem with Indians. They will look upwards and give money to God to drive away their sins, ensure a safe seat in heaven or a comfortable life in case they are reincarnated, but they will not glance around and dig a well for the thirsty hordes, set up a free kitchen for the hungry millions or build schools for the innumerable illiterates. And there cannot be a greater irony. According to a government census, just Kolkata has about 1, 27,000 of the absolute poor, of which 67,000 have no shelter. Internationally, an income of less than $1 per day per head is defined as extreme poverty. By this estimate, about 45% of Indians are extremely poor. That's half the country, Mr Reddy. If the daily income per head is less than $2, then the family is described as poor. This would mean about 80% of Indians.

Even now, after all these years of "growth", the per capita income is 2,500 per month. For a family of five that boils down to Rs 500 per head, which is less Rs 20 a day for food, shelter and water, forget luxuries like electricity. In the cursed KBK belt of Orissa (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput), people still eat poisonous mango kernels when they are starving and the mortality rate is a highly disturbing 140 per 1,000. But I haven't seen either politicians like Reddy or businessmen exactly lining up to mitigate the misery.

Reddy's offering, and to be fair he's just one of the rich who lavish their wealth on God, has added to a Tirupati kitty that already holds over 11 tonnes of gold ornaments, making Lord Venkateswara one of the richest in the world. That's indeed a very rich God in a very poor country.

One last word, Mr Reddy. I do hope for your sake that you see the Lord wearing your diamond crown strutting away in all glory when you meet your maker. Till then, will you please dedicate your next offering to the poor and hungry.


Carbon will kill us all

This article from Peter Huber is fantastically bleak and makes great reading. It is refreshing to see someone talking about the reality of climate change and just how hard (and expensive) it will be to do anything about it.

This is the dismal science at its most dismal. It is hard to get away from the conclusion that we are all inevitably doomed.

This article is long but unmissable,

We Cannot Make a Dent in Global Carbon Emissions [Opposing views]

Like medieval priests, today’s carbon brokers will sell you an indulgence that forgives your carbon sins. It will run you about $500 for 5 tons of forgiveness—about how much the typical American needs every year. Or about $2,000 a year for a typical four-person household. Your broker will spend the money on such things as reducing methane emissions from hog farms in Brazil.

But if you really want to make a difference, you must send a check large enough to forgive the carbon emitted by four poor Brazilian households, too—because they’re not going to do it themselves. To cover all five households, then, send $4,000. And you probably forgot to send in a check last year, and you might forget again in the future, so you’d best make it an even $40,000, to take care of a decade right now. If you decline to write your own check while insisting that to save the world we must ditch the carbon, you are just burdening your already sooty soul with another ton of self-righteous hypocrisy. And you can’t possibly afford what it will cost to forgive that.

If making carbon this personal seems rude, then think globally instead. During the presidential race, Barack Obama was heard to remark that he would bankrupt the coal industry. No one can doubt Washington’s power to bankrupt almost anything—in the United States. But China is adding 100 gigawatts of coal-fired electrical capacity a year. That’s another whole United States’ worth of coal consumption added every three years, with no stopping point in sight. Much of the rest of the developing world is on a similar path.

Cut to the chase. We rich people can’t stop the world’s 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach. We can’t even make any durable dent in global emissions—because emissions from the developing world are growing too fast, because the other 80 percent of humanity desperately needs cheap energy, and because we and they are now part of the same global economy. What we can do, if we’re foolish enough, is let carbon worries send our jobs and industries to their shores, making them grow even faster, and their carbon emissions faster still.

We don’t control the global supply of carbon.

Ten countries ruled by nasty people control 80 percent of the planet’s oil reserves—about 1 trillion barrels, currently worth about $40 trillion. If $40 trillion worth of gold were located where most of the oil is, one could only scoff at any suggestion that we might somehow persuade the nasty people to leave the wealth buried. They can lift most of their oil at a cost well under $10 a barrel. They will drill. They will pump. And they will find buyers. Oil is all they’ve got.

Poor countries all around the planet are sitting on a second, even bigger source of carbon—almost a trillion tons of cheap, easily accessible coal. They also control most of the planet’s third great carbon reservoir—the rain forests and soil. They will keep squeezing the carbon out of cheap coal, and cheap forest, and cheap soil, because that’s all they’ve got. Unless they can find something even cheaper. But they won’t—not any time in the foreseeable future.

We no longer control the demand for carbon, either. The 5 billion poor—the other 80 percent—are already the main problem, not us. Collectively, they emit 20 percent more greenhouse gas than we do. We burn a lot more carbon individually, but they have a lot more children. Their fecundity has eclipsed our gluttony, and the gap is now widening fast. China, not the United States, is now the planet’s largest emitter. Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and others are in hot pursuit. And these countries have all made it clear that they aren’t interested in spending what money they have on low-carb diets. It is idle to argue, as some have done, that global warming can be solved—decades hence—at a cost of 1 to 2 percent of the global economy. Eighty percent of the global population hasn’t signed on to pay more than 0 percent.

Accepting this last, self-evident fact, the Kyoto Protocol divides the world into two groups. The roughly 1.2 billion citizens of industrialized countries are expected to reduce their emissions. The other 5 billion—including both China and India, each of which is about as populous as the entire Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development—aren’t. These numbers alone guarantee that humanity isn’t going to reduce global emissions at any point in the foreseeable future—unless it does it the old-fashioned way, by getting poorer. But the current recession won’t last forever, and the long-term trend is clear. Their populations and per-capita emissions are rising far faster than ours could fall under any remotely plausible carbon-reduction scheme.

Might we simply buy their cooperation? Various plans have circulated for having the rich pay the poor to stop burning down rain forests and to lower greenhouse-gas emissions from primitive agricultural practices. But taking control of what belongs to someone else ultimately means buying it. Over the long term, we would in effect have to buy up a large fraction of all the world’s forests, soil, coal, and oil—and then post guards to make sure that poor people didn’t sneak in and grab all the carbon anyway. Buying off people just doesn’t fly when they outnumber you four to one.

Might we instead manage to give the world something cheaper than carbon? The moon-shot law of economics says yes, of course we can. If we just put our minds to it, it will happen. Atom bomb, moon landing, ultracheap energy—all it takes is a triumph of political will.

Really? For the very poorest, this would mean beating the price of the free rain forest that they burn down to clear land to plant a subsistence crop. For the slightly less poor, it would mean beating the price of coal used to generate electricity at under 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

And with one important exception, which we will return to shortly, no carbon-free fuel or technology comes remotely close to being able to do that. Fossil fuels are extremely cheap because geological forces happen to have created large deposits of these dense forms of energy in accessible places. Find a mountain of coal, and you can just shovel gargantuan amounts of energy into the boxcars.

Shoveling wind and sun is much, much harder. Windmills are now 50-story skyscrapers. Yet one windmill generates a piddling 2 to 3 megawatts. A jumbo jet needs 100 megawatts to get off the ground; Google is building 100-megawatt server farms. Meeting New York City’s total energy demand would require 13,000 of those skyscrapers spinning at top speed, which would require scattering about 50,000 of them across the state, to make sure that you always hit enough windy spots. To answer the howls of green protest that inevitably greet realistic engineering estimates like these, note that real-world systems must be able to meet peak, not average, demand; that reserve margins are essential; and that converting electric power into liquid or gaseous fuels to power the existing transportation and heating systems would entail substantial losses. What was Mayor Bloomberg thinking when he suggested that he might just tuck windmills into Manhattan? Such thoughts betray a deep ignorance about how difficult it is to get a lot of energy out of sources as thin and dilute as wind and sun.

It’s often suggested that technology improvements and mass production will sharply lower the cost of wind and solar. But engineers have pursued these technologies for decades, and while costs of some components have fallen, there is no serious prospect of costs plummeting and performance soaring as they have in our laptops and cell phones. When you replace conventional with renewable energy, everything gets bigger, not smaller—and bigger costs more, not less. Even if solar cells themselves were free, solar power would remain very expensive because of the huge structures and support systems required to extract large amounts of electricity from a source so weak that it takes hours to deliver a tan.

This is why the (few) greens ready to accept engineering and economic reality have suddenly emerged as avid proponents of nuclear power. In the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident—which didn’t harm anyone, and wouldn’t even have damaged the reactor core if the operators had simply kept their hands off the switches and let the automatic safety systems do their job—ostensibly green antinuclear activists unwittingly boosted U.S. coal consumption by about 400 million tons per year. The United States would be in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol today if we could simply undo their handiwork and conjure back into existence the nuclear plants that were in the pipeline in nuclear power’s heyday. Nuclear power is fantastically compact, and—as America’s nuclear navy, several commercial U.S. operators, France, Japan, and a handful of other countries have convincingly established—it’s both safe and cheap wherever engineers are allowed to get on with it.

But getting on with it briskly is essential, because costs hinge on the huge, up-front capital investment in the power plant. Years of delay between the capital investment and when it starts earning a return are ruinous. Most of the developed world has made nuclear power unaffordable by surrounding it with a regulatory process so sluggish and unpredictable that no one will pour a couple of billion dollars into a new plant, for the good reason that no one knows when (or even if) the investment will be allowed to start making money.

And countries that don’t trust nuclear power on their own soil must hesitate to share the technology with countries where you never know who will be in charge next year, or what he might decide to do with his nuclear toys. So much for the possibility that cheap nuclear power might replace carbon-spewing sources of energy in the developing world. Moreover, even India and China, which have mastered nuclear technologies, are deploying far more new coal capacity.

Remember, finally, that most of the cost of carbon-based energy resides not in the fuels but in the gigantic infrastructure of furnaces, turbines, and engines. Those costs are sunk, which means that carbon-free alternatives—with their own huge, attendant, front-end capital costs—must be cheap enough to beat carbon fuels that already have their infrastructure in place. That won’t happen in our lifetimes.

Another argument commonly advanced is that getting over carbon will, nevertheless, be comparatively cheap, because it will get us over oil, too—which will impoverish our enemies and save us a bundle at the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. But uranium aside, the most economical substitute for oil is, in fact, electricity generated with coal. Cheap coal-fired electricity has been, is, and will continue to be a substitute for oil, or a substitute for natural gas, which can in turn substitute for oil. By sharply boosting the cost of coal electricity, the war on carbon will make us more dependent on oil, not less.

The first place where coal displaces oil is in the electric power plant itself. When oil prices spiked in the early 1980s, U.S. utilities quickly switched to other fuels, with coal leading the pack; the coal-fired plants now being built in China, India, and other developing countries are displacing diesel generators. More power plants burning coal to produce cheap electricity can also mean less natural gas used to generate electricity. And less used for industrial, commercial, and residential heating, welding, and chemical processing, as these users switch to electrically powered alternatives. The gas that’s freed up this way can then substitute for diesel fuel in heavy trucks, delivery vehicles, and buses. And coal-fired electricity will eventually begin displacing gasoline, too, as soon as plug-in hybrid cars start recharging their batteries directly from the grid.

To top it all, using electricity generated in large part by coal to power our passenger cars would lower carbon emissions—even in Indiana, which generates 75 percent of its electricity with coal. Big power plants are so much more efficient than the gasoline engines in our cars that a plug-in hybrid car running on electricity supplied by Indiana’s current grid still ends up more carbon-frugal than comparable cars burning gasoline in a conventional engine under the hood. Old-guard energy types have been saying this for decades. In a major report released last March, the World Wildlife Fund finally concluded that they were right all along.

But true carbon zealots won’t settle for modest reductions in carbon emissions when fat targets beckon. They see coal-fired electricity as the dragon to slay first. Huge, stationary sources can’t run or hide, and the cost of doing without them doesn’t get rung up in plain view at the gas pump. California, Pennsylvania, and other greener-than-thou states have made flatlining electricity consumption the linchpin of their war on carbon. That is the one certain way to halt the displacement of foreign oil by cheap, domestic electricity.

The oil-coal economics come down to this. Per unit of energy delivered, coal costs about one-fifth as much as oil—but contains one-third more carbon. High carbon taxes (or tradable permits, or any other economic equivalent) sharply narrow the price gap between oil and the one fuel that can displace it worldwide, here and now. The oil nasties will celebrate the green war on carbon as enthusiastically as the coal industry celebrated the green war on uranium 30 years ago.

The other 5 billion are too poor to deny these economic realities. For them, the price to beat is 3-cent coal-fired electricity. China and India won’t trade 3-cent coal for 15-cent wind or 30-cent solar. As for us, if we embrace those economically frivolous alternatives on our own, we will certainly end up doing more harm than good.

By pouring money into anything-but-carbon fuels, we will lower demand for carbon, making it even cheaper for the rest of the world to buy and burn. The rest will use cheaper energy to accelerate their own economic growth. Jobs will go where energy is cheap, just as they go where labor is cheap. Manufacturing and heavy industry require a great deal of energy, and in a global economy, no competitor can survive while paying substantially more for an essential input. The carbon police acknowledge the problem and talk vaguely of using tariffs and such to address it. But carbon is far too deeply embedded in the global economy, and materials, goods, and services move and intermingle far too freely, for the customs agents to track.

Consider your next Google search. As noted in a recent article in Harper’s, “Google . . . and its rivals now head abroad for cheaper, often dirtier power.” Google itself (the “don’t be evil” company) is looking to set up one of its electrically voracious server farms at a site in Lithuania, “disingenuously described as being near a hydroelectric dam.” But Lithuania’s grid is 0.5 percent hydroelectric and 78 percent nuclear. Perhaps the company’s next huge farm will be “near” the Three Gorges Dam in China, built to generate over three times as much power as our own Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State. China will be happy to play along, while it quietly plugs another coal plant into its grid a few pylons down the line. All the while, of course, Google will maintain its low-energy headquarters in California, a state that often boasts of the wise regulatory policies—centered, one is told, on efficiency and conservation—that have made it such a frugal energy user. But in fact, sky-high prices have played the key role, curbing internal demand and propelling the flight from California of power plants, heavy industries, chip fabs, server farms, and much else (see “California’s Potemkin Environmentalism,” Spring 2008).

So the suggestion that we can lift ourselves out of the economic doldrums by spending lavishly on exceptionally expensive new sources of energy is absurd. “Green jobs” means Americans paying other Americans to chase carbon while the rest of the world builds new power plants and factories. And the environmental consequences of outsourcing jobs, industries, and carbon to developing countries are beyond dispute. They use energy far less efficiently than we do, and they remain almost completely oblivious to environmental impacts, just as we were in our own first century of industrialization. A massive transfer of carbon, industry, and jobs from us to them will raise carbon emissions, not lower them.

The grand theory for how the developed world can unilaterally save the planet seems to run like this. We buy time for the planet by rapidly slashing our own emissions. We do so by developing carbon-free alternatives even cheaper than carbon. The rest of the world will then quickly adopt these alternatives, leaving most of its trillion barrels of oil and trillion tons of coal safely buried, most of the rain forests standing, and most of the planet’s carbon-rich soil undisturbed. From end to end, however, this vision strains credulity.

Perhaps it’s the recognition of that inconvenient truth that has made the anti-carbon rhetoric increasingly apocalyptic. Coal trains have been analogized to boxcars headed for Auschwitz. There is talk of the extinction of all humanity. But then, we have heard such things before. It is indeed quite routine, in environmental discourse, to frame choices as involving potentially infinite costs on the green side of the ledger. If they really are infinite, no reasonable person can quibble about spending mere billions, or even trillions, on the dollar side, to dodge the apocalyptic bullet.

Thirty years ago, the case against nuclear power was framed as the “Zero-Infinity Dilemma.” The risks of a meltdown might be vanishingly small, but if it happened, the costs would be infinitely large, so we should forget about uranium. Computer models demonstrated that meltdowns were highly unlikely and that the costs of a meltdown, should one occur, would be manageable—but greens scoffed: huge computer models couldn’t be trusted. So we ended up burning much more coal. The software shoe is on the other foot now; the machines that said nukes wouldn’t melt now say that the ice caps will. Warming skeptics scoff in turn, and can quite plausibly argue that a planet is harder to model than a nuclear reactor. But that’s a detail. From a rhetorical perspective, any claim that the infinite, the apocalypse, or the Almighty supports your side of the argument shuts down all further discussion.

To judge by actions rather than words, however, few people and almost no national governments actually believe in the infinite rewards of exorcising carbon from economic life. Kyoto has hurt the anti-carbon mission far more than carbon zealots seem to grasp. It has proved only that with carbon, governments will say and sign anything—and then do less than nothing. The United States should steer well clear of such treaties because they are unenforceable, routinely ignored, and therefore worthless.

If we’re truly worried about carbon, we must instead approach it as if the emissions originated in an annual eruption of Mount Krakatoa. Don’t try to persuade the volcano to sign a treaty promising to stop. Focus instead on what might be done to protect and promote the planet’s carbon sinks—the systems that suck carbon back out of the air and bury it. Green plants currently pump 15 to 20 times as much carbon out of the atmosphere as humanity releases into it—that’s the pump that put all that carbon underground in the first place, millions of years ago. At present, almost all of that plant-captured carbon is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by animal consumers. North America, however, is currently sinking almost two-thirds of its carbon emissions back into prairies and forests that were originally leveled in the 1800s but are now recovering. For the next 50 years or so, we should focus on promoting better land use and reforestation worldwide. Beyond that, weather and the oceans naturally sink about one-fifth of total fossil-fuel emissions. We should also investigate large-scale options for accelerating the process of ocean sequestration.

Carbon zealots despise carbon-sinking schemes because, they insist, nobody can be sure that the sunk carbon will stay sunk. Yet everything they propose hinges on the assumption that carbon already sunk by nature in what are now hugely valuable deposits of oil and coal can be kept sunk by treaty and imaginary cheaper-than-carbon alternatives. This, yet again, gets things backward. We certainly know how to improve agriculture to protect soil, and how to grow new trees, and how to maintain existing forests, and we can almost certainly learn how to mummify carbon and bury it back in the earth or the depths of the oceans, in ways that neither man nor nature will disturb. It’s keeping nature’s black gold sequestered from humanity that’s impossible.

If we do need to do something serious about carbon, the sequestration of carbon after it’s burned is the one approach that accepts the growth of carbon emissions as an inescapable fact of the twenty-first century. And it’s the one approach that the rest of the world can embrace, too, here and now, because it begins with improving land use, which can lead directly and quickly to greater prosperity. If, on the other hand, we persist in building green bridges to nowhere, we will make things worse, not better. Good intentions aren’t enough. Turned into ineffectual action, they can cost the earth and accelerate its ruin at the same time.

Use Energy, Get Rich and Save the Planet (OR DIE TRYING)

Good to see the much maligned Kuznets curve getting its annual airing on earth day from none other than the New York Times.

Use Energy, Get Rich and Save the Planet [New York Times]

When the first Earth Day took place in 1970, American environmentalists had good reason to feel guilty. The nation's affluence and advanced technology seemed so obviously bad for the planet that they were featured in a famous equation developed by the ecologist Paul Ehrlich and the physicist John P. Holdren, who is now President Obama's science adviser.

Their equation was I=PAT, which means that environmental impact is equal to population multiplied by affluence multiplied by technology. Protecting the planet seemed to require fewer people, less wealth and simpler technology - the same sort of social transformation and energy revolution that will be advocated at many Earth Day rallies on Wednesday.

But among researchers who analyze environmental data, a lot has changed since the 1970s. With the benefit of their hindsight and improved equations, I'll make a couple of predictions:

1. There will be no green revolution in energy or anything else. No leader or law or treaty will radically change the energy sources for people and industries in the United States or other countries. No recession or depression will make a lasting change in consumers' passions to use energy, make money and buy new technology - and that, believe it or not, is good news, because...

2. The richer everyone gets, the greener the planet will be in the long run.

I realize this second prediction seems hard to believe when you consider the carbon being dumped into the atmosphere today by Americans, and the projections for increasing emissions from India and China as they get richer.

Those projections make it easy to assume that affluence and technology inflict more harm on the environment. But while pollution can increase when a country starts industrializing, as people get wealthier they can afford cleaner water and air. They start using sources of energy that are less carbon-intensive - and not just because they're worried about global warming. The process of "decarbonization" started long before Al Gore was born.

The old wealth-is-bad IPAT theory may have made intuitive sense, but it didn't jibe with the data that has been analyzed since that first Earth Day. By the 1990s, researchers realized that graphs of environmental impact didn't produce a simple upward-sloping line as countries got richer. The line more often rose, flattened out and then reversed so that it sloped downward, forming the shape of a dome or an inverted U - what's called a Kuznets curve. (See for an example.)

In dozens of studies, researchers identified Kuznets curves for a variety of environmental problems. There are exceptions to the trend, especially in countries with inept governments and poor systems of property rights, but in general, richer is eventually greener. As incomes go up, people often focus first on cleaning up their drinking water, and then later on air pollutants like sulfur dioxide.

As their wealth grows, people consume more energy, but they move to more efficient and cleaner sources - from wood to coal and oil, and then to natural gas and nuclear power, progressively emitting less carbon per unit of energy. This global decarbonization trend has been proceeding at a remarkably steady rate since 1850, according to Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

"Once you have lots of high-rises filled with computers operating all the time, the energy delivered has to be very clean and compact," said Mr. Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller. "The long-term trend is toward natural gas and nuclear power, or conceivably solar power. If the energy system is left to its own devices, most of the carbon will be out of it by 2060 or 2070."

But what about all the carbon dioxide being spewed out today by Americans commuting to McMansions? Well, it's true that American suburbanites do emit more greenhouse gases than most other people in the world (although New Yorkers aren't much different from other affluent urbanites).

But the United States and other Western countries seem to be near the top of a Kuznets curve for carbon emissions and ready to start the happy downward slope. The amount of carbon emitted by the average American has remained fairly flat for the past couple of decades, and per capita carbon emissions have started declining in some countries, like France. Some researchers estimate that the turning point might come when a country's per capita income reaches $30,000, but it can vary widely, depending on what fuels are available. Meanwhile, more carbon is being taken out of the atmosphere by the expanding forests in America and other affluent countries.

Deforestation follows a Kuznets curve, too. In poor countries, forests are cleared to provide fuel and farmland, but as people gain wealth and better agricultural technology, the farm fields start reverting to forestland.
Of course, even if rich countries' greenhouse impact declines, there will still be an increase in carbon emissions from China, India and other countries ascending the Kuznets curve. While that prospect has environmentalists lobbying for global restrictions on greenhouse gases, some economists fear that a global treaty could ultimately hurt the atmosphere by slowing economic growth, thereby lengthening the time it takes for poor countries to reach the turning point on the curve.

But then, is there much reason to think that countries at different stages of the Kuznets curve could even agree to enforce tough restrictions? The Kyoto treaty didn't transform Europe's industries or consumers. While some American environmentalists hope that the combination of the economic crisis and a new president can start an era of energy austerity and green power, Mr. Ausubel says they're hoping against history.

Over the past century, he says, nothing has drastically altered the long-term trends in the way Americans produce or use energy - not the Great Depression, not the world wars, not the energy crisis of the 1970s or the grand programs to produce alternative energy.

"Energy systems evolve with a particular logic, gradually, and they don't suddenly morph into something different," Mr. Ausubel says. That doesn't make for a rousing speech on Earth Day. But in the long run, a Kuznets curve is more reliable than a revolution.

Further Reading

"Environmental Kuznets Curves." B. Yandle, M. Bhattarai, M. Vijayaraghavan. PERC, 2004.

"Dematerialization." J.H. Ausubel, P.E. Waggoner, PNAS, 2008

"Economic Growth and the Environment." A.B. Krueger, G. Grossman. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1995.

"Governance, Institutions and the Environment-Income Relationship." K. Dutt. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 2008.

"The Jack Rabbit of Depression, or Do economic slumps benefit environment?" (pdf). J. Ausubel, P.E. Waggoner. Working paper, 2009.

"The IPAT Equation and Its Variants." (pdf) M.R. Chertow. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2001.