DECC's 2050 emissions pathway

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Sat Mar 5 12:50:09 GMT 2011

Hmmn, you go to quickly check your email and before you know it you blow more 
than an hour picking apart someone's spreadsheet! :-(

On Saturday, March 05, 2011 10:24:38 am John Ackers wrote:
> Don't know how we have all missed this.   Mike Childs, Lynas 
> and others contributing to it.


> Public contributions only for 3 or 4 days starting today!  
> Incredibly short period.

Short consultation? Perhaps they're worried someone would do a hatchet job on 
their spreadsheet.........   too late!

If you want to devise any reasonable plan then it has to be based upon 
capacity, and the limitations of the technology upon which it is based, and 
the resource implications of that strategy both today and extending well into 
the future.

If you pull apart the guts of this spreadsheet then the limiting factors to 
this model are, in order of significance --

* Primarily, the targets set for future economic growth and population (see 
the 'Global Assumptions' tab) -- since they are the scaling variable by which 
all decisions are modified;

* Second, the figures set by the user, which have no corresponding weighting 
for either their ecological or reaource impacts, other than the effect on 
carbon emissions; and

* Finally, the conversion factors and source data that are embodied within the 
assumptions of the Digest of UK Energy Statistics, which form the structure 
within which the model assumption are calculated and presented.

If you really were serious then you'd take the emissions limit as the critical 
limiting factor and make all other considerations subservient to it -- 
unsurprisingly, that's not how this is spreadsheet constructed!

What this model represents is an extrapolation of past trends, and past 
assumptions about the economic model upon which the nation operates. In many 
ways this follows MacKay's own principles in 'Sustainable Energy Without the 
Hot Air', for example, where he never assumes a reduction in power demand 
because, as he states:
"In these plans, I assume that the current demand for electricity for gadgets, 
light and so forth is maintained... Yes, lighting efficiency is improved by a 
switch to light-emitting-diodes for most lighting, and many other gadgets will 
get more efficient; but thanks to the blessings of economic growth, we'll have 
increased the number of gadgets in our lives."
(I discussed this general issues in my Ecolonomics post from Sept. 2009 -- 
http://fraw/mei/ecolonomics/00/ecolonomics-20090912.shtml )

So, this whole strategy can be characterised as:

* A guestimation of future trends in carbon emissions,

* Not based on upon the direct characteristics of the systems involved but 
assumptions about their performance,

* Based upon economic projections that are a summation of past trends, which 
represent past political orthodoxy about wealth and markets, not an estimation 
of future potential, and which therefore represent a form of political-
economic stasis, and

* Most important, it uses metrics within the model which are entirely false 
because they are one-dimensional, only considering carbon and not the other 
directly related limiting factors on human ecology (e.g. soils, land, water, 
mineral resources and energy... and, of course, population) -- and which are 
ultimately over-ridden by these other factors because they represent 'primary' 
resource constraints not 'secondary' or 'derivative' products of the human 
system (for an explanation of this reality see ).

This isn't an environmental, let alone an ecological, strategy -- it's a 
reductionist smoke and mirrors exercise that, I personally consider, has been 
"seen to be done" rather than "done to be seen". The decision on which energy 
strategy the government will adopt *has already been selected* because it's 
pre-determined by the economic strategy which they are committed to -- growth! 
In order to grow the economy you must fulfil certain pre-requisites, and a 
growing supply of energy and resources is the principal factor in this. 
Therefore this is not a truly "open" consultation -- any solution which 
doesn't accord to this overarching, pre-determined strategy will be summarily 

The difficulty omitted in this model is that the growth trend is dependent upon 
an equilibrium within which the availability and price of a whole range of 
resources -- not just carbon -- have a far greater effect on  economic 
stability than the superficial political (as in, if you ask a politician which 
is more important, growth or carbon) concern about carbon.

As we've seen with the political consequences of rising food and fuel prices 
in the developing world, which will ultimately hit home here too once they 
rise further, these other factors represent the driving economic reality of 
resource depletion, and render the carbon issue an irrelevance in the face of 
the dire human needs they create. For that reason exercises such as this are 
misleading not only for the public, but also for the environment movement in 
general, because they don't engage with the real trends which are driving our 
modern, prdominantly urbanised society.

Like many forms of mainstream campaigning, this spreadsheet embodies stasis 
within the economic system. It does not seek to challenge the social and 
economic structures created by past economic expansion because that raises 
awkward questions about economic/ecological/ethical fairness and justice. As 
the factors currently driving the inflationary and asset price spirals drive 
the equilibrium away from stasis I think that the carbon issue, driven by the 
political necessity to answer such rational organs as The Sun and the Daily 
Hate, will take a back-seat to other issues. To consciously create a future 
where we can reduce carbon, and address the resource depletion issue, requires 
that we change some of the fundamental assumptions within the economic model 
of the UK -- that's not the purpose of this consultation, and nor is it 
reflected in the assumptions inherent in the use of this spreadsheet.

Enough!... I'm off into the garden!




"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
For details see

Read my 'essay' weblog, "Ecolonomics", at:

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
email - mobbsey at
website -
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