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Landsburg on Climate Economics:

In Slate, armchair economist Steven Landsburg examines the questions climate change policy advocates must answer. In particular, he notes that recognizing the fact of human influence on the global climate does not resolve the policy debate. There are many other scientific, economic, and ethical questions to resolve first, including the proper discount rate and level of societal risk aversion. I don't agree with every jot and tittle of Landsburg's piece, but I think it helps elucidate the complexity of climate change policy, even before one considers specific policy proposals and issues of institutional design.

randal (mail):
I've never understood why the "human influence" factor is relevant.

Let's assume that we figured out that global warming wasn't human influenced, but we could help reverse it by cutting CO2. Would we be less inclined to do so? Why?

(I of course think there is a human influence factor. I also of course realize that it would be very strange to find out that humans were not a cause of the warming but nonetheless could effect a reversal. Still, I've always felt that there was something more to the "human influence" debate and I'm trying to figure out what it is.)
10.23.2007 1:30am
abb3w:
Much of his argument rides on the assumption that Question One will show the impacts won't be felt for multiple generations, and that continued exponential growth is a reasonable assumption for the next couple hundred years. Among other recent climate events, the opening of the Northwest and Northeast Passages leaves the former questionable; the 1971 Meadows-Forrester report "Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World" does so for the latter.

I(AmNotAnEconomist) also claim that the exponential time-value model routinely used for economics is dangerously flawed here. Time-value primarily (although perhaps not exclusively) models risk; that is, probability. An exponential model assumes the risks are independent from year to year. When events are dependent, the model is inaccurate.
10.23.2007 1:53am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
I guess Landsburg's article is supposed to be funny, and mock the idea climate change due to global warming might actually occur abruptly.

But what about THIS very recent article featured on Yahoo News?

"The changes "characterize a carbon cycle that is generating stronger-than-expected and sooner-than-expected climate forcing," the researchers report."

I don't think there's going to be time for 'policy debate' or 'resolving ethical questions first.' From the looks of this unfolding catastrophe, there is a very high order of probability global warming due to abrupt climate change will be ... well ...

ABRUPT.
10.23.2007 2:50am
RJHayden:
On the question of why human participation in warming factors into the debate, over time I've come to believe that there are two elements at play, in varying amounts according to the person:

1) If human activity contributes to warming, then we must be able to have a positive reverse impact by reducing or stopping whatever behavior contributed.

2) Humans are mostly an evil and destructive force on the planet, which our involvement in warming proves. We have a moral obligation to have as little impact on the planet as possible, whatever sacrifices are involved, and should leave things as nature intended them.

I find both of these to be incomplete and error-prone. However, at least the first involves some hopefulness; the second I simply find repugnant.
10.23.2007 3:19am
Brian K (mail):
the second I simply find repugnant.

i guess its a good thing then that it is a mixture of strawmen, views held by very small minorities and views that don't necessarily entail one another.

and (1) is a factual statement...it can be proven or disproven. if its error-prone, what evidence do you have that it is a false statement? (i am of course assuming you change the "must" to "might" because the former is again a strawman and/or view held by a very small minority of people.)
10.23.2007 4:26am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
A lot of good questions. Personally, I think that #1 is almost irrelevant until #2 is answered. Why should we be spending trillions of dollars alleviating global warming, if we would be better off with a warmer planet? The historical record would seem to support that warmer is better, and that by itself should be sufficient to give us pause before spending our children's inheritance in fixing something that maybe shouldn't be fixed.

Another issue that is obliquely addressed in the article is that money now is not the same as money later. Thus, if the money being suggested to be spent is not spent on alleviating global warming, it will instead be compounded into future incomes. But the compounding is such that over the next decade the difference can be dramatic. If, as suggested, our descendants could all be making a million dollars a day in a hundred years, then this excess could be used to belatedly fix whatever problems arise.

We have come to accept that much of our environment is cleaner and safer than it was a hundred years ago. Much of that is because we are that much richer and can afford to clean up our waters, air, etc.

As a result of this compounding, it may be a lot more efficient, for example, to install a bunch of nuclear plants, only worry about a couple of hundred years of confinement, and expect that solving the nuclear waste problem a hundred years from now will take much less a portion of our national wealth.

I am not necessarily advocating doing nothing, but rather doing enough research to be able to realistically answer the types of questions that this article brings up before committing trillions of dollars, that compounded over the next century would be potentially be tens, if not hundreds, of trillions of dollars of forgone wealth for our descendants.
10.23.2007 4:42am
advisory opinion:
"In particular, he notes that recognizing the fact of human influence on the global climate does not resolve the policy debate."

Stating the obvious.

The old you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is'.

That he must state the obvious because most people think the scientific question solves the policy debate is worrying in itself.
10.23.2007 6:24am
pmorem (mail):
Even avoiding a calamity has to be looked at carefully. Suppose we had two choices:
1) Reduce our economic growth by 1% permanently
2) Suffer a 50% economic hit 70 years in the future
That actually works out to being a wash when the hit happens. Either way the resulting economy is the same size.
10.23.2007 7:04am
Bottomfish (mail):
Landsburg's first question, "How much does human activity affect the climate?" should really be divided into two: "How much does CO2 emission affect the climate?" and "How much do other human activities than CO2 emission affect the climate?" The near-universal assumption is that the cause of warming is only CO2. Personally, I think that the urban heat island effect or something like it are the predominant cause of such warming as has been experienced up to now. How do you estimate the cost of a fix unless you know just what the fixing involves?
10.23.2007 8:26am
CFG in IL (mail):
I would add a subquestion to Landsburg's first question: what are the error bars on our understanding of climate change? What is the range of possible outcomes?

The scientific consensus is that global warming is occurring and that it is driven by human influences (Conspirators should have a look at realclimate.org). The problem is that we still don't understand climate very well; the error bars on the outcome of this uncontrolled experiment with the vast, poorly understood, but vital system that is our climate are large.

So the possible outcomes range from mild warming to sudden, catastrophic change. What is the likelihood of the latter? Smaller than 1%? Smaller than 0.01%? Most of us would be willing to invest significant resources in avoiding a threat to life and limb as small as 0.01%.
10.23.2007 8:45am
Guest101:
Landsburg criticizes Gore for taking an insufficiently nuanced approach to the question of climate change that fails to consider these complicated questions of economic and environmental policy, but of course, it's difficult to engage in nuanced policy debates when a substantial portion of the population continues to deny that the phenomenon in question even exists. Notwithstanding the caricatures drawn by his opponents, Gore is a bright guy who's more than capable of understanding the subtleties and trade-offs involved in an adult discussion of climate change policy, but I think he has viewed and continues to view his primary challenge at this point as persuading enough people of the reality of the problem to get us to the point of having that serious conversation about the appropriate and necessary response in the first place.
10.23.2007 9:01am
Bottomfish (mail):
Realclimate.org has a section "The CO2 Problem in 6 Easy Steps" but it did not begin to answer my question about attribution of causes. This is what it says concerning the 3-degree-forcing-per-doubling-of-CO2 issue:sensitivity classically defined is the response of global mean temperature to a forcing once all the 'fast feedbacks' have occurred (atmospheric temperatures, clouds, water vapour, winds, snow, sea ice etc.), but before any of the 'slow' feedbacks have kicked in (ice sheets, vegetation, carbon cycle etc.). Given that it doesn't matter much which forcing is changing, sensitivity can be assessed from any particular period in the past where the changes in forcing are known and the corresponding equilibrium temperature change can be estimated. The fudging here is pretty blatant. Our age is not like past ages, so how do we know what the slow feedbacks will be?

More to the point -- here I am in Massachusetts and Cape Wind has been turned down. Does it really matter so much when most people are more concerned about real estate values than anything else? (No matter what they say about how stupid people like me are.)
10.23.2007 9:33am
springjourney (mail):
We should fight global warming by rewarding to people for reduction in hydrocarbon consumption, and consumption in general. That would force China to produce less garbage, as a result energy utilization will ber reduced.
I think fight against global warming is very noble idea.
10.23.2007 11:40am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I've never understood why the "human influence" factor is relevant.

Let's assume that we figured out that global warming wasn't human influenced, but we could help reverse it by cutting CO2. Would we be less inclined to do so? Why?
I think the better question is, what happens if we determine that there is man caused global warming, but also that it is overall beneficial?
10.23.2007 12:17pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
"...recognizing the fact of human influence on the global climate does not resolve the policy debate."

That's true and I used to use that thought as a rhetorical gambit with hard-core denialists so that they would be able to accept global climate change because I was agreeing that many policy choices yet remain and they could still act like denialists.

I guess it worked though social progress is slow.
10.23.2007 1:17pm
Guest101:
Andy,

How does the fact that Gore's proposed solutions would create secondary environmental benefits make his concern with global warming an "excuse"? If I go on a diet for the purpose of improving my cardiovascular health, does the fact that I now find it easier to get dates make my primary motivation a sham?
10.23.2007 3:21pm
RJHayden:
In response to my statement of a possible reason people focus on human involvement in warming:

1) If human activity contributes to warming, then we must be able to have a positive reverse impact by reducing or stopping whatever behavior contributed.

Brian K asks:

(1) is a factual statement...it can be proven or disproven. if its error-prone, what evidence do you have that it is a false statement?

I called it incomplete and error-prone (not false) because we can't assume without study that reducing or stopping a behavior will solve the problem that resulted from that behavior.

Let's say you got cancer from working with asbestos-laden insulation in submarines in WWII. Would the doctor recommend that you cure your cancer by stopping work on such submarines? Probably not, for a variety of reasons:

- You probably aren't working on such submarines anymore.
- If you are working on submarines, they may not have the asbestos-laden insulation anymore.
- Even if both those circumstances exist, and stopping the behavior might prevent future cancer, it won't cure your existing cancer.

This doesn't mean there isn't benefit to removing asbestos-laden insulation from submarines; there may well be. But it's a separate issue from the best way to cure the ills caused by the problem.
10.23.2007 4:42pm
Brian K (mail):
so instead of responding to my question, you basically restate what i said? i asked specificially what evidence do you have that it is an error prone statement? (and false is close enough). what evidence do you have that reducing excess CO2 and/or other global warming gas production will not have a positive effect on the climate? More specifically what evidence do you have that the earth's overwhelmed natural carbon sequestration processes (e.g. dissolving into the ocean) will fail or have already failed?
10.23.2007 5:19pm
RJHayden:
I was addressing the logical fallacy; I don't presume to have the scientific answers.

When I am trying to suss out what make scientific sense, about the best my poor brain can do is look for those scientists and thinkers who, in presenting their interpretation of the evidence, follow the scientific method and engage in a form of logical thinking that makes sense to me. My only hope personally of identifying faulty science is to attempt to identify logical fallacies behind the assumptions being made in interpreting the evidence.

So in this discussion, I'm simply indicating that in my experience one of the major arguments people make to me about how to solve environmental problems comes down to, "We must do X because it's the opposite of how we got to this situation." As a solution in itself I find this incomplete and error-prone on the face of it, based on the logic they are using to get there. If someone presents the same solution as the result of study and experimental evidence showing that the solution would have the desired impact, I am much more amenable.
10.23.2007 6:18pm
Smokey:
bottomfish:

From your comment I take it that you are unaware that Realclimate.org routinely deletes posts that show solid evidence that the global warming conjecture is scientifically unfounded?

Realclimate has, without explanation, routinely deleted posts by meterorologist/hurricane expert Dr William Gray, physics professor Freeman Dyson, and numerous other scientists when their posts refuted the falsified CO2/AGW [humans cause global warming] conjecture. In fact this is one of the peer-reviewed papers that successfully falsified the CO2/AGW conjecture.

Intelligent people make smart decisions by listening to the conclusions of those eminent in their field of study, don't they? But Realclimate deletes opposing points of view. That means, of course, that they have something to hide. Therefore, it is a propaganda site, isn't it? In this $trillion question, we do not need Realclimate or anyone else censoring relevant information.

A related problem is that scientists [like the IPCC's Richard Hansen and Michael Mann] selling the falsified AGW conjecture refuse to allow other scientists to see their data. A basic tenet of the scientific method is falsification; a scientist puts forth a conjecture, and allows the scientific community to attempt to falsify it. How can a conjecture be falsified, if the methodology and data are a secret? They are, of course, hiding their data because they know it will be falsified.

There are plenty of other climate sites available to anyone who hasn't already made up his mind. For instance, there's Realclimate's arch-competitor, JunkScience.com, which does not delete posts. [Which site would you trust?] These other sites do not delete posts - they allow scientists to refute false conjectures on-line and in public.

And there is a great coalition of climate scientists here, too. Very good climate info.

Finally, the reference to surface station temp records has been thoroughly discredited, as you can see here and here.


Folks, there is big, big, BIG money involved in the AGW scam - literally trillions of dollars. American tax dollars. Your dollars. That's why there's such a desperate attempt to claim 'consensus' on AGW/global warming. So bear with me a moment, and consider this:

In the early '70's physicist Alan Guth of M.I.T. postulated that the proton decays over time. Recall that falsification is essential to the scientific method; if a conjecture can be proven false [falsified], it is scientifically invalid. But if it can not be proven false, it becomes a scientific theory [like the theory of gravity].

In order to test Dr Guth's proton decay, and based on scientific consensus, in 1982 physicists built a huge [and very expensive] detector thousands of feet underground called the Kamiokande, using taxpayers' money. The Kamiokande detector failed to find the proton decay predicted by scientific consensus.

But governments and scientists did not give up. Next, they built Kamiokande II in 1985. It cost $1 billion. The scientific consensus was overwhelming that this new, more sensitive detector would prove that the proton decays over time [the lifetime of a proton was determined - by consensus - to be about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years].

Kamiokande II failed to find any evidence of proton decay. But many physicists were certain that the proton decays [they had staked their reputations on it]. They prevailed on the government to spend more $billions, and Superkamiokande [Super K] was completed in 1996. Why? Because the overwhelming scientific consensus was still that the proton decays into lighter subatomic particles.

But the ultra-sensitive Super K failed to find any evidence of proton decay.

The consensus in favor of proton decay was getting a little shaky, after many $billions spent [although a few scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for discovery of neutrinos from supernovas by using the detectors and studying the results for over many years].

Even though the consensus for the proton decay conjecture was finally eroding [after burning through much of the U.S. science budget, thereby starving many other programs], the search for proton decay had taken on an inertia of its own.

In 2006 the latest and greatest detector was on-line: the Super K II. As you can probably guess, the Super K II has not found any evidence of proton decay. More than $20 billion has been spent so far on the proton decay conjecture - based on the consensus of physicists.

It hasn't been money completely wasted. The purpose of the scientific method is to show whether a conjecture can be falsified. In the case of proton decay, the conjecture was falsified - forcing scientists to acknowledge that they needed a new and entirely different conjecture, providing a hypothesis as to why the proton does not decay.

Compare this situation with the current AGW/global warming conjecture: we are being told that we must pony up over a trillion dollars to fight AGW - when there is no solid evidence, much less any proof, that CO2 is causing, or ever will cause, any problem at all.

Moral of the story: Watch your wallets, folks.


"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins -- all of them imaginary."

~~ H. L. Mencken
10.23.2007 8:03pm
Brian K (mail):
So in this discussion, I'm simply indicating that in my experience one of the major arguments people make to me about how to solve environmental problems comes down to, "We must do X because it's the opposite of how we got to this situation." As a solution in itself I find this incomplete and error-prone on the face of it, based on the logic they are using to get there.

this exactly why i pointed out that your argument is essentially a strawman. you are ignoring the unstated assumption that statement (1) is based on. i alluded to it in my previous post but didn't state it explicity.

The assumption is that over time the earth will sequester the excess carbon that we have put into the atmosphere, provided we allow it to. the new equilibrium reached may not be the same one that was reached before we began adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, but it would almost certainly mitigate some of the harmful consequences. that is why decreasing CO2 output and increasing CO2 sinks are proposed as a partial solutions rather than active carbon sequestration (e.g. pumping excess CO2 into the ground).
10.24.2007 12:02am
Smokey:
Brian K:

You're probably a heckuva nice guy, but really, do you just skim right past everyone else's posts, thereby reinforcing your CO2/AGW misconceptions? As stated in Lansberg's #1:
These are questions for physical scientists, not economists or politicians.
One of the helpful links above cites a peer-reviewed physical science paper, which falsifies the greenhouse/global warming/AGW conjecture [see the 7:03pm post above to understand what falsification means in the scientific method].

By being so frightened of the discredited CO2 boogeyman, you're like the old ladies in a dark room at midnight, who are absolutely terrified of the black cat in the room. But when the light is turned on -- there's no cat!

Try turning the lights on.
10.24.2007 12:47am
Eli Rabett (www):
There is a lot here to answer. The basic answer to the 1 or 2 question is WGI, WGII and WGIII. The IPCC process has always had three parts. Working Group I reports on the physical processes that lead to climate change (and yes there are other things considered and quantified, its just that CO2 and greenhouse gases are the gorilla in the house) WGII considers the effects of the changes for good and ill, which are mostly ill, and WGIII considers ameliorations and mitigations that are possible and their costs.

There is a new paper due to appear momentarily (the press releases are already out) that answers the question about the possibility of sinks absorbing all of the excess carbon and the answer is sadly no, in fact the fraction of the carbon emissions being absorbed by the land has remained constant and the fraction absorbed by the ocean has decreased. We are not going to grow (in the plant sense) our way out of this.
10.24.2007 2:06pm
Smokey:
Eli Rabett:
We are not going to grow (in the plant sense) our way out of this.
The internationally esteemed professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Freeman Dyson, flatly disagrees with your contention.

So tell us, should we listen to you? Or to Professor Dyson?
10.24.2007 2:35pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Actually ol Smokey, you should listen to Josep Canadell and his group who study emissions and absorption of CO2 professionally and are responsible for the latest study. Dyson, as I recall is a mathematician who is expert in quantum.
10.24.2007 4:34pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Actually ol Smokey, you should listen to Josep Canadell and his group who study emissions and absorption of CO2 professionally and are responsible for the latest study. Dyson, as I recall is a mathematician who is expert in quantum.
10.24.2007 4:34pm
Smokey:
Eli Rabett:
"Actually ol Smokey, you should listen to... blah, blah, etc., etc."
Didn't mean to get you rattled into double posting. But there it is.

Now that the "CO2 causes the greenhouse effect" conjecture has been decisively falsified through the peer-review process, I prefer to not be pestered by folks with an agenda like Canadell, Hansen, Suzuki, Goe and Mann [all discredited now], who still insist on selling their scientifically disproven snake oil.

The reason is clear: they hung their hats on a conjecture that they believed was a fact - and then they got the rug pulled out from under their diminished reputations when their conjecture was falsified. They can't admit they are wrong.

The relevant question now is, what is your motivation for continuing to trumpet Al Gore's falsified conjecture? Are you a physicist like Freeman Dyson? Not likely at all. Why don't you tell some of us who have done *real* science [in my case, metrology] for the past few decades?
10.24.2007 9:38pm