Anorak | The Human virus: making IPAT divided by technology

The Human virus: making IPAT divided by technology

by | 13th, September 2016

Writing in the Gaurdian, Travis N Rieder wants to talk about what leading Left-wing British politicians call ‘the human virus‘:

Yes, humans are producers, and many wonderful things have come from human genius. But each person, whatever else they are (genius or dunce, producer or drag on the economy) is also a consumer. And this is the only claim needed in order to be worried about climate change.

Eating and breathing are wrong? Before we go on, one of the comments below the line is wonderful:


‘Modern human beings’ have only inhabited the earth for around 200,000 years. I have no doubt that one day a microbe will wipe us out, efficient little things that they are…

Mother nature will have its day! So I’d stop worrying about population growth and concentrate on saving the NHS for the here and now.

Once you stop rolling your eyes and sneering, we can continue:

The problem here is that we have a finite resource – the ability of the Earth’s atmosphere to absorb greenhouse gases without violently disrupting the climate – and each additional person contributes to the total amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. So although humans will hopefully save us (we do, in fact, desperately need brilliant people to develop scaleable technology to remove carbon from the air, for instance), the solution to this cannot be to have as many babies as possible, with the hope that this raises our probability of solving the problem. Because each baby is also an emitter, whether a genius or not.

Wow. Utter tosh, of course.

He is stuck on this:

What is the IPAT Equation, or I = P X A X T?
One of the earliest attempts to describe the role of multiple factors in determining environmental degradation was the IPAT equation1. It describes the multiplicative contribution of population (P), affluence (A) and technology (T) to environmental impact (I). Environmental impact (I) may be expressed in terms of resource depletion or waste accumulation; population (P) refers to the size of the human population; affluence (A) refers to the level of consumption by that population; and technology (T) refers to the processes used to obtain resources and transform them into useful goods and wastes. The formula was originally used to emphasize the contribution of a growing global population on the environment, at a time when world population was roughly half of what it is now. It continues to be used with reference to population policy.

George Monbiot notes:

David Satterthwaite of the International Institute for Environment and Development, points out that the old formula taught to all students of development – that total impact equals population times affluence times technology (I=PAT) – is wrong. Total impact should be measured as I=CAT: consumers times affluence times technology. Many of the world’s people use so little that they wouldn’t figure in this equation. They are the ones who have most children.

The Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was published in 2000. Tim Worstall looks:

More humans means more emissions therefore we should have fewer humans. This is one of those things which is possibly true. But of course what we want to know is, well, is it true? And the answer is no.

For this has been considered. In the SRES which came out in, erm, 1992? And which is the economic skeleton upon which every IPCC report up to and including AR4 was built. And it specifically looks at the varied influences of wealth, population size and technology upon emissions. That’s what it’s actually for in fact. It can be thought of a working through of Paul Ehrlich’s I = PAT equation, impact equals population times affluence times technology. Except, of course, it gets that equation right, dividing by technology, not multiplying by it.

And the answer is that population isn’t the important variable. Nor is affluence, not directly, it’s technology which is. Move over to non-emitting forms of energy generation (and no, not some crash program, just the same sort of increase in efficiency which we had in the 20th century will do it) as in A1T and we’re done. Or if you prefer a bit more social democracy, as in B1.

Population size just isn’t the driving force behind the problem. Thus it’s also not the solution. And we’ve known this for more than 20 years.

Carry on breeding, then.

Posted: 13th, September 2016 | In: Broadsheets, Reviews Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink