How Scientists Got Climate Change So Wrong?

IMG_20191110_093618 Sigh. One of my predictions from the far past (but alas if I wrote it down I failed to do so clearly) was that when people started to take GW seriously, they would switch from ignoring what the science was saying to complaining that no-one had told them what was going to happen. Today's fuckwit example of that is Eugene Linden who "has written widely about climate change" for the NYT and who provides my headline.

EL writes For decades, most scientists saw climate change as a distant prospect. We now know that thinking was wrong. But in 1996 EL wrote Scientists have assumed that any change caused by humans would occur over many decades. They are no longer so sure... If climate change brings about a large rise in sea level, the principal immediate cause will be the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet... and so on. 1996, for those who haven't been counting, is decades ago. So his own words prove him wrong. But all that proves is that you can't trust EL. So continuing: In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group of thousands of scientists representing 195 countries, said in its first report that climate change would arrive at a stately pace, that the methane-laden Arctic permafrost was not in danger of thawing, and that the Antarctic ice sheets were stable. I think this is all wrong. EL is a journo, and probably not very good at logic. IPCC '90 did not strongly predict unstately GW, it did not predict rapid permafrost thawing, it did not predict that Antarctic was definitely unstable; but I don't think it predicted the negatives of those statements as EL asserts. Perhaps he isn't very good at uncertainty; few people are.

My pic, incidentally, is not from the IPCC but from the earlier Nierenberg report which - if you believe Oreskes, which you shouldn't, she's as wrong as EL - downplayed the risks of GW.

Before going on, I should note that while EL is wrong about the past, he's wrong about the present, too. Few thought it would arrive so quickly. Now we’re facing consequences once viewed as fringe scenarios isn't really defensible either. GW is arriving at about the pace predicted; there are still room for plenty of surprises in the future but there haven't been (m)any up to now.

So, let's read the bloody SPM. For permafrost, it doesn't say a lot, but it does say Higher temperatures could increase the emissions of methane at high northern latitudes from decomposable organic matter trapped in permafrost and methane hydrates. As to Antarctica, it includes The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is of special concern. A large portion of it containing an amount of ice equivalent to about 5m of global sea level, is grounded far below sea level. There have been suggestions that a sudden outflow of ice might result from global warming and raise sea level quickly and substantially. Recent studies have shown that individual ice streams are changing rapidly on a decade to century time-scale so you can't say you weren't warned. It does continue however this is not necessarily related to climate change. Within the next century it is not likely that there will be a major outflow of ice from West Antarctica due directly to global warming. But, you're not entitled to read "not likely" as "definitely". Perhaps it would be better to look at the full report? Section 9.4.6 is Possible Instability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Parts of this ice sheet are grounded far below sea level and may be very sensitive to small changes in sea level or melting rates at the base of adjacent ice shelves (e g Mercer 1978 Thomas el al 1979, Lingle 1985 Van der Veen 1986)... It is hard to make quantitative statements about this mechanism... Although much of this variability is probably not related directly to climate change it demonstrates the potential of this part of the ice sheet to react quickly to any change in boundary conditions. But then at the end, they're obliged to go back to most-probable: In summary, there is no firm evidence to suggest that the Antarctic ice sheet in general or the West Antarctic ice sheet in particular, have contributed either positively or negatively to past sea level rise On the whole, the sensitivity of Antarctica to climatic change is such that a future warming should lead to increased accumulation and thus a negative contribution to sea level change. Polar ice sheets are called out as a key area of uncertainty.

And the idea that IPCC 90 said that climate change would arrive at a stately pace is odd. You could get that impression if all you did were skim the center-line predictions, but not if you read the caveats such as we are confident that the uncertainties can be reduced by further research However, the complexity of the system means that we cannot rule out surprises.

Handling uncertainty

What the EL piece shows is how bad journos like him - and by extension the political process in general - are at handling uncertainty1. Anyone old enough to be around during the discussions in those days will remember a variety of predictions, from its-all-going-to-be-fine to we're-all-doomed, with all shades in between. WAIS instability and the dangers of SLR from it were among the more plausible dangerous scenarios. But certainly in the early days it is genuinely true that the state of knowledge was only enough to warn about such things; it would have been grossly irresponsible to state that they were definite. Indeed it would be so today; actually, the early center-line predictions hold up pretty well.

There's also a section which EL missed, entitled How much confidence do we have in our predictions? which sensibly concludes with Furthermore, we must recognise that our imperfect understanding of climate processes (and corresponding ability to model them) could make us vulnerable to surprises, just as the human made ozone hole over Antarctica was entirely unpredicted In particular, the ocean circulation, changes in which are thought to have led to periods of comparatively rapid climate change at the end of the last ice age, is not well observed, understood or modelled.

See-also this Twatter thread by Dave Levitan.

All EL's stuff is obviously inconsistent with the Emergency Folks' Exactly 40 years ago, scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference (in Geneva 1979) and agreed that alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act, but that is wrong too, so doesn't count against him.


* The Rhetoric of the Paris Agreement by Pierre Lemieux
* Duflo and Banerjee's Deficient Thinking on Incentives, Part II by David Henderson


1. Or, to be less charitable, how people will simply forget the past in order to fake up a story.



Lazard levelized cost of generation report

Via ZH, the Lazard levelized cost of generation report is out.


You can pick your own favourite figure; this is mine, renewables new-build vs conventional marginal costs. So, we're not there yet but we soon will be; and if you look at the new-build comparisons, you see you'd have to be mad to new-build coal. Or, TBH, nooks. But you'd also be mad to turn off existing nooks.


Techno-optimism (2017)


Be Cautious with the Precautionary Principle: Evidence from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident

Via The Economist: Be Cautious with the Precautionary Principle: Evidence from FukushimaDaiichi Nuclear Accident by Matthew Neidell, Shinsuke Uchida and Marcella Veronesi. The abstract says it all really:
This paper provides a large scale, empirical evaluation of unintended effects from invoking the precautionary principle after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. After the accident, all nuclear power stations ceased operation and nuclear power was replaced by fossil fuels, causing an exogenous increase in electricity prices. This increase led to a reduction in energy consumption, which caused an increase in mortality during very cold temperatures. We estimate that the increase in mortality from higher electricity prices outnumbers the mortality from the accident itself, suggesting the decision to cease nuclear production has contributed to more deaths than the accident itself.
Is this study reliable? I of course can't tell. It looks as science-y as you'd hope. I'm not entirely sure the hook to the PP is justified; the Japanese shut down their reactors more from public panic than anything else, and the Economist is obliged to confess that No Nooks remains popular there.

Let's look at some of their numbers. The estimates for deaths from the accident are No deaths have yet to be directly attributable to radiation exposure, though projections estimate a cumulative 130 deaths (Ten Hoeve and Jacobson 2012). An estimated 1,232 deaths occurred as a result of the evacuation after the accident1. And the deaths from the shutdown of the other Nooks are higher electricity prices resulted in at least an additional 1,280 deaths during 2011-2014. Since our data only covers the 21 largest cities in Japan, which represents 28 percent of the total population, the total effects for the entire nation are even larger. Well there you have it. Oh, except for Given that fossil fuels are far dirtier than nuclear power, the shift almost certainly added to air pollution and thus to respiratory ailments, the authors add, although they did not try to quantify this effect; and of course, the additional GHE.


* Pop, pop, pop and More stupidity about Fukushima.
New York Drops 2 of 4 Fraud Charges Against Exxon, Focuses on Martin Act Violations


1. The Economist says At least 2,000 people died because of the Fukushima evacuation, some in the chaos immediately after the accident, and more from secondary health problems such as stress, suicide and interrupted medical care, and of course I don't know which to believe.


Declaration of the First World Climate Conference, Geneva 1979

wmo-1979 Some rather over-excitable people (h/t ATTP) warn us of World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency. If I read enough of it I might discover exactly what they mean by "climate emergency" but in the mean time, they begin Exactly 40 years ago, scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference (in Geneva 1979) and agreed that alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act. And that seemed odd to me, so I stopped to find and read it. First a little context; consider In the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis? Which brings me back to my ancient World Climate Conference 1979 which is me rebutting suggestions that the conference predicted cooling. Yes really. Now as it happened it didn't, but some of it can be read that way, so you can see how implausible it seemed to me that it should support urgent action.

The declaration is available online nowadays. And due to some kind of magic I don't understand, it can even be cut-n-pasted. So the declaration summary text, headlined "An Appeal to Nations", is:
Having regard to the all-pervading influence of climate on human society and on many fields of human activity and endeavour, the Conference finds that it is now urgently necessary for the nations of the world:
(a) To take full advantage of man's present knowledge of climate;
(b) To take steps to improve significantly that knowledge;
(c) To foresee and to prevent potential man-made changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity.
Does that justify the paraphrase "agreed that alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act"? From just that brief text, it is ambiguous. The word "urgently" is certainly in there; combined with part (c) that could imply urgent action. OTOH, the text then segues off into
All countries are vulnerable to climatic variations, and developing countries, ·especially those in arid, semi-arid, or high rainfall regions, are particularly so. On the other hand, unfavourable impacts may be mitigated and positive benefits may be gained from use of available climate knowledge
which is largely meaningless boilerplate. And then:
The climates of the countries of the world are interdependent. For this reason, and in view of the increasing demand for resources by the growing world population that strives for improved living conditions, there is an urgent need for the development of a common global strategy for a greater understanding and a rational use of climate
which is rather hard to understand: quite how would we "rational"ly "use" our climate? Perhaps more interesting is:
Man today inadvertently modifies climate on a local scale and to a limited extent on a regional scale. There is serious concern that the continued expansion of man's activities on earth may cause significant extended regional and even global changes of climate. This possibility adds further urgency to the need for global co-operation to explore the possible future course of global climate and to take this new understanding into account in planning for the future development of human society.
This text seems to make it clear that whilst global climate change was one possibility they were considering, it is only a possibility; and the urgency is more to explore this matter than to take urgent action on it. Under the heading Climate and the future we find
Climate will continue to vary and to change due to natural causes. The slow cooling trend in parts of the northern hemisphere during the last few decades is similar to others of natural origin in the past, and thus whether it will continue or not is unknown. 
This is pretty consistent with the state of knowledge of those times, but notice that in 1979 they are not even predicting increasing temperatures with any degree of certainty1. This is a long long way away from "alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act". Of course it continues:
Research is revealing many basic features of climatic changes of the past and is providing the basis for projections of future climate. The causes of climate variations are becoming better understood, but uncertainty exists about many of them and their relative importance. Nevertheless, we can say with some confidence that the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and changes of land use have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by about 15 per cent during the last century and it is at present increasing by about 0.4 per cent per year. It is likely that an increase will continue in the future. Carbon dioxide plays a fundamental role in determining the temperature of the earth's atmosphere, and it appears plausible that an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can contribute to a gradual warming of the lower atmosphere, especially at high latitudes. Patterns of change would be likely to affect the distribution of temperature, rainfall and other meteorological parameters, but the details of the changes are still poorly understood. 
Which again is entirely reasonable; given the state then, "plausible" is what they should have said about future warming; notice that there's no quantification (and future increases in CO2 are only regarded as "likely"). And then:
It is possible that some effects on a regional and global scale may be detectable before the end of this century and become significant before the middle of the next century. This time scale is similar to that required to redirect, if necessary, the operation of many aspects of the world economy, including agriculture and the production of energy. Since changes in climate may prove to be beneficial in some parts of the world and adverse in others, significant social and technological readjustments may be required.  

Conclusions and Recommendations 

There's a section for this. The top two are Research into the mechanisms of climate in order to clarify the relative roles of natural and anthropogenic influences and Improving the acquisition and availability of climatic data. Scientists voting for research? You astonish me. Next Application of knowledge of climate in planning, development and management... for the application of climate data in the food, water, energy and health sectors. This I think amounts to common-or-garden stuff. Study of the impacts of climatic variability and change on human activities - more study, meh.

So in the end I think the detailed text resolves the ambiguity; the urgently necessary to act paraphrase is wrong.

Many or perhaps most people have never actually bothered read any of these source documents, even though nowadays they're easy to find. Instead they rely on other people's motivated and over-excited paraphrases, because they fit the world-view they wish to promote. Lots of people seem to want to believe that scientists have known all this stuff since the 60s, or 70s, or 80s (take your pick) but that isn't true.

You might perhaps reasonably ask whether this is relevant to the Great Climate Emergency. When I've finished reading what they say, I'll let you know what I think. But given this example, I'm going to have to check all their statements and take none of it on trust.


1. As I said probably in about 2003This isn't a prediction of warming such as you would find in the 2001 IPCC TAR, its a much weaker statement of plausiblity appropriate to the level of knowledge of those times.

2. Top-level link to World Climate Conference - Declaration and supporting documents. Top-level link to Event: World Climate Conference-1 (WCC-1) (12-23 February 1979; Geneva, Switzerland) (12-23 February 1979).




Sensitive but wrong

EImgsnjWoAAGTyG Top of my queue of stuff to blog about - yes, I really do have a queue, at least sometimes, and it isn't currently empty you lucky people - is this Twat wherein Young James opines "Key Points: UKESM1 performs well, having a stable pre-industrial state and showing good agreement with observations in a wide variety of contexts." could have been better written as "UKESM1 does a great job at everything other than its primary function". And if that seems harsh but fair, well, I'm far more interested in the accuracy than the tone. As I said in last year's appraisal interview and will doubtless say in this year's as well.

Gavin seperately but I can't believe entirely unrelatedly wrong Sensitive But Unclassified (from which I take my headline - geddit?).

So the point - in case you're so dull that you've missed it - is that UK ESM 1 rather seems to be a touch over-sensitive in its simulations of the C20C. And that just possibly that's linked to its rather higher-than-expected estimate of climate sensitivity. Which rather calls into question the credibility of said estimate of ECS. A feature it seems to share - see Gavins's post - with a number of other recent models. How to reconcile this with reality is a topic that will doubtless be explored by those rather more competent than me. Thought I did rather like this Twita lot of the same people who will bash this model for having a high ECS and not having a great fit to the instrumental record will, without a trace of irony, also tell you climate models are garbage bc they're tuned to match observations.

Aside: one of the things that pissed me off - particularly when I found myself writing it - was people saying that their climate model performed "well", when that was a meaningless ill-defined term running the full gamut of "it's a bit crap but let's hope no-one notices" to "oh dear".

This post brought to you by two and a half pints of "Nelson's Revenge".




Parliament sends 30,000 invitations for citizens’ assembly on climate change?

MVIMG_20190725_123308 I heard this on the radio and was initially somewhat interested. I'm not at all convinced that these CA ides make sense, but 30 k people would be quite a lot, and it would be hard for the govt to control something that big. Then I realised that I'd been fooled (never ever believe the headlines): the 30 k is merely those invited; only 110 people will be selected from amongst those that bother to reply. That is far more controllable.

And via Twatter I find that some charming people have been appointed to "lead" the assembly. These leads will ensure that Climate Assembly UK is:

* Balanced, accurate and comprehensive in terms of its content on climate change;
* Focused on the key decisions facing the UK about how to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Or, as the govt puts it, The Climate Assembly UK will advise Parliament on how people want us to meet the net zero target, and suggest policies that the Government can implement to secure success. So telling them that targets are a bad way to do it is not going to go down well, at a guess. Probably a waste of time but may be interesting to watch.


Shale gas fracking wasted ‘millions of taxpayers’ cash’, say scientists?

For reasons unclear to me fracking is sufficiently unpopular in the UK that the idiots who call themselves our govt are prepared to ban it in order to chase votes in the run-up to the upcoming general election. As a good Hayekian I of course believe that laws should be abstract and general, and therefore that the govt has no business banning specific things, which is the mark of populism and despotism and arbitrary govt. Separately, their moronic assertion that they are "following the science" makes no sense at all.

The Graun thinks that Shale gas fracking wasted ‘millions of taxpayers’ cash’, say scientists, but I'm not sure why they think that. Fracking was a private endeavour1. But the subhead is more amusing: "Scientists say research on carbon capture was always better environmental option". Who are these "scientists"? Ah, geologist Professor Stuart Haszeldine, of Edinburgh University. He sounds like a nice neutral scientist. I know, I'll look him up. Here he is: Stuart Haszeldine: Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at University of Edinburgh. How odd that the Graun didn't have enough spare electrons to note that he was a prof of CCS. Could it be at all possible that he has the slightest conflict of interest in this matter? No need to worry about that! When you have God On Your Side, you don't need to worry about trivia like conflicts of interest.

I don't think I've even needed to insult CCS for quite some time. But I'd be pretty sure that we're wasting millions of taxpayers cash on it.



1. See comments. Policing, etc..



Economics and morality

MVIMG_20190806_094153 Well I've done morality and economics ad infinitum, perhaps reversing things will help. This is sparked by yesterday's DICE damage functions which lead me to Costing the Earth: A Numbers Game or a Moral Imperative? by Gerard Roe; ATTP's version leads on to it more directly. Alas, it's all rather broken; let's present his abstract for starters:
It is a simple truism that public policy must be guided by an objective analysis of the physical and economic consequences of climate change. It is equally true that policy making is an inherently value-laden endeavor. While these two threads are interconnected, the relative weight given to each depends on the certainty that the technical analyses can deliver. For climate change, the envelope of uncertainty is best understood at the global scale, and there are some well known and formidable challenges to reducing it. This uncertainty must in turn be compounded with much more poorly constrained uncertainties in regional climate, climate impacts, and future economic costs. The case can be made that technical analyses have reached the point of diminishing returns. Should meaningful action on climate change await greater analytical certainty? This paper argues that policy makers should give greater weight to moral arguments, in no small part because that is where the heart of the debate really lies.
His simple truisms are of course wrong. It would be desireable for policy to be guided by objective analysis, but it rarely if ever is, so his "must" is certainly wrong. Never mind. Consider next the relative weight given to each depends on the certainty that the technical analyses can deliver. This points up one of his blind spots: his correctly realises that the technical analysis may be uncertain, but fails to realise that his moral analysis may suffer the same problem.

His next section considers the technical stuff and essentially ends "well it's all very uncertain" and so slips into the moral stuff as a substitute. But what he doesn't consider is how good the tech stuff would have to be for the moral not to matter. Suppose for example that we knew that the "damage" to 2100 would be 10% of GDP, but in the meantime it would grow by 5x more than offsetting the damage. Would that remove the need to consider morality? If not, suppose the damage we only 1%? If not (and his "because that is where the heart of the debate really lies" suggests not) what he's really arguing for is morality-based regardless of the technical analysis. Which is a defensible viewpoint, but not the one he is ostensibly presenting.

Next, we're onto the morality. Actually it's pretty thin, and there's no attempt at balance. Sample:
A planet that, in several centuries' time, is hotter by 5°C or more is a very different world and, in the opinion of many, would be a dismal legacy of economic and human progress that would also engender a hideous disruption to other life on Earth. Powerful emotions recoil against the prospect of bequeathing such a world to our descendants, but economic arguments that factor in conventional long-term growth rates are blind to such feelings. Through the lens of future generations, one can easily imagine that their increased consumption will not be the only measure by which they judge us.
Which is all rather one sided: oh noes, we're ruining the beautiful world. And certainly, significant warming will change the world (and already is, in some ways I regret). But how does your "morality"- love of beautiful things, love of polar bears (yes, he does explicitly throw in "Granddad, what is a polar bear?" despite the obvious fact that they will definitely continue to exist in zoos in the unlikely event of them going extinct in the wild) match up against billions of Chinese, Indian and African peasants rising out of poverty? I don't see Roe considering that; such considerations apparently belong to the "blind" and unfeeling world of economics. Unless his "Of course, arguments that have the opposite moral complexion can also be readily constructed, and they should be" is intended to provide the opposing arguments; but that's it; you can tell his heart isn't in it.

How did the AMS come to publish such a one-sided and ill-thought-out article? Probably because they have the same blind spot as Roe.


* That it is easier to agree on economics than morality
* Apologie des sorcières modernes by Pierre Lemieux


DICE damage functions

MVIMG_20190808_094231 Once again the question of the "standard" IAM results showing let us say entirely containable GDP damage estimates for GW up to let us say 21001 comes up. For example,
If the economic impact of climate change (by ~2100) has a good chance of being ~10% of GDP with economic growth continuing at 2-3% per year, then why is there so much worry about climate change? Is it 1. We shouldn't be concerned, because this really does properly reflect the overall impact? 2. This properly reflects the economic impact, but misses other substantive impacts that can't be quantified. 3. Simply doesn't make sense if we're heading for > 4C. 4. Something else?
First, is the premise of the question true: does the econ impact have a "good" (whatever that means) chance of being ~10% (and note that means a 10% decrease for GW-related reasons over an otherwise large increase, by a factor of perhaps 5)? I don't know. Expressed in hand-waving terms as my personal uncertainty, which I think reflects the state of expert knowledge to some degree, then I don't think I'd be confident of excluding damage less than 10%, but I wouldn't be confident of excluding "catastrophic" damage either.

But really, I didn't want to talk about that, I wanted to talk about IAMs damage functions2, in particular DICE's, since DICE is pretty well known. When faced with a damage function that doesn't predict enough damage, people tend to say things like "because it's pants-off ludicrous to estimate the economic & societal impacts of global temperature change using present-day GDP differences as a function of regional temperature"3. This is, of course, not a coherent argument. But AA interjected with Playing DICE with Life on Earth: Nordhaus’s Damage Function; by Prof Steve Keen, which is a coherent argument; whether it is right or convincing or not I shall now proceed to consider.

It doesn't start well, going on about "completely failed to anticipate the 2008 Global Financial Crisis", which makes as much sense as complaining that GCMs fail to predict individual ENSOs. But I think the author merely wants a dig against "neoclassical" economics to demonstrate his credentials. Onwards, to the damage function; he quotes Nordhaus: "Including all factors, the final estimate is that the damages are 2.1% of global income at a 3 °C warming, and 8.5% of income at a 6 °C warming" and notes - as my lead-in quote from ATTP also noted - that if that's true, then what are we worried about?

SK's first go is: Except those in New York... and numerous other coastal cities... 6 degrees is well above the threshold at which all of Greenland and the Antarctic will melt completely... That will take much more than a century of course, but a planetary temperature rise of 6 degrees will doom any city less than 70 metres above sea level. They will all have to be relocated and rebuilt. Which may well be true, but is a fail, because it goes beyond 2100. Next? a 6 degree increase in temperature will make many [near-equator cities] unliveable. The obvious suspects—the Middle East and Northern Africa—would see average summer temperatures of over 40 degrees in their major cities, and much of their countryside. Moving them, or emigrating from them, would be essential for survival. But is this true? Not obviously; you could air condition them. Using power from the giant solar arrays built in the desert. Or something. And I'm not sure that moving a whole pile of such cities would even be 10% of global GDP. SK decides on this basis that DICE-type damage numbers fail "the smell test" but a sense of smell is a very personal thing. Then we have the obligatory mention of tipping points, or tipping elements for the cognoscenti, but as so often the discussion doesn't really go anywhere, because other than "we can't rule out the existence of tipping points" there isn't very much to say.

So overall, as an attempt to dent DICE, it's not very convincing sez oi. Call for... Marty-Man!

Weitzman Sez

Another attempted answer was the sainted but dismal Weitzman. There were two offerings: ON MODELING AND INTERPRETING THE ECONOMICS OF CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE CHANGE - perhaps a bit shouty - and Reactions to the Nordhaus Critique.

In the second, W tries to make a heuristic-empirical case for there being big structural uncertainties in the economics of extreme climate change. I have no objections to that, indeed I'd be inclined to agree, but of course uncertainty isn't a definite answer. With mt and many others I would argue that uncertainty isn't your friend, but in terms of ATTP's lead-in, it also isn't a good answer in general discourse. What I'm really looking for are strong arguments that the existing damage function is wrong: not lots of examples of other functions you could fit, or reasons why the fit is uncertain. W is an economist not a climatologist, so some of his stuff around here is distinctly dodgy, including his assertion that carbon-cycle feedbacks are largely ignored in the std analysis. W's conclusion is that the economics of climate change consists of a very long chain of tenuous inferences fraught with big uncertainties in every link, which may well be true but doesn't actually offer any positive support for non-standard assumptions.

In the first (I skimmed it) it looks like he's doing "fat tails" again, which gets very much the same response. See-also God's Own view of dismality.

Is that 500 words yet? Can I stop now? It's nearly 10 pm.

Update: there's Climate Impacts on Economic Growth as Drivers of Uncertainty in the Social Cost of Carbon by Elisabeth J. Moyer et al., 2013. And there's The Economic Impacts of Climate Change by Richard Tol. Moyer wants more damage from damages affecting growth; Tol acknowledges this could be an affect but finds no evidence in favour. I do not arbitrate between them.


1. I don't think it's worth spending much time looking beyond 2100. And happily, ATTP's Twit was phrased to 2100 too.

2. And not about the other biggie, discount rates.

3. Note: Twatter's threading is utterly shite, or I'm just bad at using it, so if I've got any of these call-and-responses out of order, I blame Twatter, and anyone dumb enough to attempt to have a coherent argument there.


Estimates of the economic impact of climate change - ATTP
* Thompson, Erica L.; Smith, Leonard A: working paper: Escape from model-land


Economists greatly underestimate the price tag on harsher weather and higher seas. Why is that?

beehive Or, Opinion: Climate Change Will Cost Us Even More Than We Think, by Naomi Oreskes and Nicholas Stern in the NYT. NO's involvement is unpromising, but vaguely sane people twote it, so let's read on. But before I do, some more snark: the NYT op-ed says it is "explained in a recent report by scientists and economists"; naturally, Stern being a shy retiring fellow modestly doesn't mention that he is one of the authors of the said report.

The first thing to do is to search for the word "discount", because as we know, that's most of it. It says in the summary:
Economic assessments that are expressed solely in terms of effects on output (e.g.
gross domestic product), or that only extrapolate from past experience, or that
use inappropriate discounting
, do not provide a clear indication of the potential
risks to lives and livelihoods.
But don't get too excited: that was my bold, and it's three quarters of the way down the summary. It also rather delicately doesn't discuss what "inappropriate" might be - something that Stern doesn't like, perhaps. Very similar text appears lower down in the "Why the risks have been missed, omitted or unquantified" section, but again there's no discussion; it's treated as given that the weight of economic opinion is wrong (actually, not even that; if you read just the report you'd get the impression that people are mysteriously using "inappropriate" discount rates for apparently no reason at all), and the report's authors are so trivially correct that they don't need to explain why. This is a pattern for Stern.

Otherwise, we're underestimating the costs because
Economic assessments of the potential future risks of climate change have been omitting or grossly underestimating many of the most serious consequences for lives and livelihoods because these risks are difficult to quantify precisely and lie outside of human experience...
  • Destabilisation of ice sheets and glaciers and consequent sea level rise
  • Stronger tropical cyclones
  • Extreme heat impacts
  • More frequent and intense floods and droughts
  • Disruptions to oceanic and atmospheric circulation
  • Destruction of biodiversity and collapse of ecosystems
But most of those are included. There's a section in the report for each. The tropical cyclones one, for example, tells us that TCs will get bigger blah blah but we know that already; there's nothing omitted there; what the section rather pointedly fails to include is any analysis showing why or how this effect is omitted from damage estimates. Ward, also an author on the report, has form in this area too. RP Jr also notes that Greenland ice sheet SLR has not been missed.

Extreme heat impacts is much the same. This isn't omitted from damage estimates  (e.g. 4th National Climate Assessment report: Labour).


However, I have a lot of sympathy with:
The biggest risks from climate change are associated with consequences that are unprecedented in human history and cannot simply be extrapolated from the recent past. As such they are uncertain and difficult for scientists to quantify in physical terms. Furthermore, the resulting consequences for lives and livelihoods can be difficult to determine because they involve assumptions about the resilience of populations, their capacity for adaptation and their ability to move in a crowded world. The cascading risks that can result from these impacts can be difficult to predict precisely and to capture in simulations using current models. These uncertainties mean that the impacts are difficult to represent in terms of costs and benefits and are therefore often ignored or omitted from economic models.
Although I'm doubtful that "omitted" is correct. But, there's nothing new there: this is the well know uncertainty-is-not-your-friend problem. What does the report add to the sum of human knowledge?

Runaway tipping elements of no return

(update) Ah, I missed out the "tipping points" stuff; or "tipping elements" (or was that only briefly fashionable?). From the NYT:
In economic assessments of climate change, some of the largest factors, like thresholds in the climate system, when a tiny change could tip the system catastrophically, and possible limits to the human capacity to adapt, are omitted for this reason. In effect, economists have assigned them a value of zero, when the risks are decidedly not. One example from the report: The melting of Himalayan glaciers and snow will both flood and profoundly affect the water supply of communities in which hundreds of millions of people live, yet this is absent from most economic assessments.
But again, Stern has run off the rails. Glacial melt is a real effect, and quite likely a real problem, but it isn't really a tipping point problem. There's an albedo feedback effect, but that's different (well, that leads towards the entire difficult discussion of whehter the tipping points stuff means anything much).


Societal tipping points - ATTP. There's a semi-good-point: [Economists] approach climate damages as minor perturbations around an underlying path of economic growth... Hence, this type of analysis cannot even address the question of whether or not there might be societal tipping points; it assumes, by definition, that there aren’t any. the problem is that this idea doesn't go anywhere other than "we should think about it".
* The Biggest Threat To Climate Science Comes From Climate Advocates - Roger Pielke, Forbes.
Consistency & freedom - Don Boudreaux
* Climate Chickenhawks


We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line

73026063_10157523562167350_3186973515836293120_o Aka Amsterdam Man again; aka 3:57:43 (GPS trace).

Here as an update for my records is all my marathons, in order:

Rotterdam 2018: 4:25:39
Brighton 2011: 4:20:29
Rotterdam 2016: 4:16:51
Rotterdam 2019: 4:01:49
Amsterdam 2016: 4:00:08
Amsterdam 2014: 3:58:00
Amsterdam 2019: 3:57:43
Amsterdam 2011: 3:57:23
Rotterdam 2015: 3:55:54
Amsterdam 2012: 3:55:52
Brighton 2012: 3:54:28
Manchester 2017: 3:51:46
Brighton 2013: 3:46:32
Brighton 2014: 3:43:42
Amsterdam 2013: 3:43:06.

For unclear reasons those records show that Rotterdam is unlucky for me. For this race I'd done minimal training - only one half since the spring - and my chief aim was to get round the course, ideally in under four hours, without breaking myself. This happened so I'm happy.

In the large the course was similar to previous years - start and finish at the old Olympic stadium, wiggle through town a bit, go out and back on the river for a long bit; then back through newish bits in the SE, and then back through the Vondelpark. But different in detail; I don't think I went out through the Vondelpark last time. The river bit is nice running and burns off a pile of distance, 21 k comes not long after the turn. The only annoying thing was that towards the end of the first k from the start we all lost about half a minute - it felt like more - when a constriction in the route forced a blockage and we had to walk for a bit until past. That's the sort of thing the organisers should be able to foresee and prevent.

My cunning plan was to run 5:40 mins/km average, which is just-sub-4-hours, as 5:25 for the first half to gain a small cushion, and then fade towards 6-ish for the second half. This was because my usual plan of running too quickly was out, since I'd (a) done hardly any training since Rotterdam in the spring; and (b) my inclined-to-tear left calf was still a bit dodgy; and (c) my right knee was complaining a bit, possibly because I'd gone over a barrier in the dark on my cycle home a few weeks before. Anyway, for a miracle this all worked, although slightly upset by the loss of 30 seconds at the start: by 21.1 I was on 1:55; the 5:25 held to 26 k and beyond (if you ignore the +20 s at 26 k when I stopped for a wee). By 30 k the fade to 5:45 has become rather obvious but by that point my cushion has grown a bit and I can afford 6:00 for the rest, which may be possible. There was a certain amount of internal dialogue around the 32 k point where I tried to decide if I cared enough to keep to the pace, but fortunately my body came to the rescue of my weakling mind and proceeded to stay under 6 mostly, so all was well.

For the last 8 k I had a carefully calculated 1 minute margin, including the extra 0.2 above 42 k, and the extra 0.15 for the disparity between my watch distance and the official markers. Towards the last 2 k I was able to push on a little (my wife, daughter and brother in law were waiting to cheer at 1.5 to go, at the exit of the Vondelpark, and saw the slightly sprightlier version of me) and so pulled in another minute of margin, woot. Afterwards I was about as fine as you can be after a marathon, walked slowly out via medal and banana and water and energy drink, hopped over the barrier skipping baggage reclaim, and walked slowly back to Hoofdweg.

Misc notes:

* the water stations are about every 5 km, and supply in order energy drink, water, sponges early on; with gels and pre-cut bananas later. I took 7 gels of my own and the water and sponges en route. The water in cups is more eco-friendly than bottles which are wasteful; I jogged through the first few then walked ~10 m past the half way to drink the water. Sponges are very nice.
* I went out on Eurostar - the ferry was full, heavens - which is fine; but I prefer the ferry. There's now a direct train a couple of times a day to Amsterdam. Rumour says no direct train back, but I don't care, as I got the ferry back as usual.
* As voodoo to appease my calves, I've taken to running in compression socks, which are a right pain to get on and off. In a fit of stupidity, I forgot to pack them, and so - choosing not to risk the anger of the gods - I bought another pair at the marathon expo. But practically the first thing that happened in the race was that the right sock fell down. Fortunately it's the left calf that tears, so the voodoo stayed strong.


* My so-called rival James barely managed to beat me by 5 minutes over an hour.


Your family is your football team

bigboy Not one of his best, more a collection of random phrases on top of loud muzak, but it provides "Death to the Trees!" which is my cue for...

Comment on “The global tree restoration potential
by Simon L. Lewis, Edward T. A. Mitchard, Colin Prentice, Mark Maslin, and Ben Poulter, Science Vol 366, Issue 6463 18 October 2019. Abstract:
Bastin et al. (Reports, 5 July 2019, p. 76) state that the restoration potential of new forests globally is 205 gigatonnes of carbon, conclude that “global tree restoration is our most effective climate change solution to date,” and state that climate change will drive the loss of 450 million hectares of existing tropical forest by 2050. Here we show that these three statements are incorrect.
And so on. I suppose we can call this the self-correcting nature of science, but actually it's more the malign Nature effect: wherein top journals an authors conspire to publish exciting-sounding findings, even if they're wrong.

That's only the first "reply". Leo Hickman has a nice Twatter thread with links to the other three, which I didn't bother read. I see I was wise enough to comment at the time, but over at RealClimate Stefan said the obvious things. Particularly dumb in the Bastin article, as the reply points out, is The stated 205 GtC restoration potential is 0.22 GtC Mha−1 new forest cover, double previously published estimates (2–5). This anomaly is not noted by the authors. That's inexcusable, both by the authors, and by Science editors / reviewers.


A survey of blog audiences

Following in the footsteps of thousands, I too am posting the below: 
We need your help! Share your views on climate change with us. 
Please share your views on climate change and reading blogs by filling out this survey. The data will be used for getting to know the readers of climate change blogs. 
What’s in it for you? 
  • You have a chance on winning a $20 gift card of Amazon; 
  • You will get a sneak preview of the preliminary results; 
  • You will contribute to research on climate change blogs. 
Participation is anonymous, and your answers will be handled confidentially. The data is only used for research purposes. 
Your input is highly valued! Please fill out the survey by following this link.
There you go, that's their bit. As you'd hope, I shall snark a bit: they actually provided the post text in a Word doc, how charmingly naive. They seem nice though. FWIW, I didn't fill out the survey, because I got stuck on one of the questions and the survey very irritatingly refused to let me not answer the question. A mistake on their part I think. The question (as I said at Sou's place) I didn't like was "Social Justice (correcting injustice, care for the weak)". I'm all in favour of correcting injustice, and caring for the weak. But I'm not in favour of Social Justice because as a good Hayekian I think it is at best meaningless and at worst pernicious nonsense. And i the context of the Green New Deal I'm not going anywhere near SJ.


Graun: How do we rein in the fossil fuel industry? Here are eight ideas

MVIMG_20190808_074817 Or, a random bunch of journos try to save the world. Are they journos? Who knows. Anyway, at least they're trying. What do they have to say? The subhead is Individual action alone won’t solve the climate crisis. So what political changes might help? IMO this is a bad start. Yes it is true that we need "bulk action" but bulk action is made of many individual actions. No one individual can solve the problem, but leading off with the negative is poor; at the core, the problem is an amalgam of individual choices. Similarly, the headline is poor. But let's go through the eight ideas.

Put climate on the ballot paper

Politicians need to feel this is a priority for the electorate. That means keeping the subject high on the agenda for MPs with questions, protests, emails, social media posts, lobbying by NGOs and most of all through voting choices. Not unreasonable. Doesn't discuss the problem that "put climate on the ballot paper" is itself rather tricky, at least in the UK.

End fossil fuel subsidies

The coal, oil and gas industries benefit from $5tn dollars a year... this is the same "it depends what you mean by subsidy" mistake that people keep making. And of course it isn't the case that the Evil Fossil Fuel industry gets all or even most of these subsidies: most of them go to the consumers. Who also bear most of the costs, so it actually makes little sense to call them subsidies (no, most of the costs aren't GW). See IMF working paper 2019: Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An Update Based on Country-Level Estimates etc. But then The UN secretary general, António Guterres, attacked the incentives in May, saying: “What we are doing is using taxpayers’ money … to destroy the world.” is then rather confusing, because there are no actual "hand outs" from the bulk of these "subsidies". The Graun wants the problem fixed, but fixed-with-pork, meaning not fixed: Cuts in fuel subsidies should not be used as an austerity measure that hurts the poor most.

Put a price on carbon

Ah well done you've got there; they even mange the EU’s scheme has been widely criticised... Carbon taxes don’t have to create economic losers, either – revenue neutral taxes redistribute the money to the people and are advocated by many.

Scale back demand for fossil fuels

Again, well done: Oil companies will sell oil for as long as there are buyers. I dislike the later ref to "social licence" which I think is inventing new rules, but never mind. All companies are responsive to economic pressure, however - bloody hell, has someone been letting economics leak into the Graun? The only way to cut emissions from oil in the long term is to stop using oil. Reducing demand is driven by government regulation and by technological development (also driven by regulation)... - ah, no, the Graun's econ only goes so far before they fall back on the unthinking and reflexive solution to all problems: moah regulation.

Stop flaring... Roll out large scale carbon capture and storage

I think they're running out of ideas now; flaring maybe needs to be addresses but I doubt in the large-scale view it matters much. CCS is not ready for the big time and quite likely never will be. But don't forget to notice the passing drivel: Oil companies have the expertise to roll out CCS... remove CO2 from the atmosphere by growing trees and plants, burning them for electricity, then sequestering the emissions. Everything has to be the fault of the Evil Fossil Fuel companies, in this case it's their fault for not doing CCS. But EFFC have fuck all expertise in growing and harvesting plants, or burning things to generate leccie... why is the Graun incapable of writing about GW without veering off the rails into madness?

Halt investment in fossil fuels

A popular idea, but the Graun is forgetting the market. People will stop investing in FF if they expect poor or risky returns, and not otherwise.

Establish market metrics on climate change

Nearly three years after the Paris agreement, world markets still have no mandatory, comparable data to measure the risks posed by the climate crisis at a company level. Again, I think this is stupid: large-scale investment is perfectly capable of seeing these risks if it wants to; wasting a pile of bureaucracy on mandatory reporting is just more regs for the sake of propping up and creating pork in the regulatory sector.


A review of a Review of The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

Via Twatter (thanks VV) I find A Review of The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change by Martin "Ex" Weitzman, from 20073. For those who've forgotten the Stern review was once dead2 famous; I've been rather negative about it in various places, e.g. Running the rule over Stern’s numbersNordhaus on SternStern takes bleaker view on warming? and so on.

The main problem with Stern was the use of a very low discount rate. which drives all or most of the conclusions, and Stern's failure to discuss this rather important point. MW leads off on this1: The first strand is a formal aggregative model that relies for its conclusions primarily upon imposing a very low discount rate. Concerning this discount-rate aspect, I am skeptical of the Review’s formal analysis, but this essay points out that we are actually a lot less sure about what interest rate should be used for discounting climate change than is commonly acknowledged. So, fair enough: low, but there is indeed doubt about what should be used. Later on, after some analysis, there's I ultimately find such an extreme stance on the primacy of  δ ≈ 0, η ≈ 1 unconvincing when super-strong policy advice is so dependent upon nonconventional assumptions that go so strongly against mainstream economics.

Stern "used" the PAGE IAM, but in a slightly odd way. I'm sure I recall noticing this at the time, but can't find any of my quibbles written down. MW says
An IAM is essentially a model of economic growth with a controllable externality of endogenous greenhouse warming. The Review uses an IAM called PAGE, on which some numbers have been crunched and some conclusions have been based, but the exact connection between PAGE and  Stern’s conclusions is elusive, frustrating, and ultimately unsatisfactory for a professional economist who honestly wants to understand where the strong policy recommendations are coming from. The analytical core of the Review is chapter 6 (“Economic Modelling of Climate-Change Impacts”), which is loosely tied to PAGE. However, the rest of the book contains lots of stories and examples suggesting that difficult-to-quantify uncertainty  about really bad climate extremes may actually be an important informal part of Stern’s overall case. Economists are justifiably suspicious when someone refuses to aggregate various probability-weighted scenarios into an overall cost–benefit assessment, which at least can serve as a conversation starter. (How else are we to evaluate overall policy advice, such as what Stern recommends to us, except in the context of some overall model where assumptions and specifications are spelled out clearly?) As economic analysis, the Stern Review dwells in a nonscientific state of limbo where it uses an IAM but simultaneously refuses to commit to it or to any other consistent overarching framework within which its radical recommendations might be deconstructed and judged by others. Instead, the Review dances around the significance of the aggregative analysis of chapter 6 by arguing that conclusions from IAMs are suggestively useful but not crucial to the basic story line that anything above ultimate stabilization at ≈ 550 ppm of CO2e and Δ≈ 3˚C is self evidently just too risky for the planet to bear.
This is all rather devastating - and makes me wonder if those who've recommended this paper to me have actually read it, because I know they "like" Stern - but I'll stop quoting wodges of MW and move on to the second part, Fat Tails, wherein MW will try to clothe some parts of Stern’s intuitions about climate-change uncertainty in formal garb. In fact, this will turn out to be discount rates, too. And perhaps those who like it have read The moral of this story is that the Stern value may end up being more right than wrong when full accounting is made for the uncertainty of the discount rate itself, which arguably is the most important uncertainty of all in the economics of climate change and it's looking bad for the good guys? Probably not, because that's just "averaging" his and Stern's rates (they don't average, of course).

Ah, unfortunately, it all gets rather complex, with betas and risk free versus economy-wide interest rates coming in. I didn't follow all that, I'm afraid (probably, James' discussion of Weitzman's Dismal Theorem is relevant4). After that there were quite a lot of words, and it begins to become rather his (well-reasoned, worth reading) opinions. But I'd had a couple of glasses of red by then. Essentially the answer turns out to be that we don't really know "the" discount rate (as he acknowledges, it is treated in this and similar analyses as one rate, but of course in the real world there are many).

Part of trying to get the "correct" value is to match theory to existing observations: of assert return rates, of equity premiums. As he says, neither his values or Stern's fit everything. I rather like his: One interpretation of the asset return puzzles, which could also have some relevance for the economics of climate change, is the idea that investors are disproportionately afraid of rare disasters.. With this interpretation of the puzzles, people are willing to pay high premiums for relatively safe stores of value that might represent “catastrophe insurance” against out-of-sample or newly evolved rare disasters.

I'll pluck out another bit: To its great credit, the Review supports very strongly the politically unpalatable idea... substantial carbon taxes must be levied because energy users need desperately to start confronting the expensive reality that burning carbon has a significant externality cost that ought to be taken into account by being charged full freight for doing it. (This is the most central “inconvenient truth” of all, which was conveniently ignored in Al Gore’s award-winning film.).

Meanwhile, how does this work politically or as persuasion-to-the-public? The answer of course is that it doesn't: not only is it far too complex to be distilled into something that people can meaningfully think about, the answer if you push it hard enough is either "we don't know" or "catastrophe insurance".



1.  MW also notes the Stern Review consistently leans toward (and consistently phrases issues in terms of) assumptions and formulations that emphasize optimistically low expected costs of mitigation and pessimistically high expected damages from greenhouse warming—relative to most other studies of the economics of climate change but as he points out, compared to the discount rate that's relatively minor.

2. Oops.

3. Belatedly, I realise I was supposed to be looking at Tim Harford's words on MW's paper, not MW's paper itself. That would certainly be easier; you can skim TH's stuff in a minute. I find it hard to believe it was life-changing though; I think this stuff was familiar enough then, to anyone paying attention.

4. See-also Marty Weitzman: Dismally Wrong.


Climate Change: Extinction or Adaptation? - Prof Steve Keen (via Twatter)
On Hardworking Burglars and Bricklayers - Don Boudreaux


Institute of Economic Affairs in "publishes at least four books over two decades" shocker

MVIMG_20190902_112625_1 Revealed: top UK thinktank spent decades undermining climate science comes from the Graun (via Twit). To be fair, the IEA are almost bound to be evil because they have the word "economic" in their name, but the Graun plumbs the depths of their villainy, at the rate of a book every 5 years. If I were paying for that, I'd want my money back. It looks like the Graun get bored about half way though writing the article, because they only bother identify the first two books, which date from 1994 and 1997. Perhaps their research dept hasn't been keeping up it's subscription.

I looked briefly at the second, Climate Change: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom. They provide a handy executive summary so you can tell the sort of drivel it is; regrettably the text is also conveniently available so I skimmed it; meh, you've seen it before and so had everyone else even in 1997. But drivel from 1997 is pretty thin gruel.

If you look at the IEA's research page, you discover - to your horror - that really the IEA doesn't give a toss about climate; oddly enough, their focus is economics. The most recent thing about GW I could find was "Debate: The pros and cons of carbon taxes" from November 2018 where we discover the shocking:
I would support a carbon tax – with strong conditions. The impact of carbon emissions is such that we cannot imagine a market dealing with the problem and their effects so dispersed that the transactions costs of market bargaining are simply impossible. This is not like my next-door neighbour building a factory and making a noise at 5am. My carbon emissions may be harming people in Bangladesh in 30 years’ time. The problems caused by carbon emissions are potentially so great that if we have to choose between the binaries of no tax or some kind of carbon tax (however imperfect), I would choose the latter. True, a carbon tax could be set at the wrong level, might not work properly because it is not internationalised, might come with heaps of institutional baggage and so on, but faced with a binary choice between two sets of risks, I would rather choose to be exposed to the institutional risks of getting things wrong in the hope that it will reduce the impact of climate change.
ZOMG, the fiends. Naturally, the Graun - addicted as it is to the phrase "global heating" - was uable to find this, preferring decades old rubbish. As usual, the Graun goes on about evil oil companies funding IEA, implying as usual that all the dosh went to funding denial, but as usual there's no evidence for that.

Pic: side of a (deceased) restaurant, Gaslight district, San Diego.


* Speaking of Twatter, people who really should know better are still getting the "subsidy" numbers wrong.


Re-retread: Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions

Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions breathlessly announces the Graun. Of course it is nothing new; it's just a minor update to Retread: Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions? It makes the same mistakes as before: evil fossil fuel companies don't emit CO2; nice consumers like you and I and our friends do. Their other error, viz 1965 was chosen as the start point for this new data because recent research had revealed that by that stage the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by industry leaders and politicians, particularly in the US, isn't new either. All of this is great fun to feed to the hungry choir, but will fall apart in the courts should it get there.

Update: no such article would be complete without Monbiot getting it wrong too, in the Graun. He isn't happy with it being the fault of the people that actually burn the fuel ("The big polluters’ masterstroke was to blame the climate crisis on you and me") and repeats the nonsense that evil fossil fuels companies knew stuff that wasn't public1965. This was the year in which the president of the American Petroleum Institute told his members that the carbon dioxide they produced could cause “marked changes in climate” by the year 2000. They knew what they were doing. And 1965 is far too early for any of this to be any better than speculative. See-also Early oil industry knowledge of CO2 and global warming?



* +++Divide By Cucumber Error. Please Reinstall Universe And Reboot +++
* Fiscal Monitor: How to Mitigate Climate Change - IMF - September 2019
* More of thesame from the Graun: Coal from six biggest miners in Australia produces more emissions than entire economy.


Bashing the Libertarians on carbon taxes

MI0001719482 It's about time to write a post on this, which will be dull for all of you convinced L-haters, but on I go. In fact this is mostly a re-tread of Talking with the taxman about carbon from 2017.

In, for example this post, Don Boudreaux references - without comment, admittedly, but in fact approvingly; this is just one of many - a post at AIE asking Has Irwin Stelzer asked the right question on climate change? by Benjamin "who he?" Zycher. DB is generally sane and sensible on questions of economics and trade, but on carbon taxes alas his hatred of the govt and taxes shines through too strongly and he is unable to contribute to the conversation; which is a shame, and one of the reasons carbon taxes aren't doing well: because the people who should be most in favour of them are too pure in spirit to stoop to supporting them. Now I come to read the Irwin Stelzer article I find that it is barking mad: it begins Since we can’t be certain that the globe is warming... the mounting although still inconclusive evidence that the globe is warming... This is all gross stupidity. And all unnecessary (unless he needed to put that in to get past his editor), because his real point is something along the lines of we are in the position of a homeowner deciding whether to buy fire insurance. Which while not a perfect analogy isn't totally barking. The connection he needed to make was not with whether GW is happening or not - it clearly is, that by now is just the bleedin' obvious, you're a denialist or just pig-ignorant about GW if you haven't realised that - but with the effects and costs, which is still a difficult and much less certain matter. But that's not today's argument. Anyway, IS ends up finding the right answer despite starting from the wrong place, concluding that the “What To Do?” question presents conservative believers in markets with an opportunity, viz carbon taxes. Hurrah.

In response, BZ makes a number of tedious talking points all of which amount to wrapping words around the pre-judged answer "no", so aren't really worth reading in any detail. The fat tail stuff is particularly bad. Having not really understood that point (in the downside direction) he then attempts to assert there's a fat tail upside: the potential benefits from anthropogenic warming. Merely examine the NASA “greening” analysis of the earth: The peer-reviewed literature estimates that 70 percent of that effect is from carbon dioxide fertilization. A well-known Lancet study reports that far fewer people die from heat than from cold. He is correct that there will be some benefits; he is probably wrong that those benefits will exceed the costs; but he is definitely and unthinkingly wrong that there is a "fat tail" upside analogous to the potentially catastrophic downsides: there is no significant probability of huge benefits from GW. This is just some idiot pundit thinking out loud to himself in the shower1. And the Libertarians lap it up. Anyone doing anything similar in economics would get shredded by Don Boudreaux; but on climate, happy ignorance is in vogue.

But the Green New Deal is still fuckwitted.

Update: 2019 / 10 / 13: I almost posted on this separately, but it isn't really worth it: Don Boudreaux recommends us to read a guy who wonders perhaps we could find a way to release quantities of a gas that might dilute the greenhouse effect. 2019 / 20 / 22: Equally unconvincing is The Public Choice Problems with Carbon Taxes by David Henderson.


1. For an encore - presumably to prove that he really is a bonehead, in case you were in any doubt - BZ continues Perhaps more speculatively, the likelihood of a future glaciation, however distant in time, approaches certainty, and anthropogenic warming under such conditions might prove a significant benefit. this has been a stupid suggestion for quite a long time now.


* Do People Want to Be Free? by Pierre Lemieux
* Should presidents make policy? by Scott Sumner



New IPCC report considered dull

Is it just me or is the new IPCC report a bit dull? I'm talking about The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. I'm looking at the Summary for Policymakers, formally approved at the Second Joint Session of Working Groups I and II of the IPCC and accepted by the 51th Session of the IPCC, Principality of Monaco1, 24th September 2019.

The particularly boring bit is:
The global mean sea level (GMSL) rise under RCP2.6 is projected to be 0.39 m (0.26–0.53 m, likely range) for the period 2081–2100, and 0.43 m (0.29–0.59 m, likely range) in 2100 with respect to 1986–2005. For RCP8.5, the corresponding GMSL rise is 0.71 m (0.51–0.92 m, likely range) for 2081–2100 and 0.84 m (0.61–1.10 m, likely range) in 2100. Mean sea level rise projections are higher by 0.1 m compared to AR5 under RCP8.5 in 2100, and the likely range extends beyond 1 m in 2100 due to a larger projected ice loss from the Antarctic Ice Sheet (medium confidence). The uncertainty at the end of the century is mainly determined by the ice sheets, especially in Antarctica {4.2.3; Figures SPM.1, SPM.5}
Didn't everyone agree the AR5 was a bit conservative and they'd do better next time? But these are hardly changed. I stopped at that point, so if there's something wildly exciting I missed in the second half, do let me know.

Update: reading with Carbonbrief

They're fairly enthusiastic about it, so I could read what they wrote: In-depth Q&A: The IPCC’s special report on the ocean and cryosphere. Well, I could skim it.

* these impacts are projected to have huge costs. In monetary terms, for example, “declines in ocean health and services are projected to cost the global economy $428bn per year by 2050”, the report says, “and $1.979tn per year by 2100”: meh yes, it's easy to get large numbers, but $2T is only 0.37% of global GDP.
Chapter two of the report describes how by the end of the century, glaciers are projected to lose around 18% of their mass compared to 2015 levels under a low-emissions scenario. This anticipated loss doubles to around a third under a high-emissions scenario: just for once I think they're underestimating the impact, by averaging. Those values might be correct globally but locally - e.g. in the Alps - losses will be much higher. Ah yes they continue: In non-polar regions with relatively little ice cover, such as Central Europe and North Asia, the projected outcomes are far more pronounced, according to the report, with on average more than 80% of their current glacier mass gone by 2100.

Or you can try their Explainer: How climate change is accelerating sea level rise (which of course does no such thing); wherein you can sense their frustration with the new report.


* Would you like to be told that IPCC report paints catastrophic picture of melting ice and rising sea levels – and reality may be even worse? Then read Mark Brandon at The Conversation.


1. Nice place, or so I'm told. Still, you can't expect the IPCC to meet in some grimy post-industrial northern city.



Demons Tormenting St. Anthony

Niklaus_Manuel_Deutsch_001The Dems have finally plucked up courage to impeach the Mango Mussolini2. Some people have been longing for this for ages; here for example is CNN being rather hopeful. But... will it work? I'm dubious. "Work" in this context means remove him from office, rather than just provide PR and talking points. The Dems are charging him with betraying his oath of office and the nation’s security by seeking to enlist a foreign power to tarnish a rival for his own political gain. Which sounds bad, put like that. What appears to have happened is that in a phone call to the Ukraine, Trump rather strongly pushed them to pursue corruptions allegations against Biden(s). Many people will interpret this as CIP did. I do, too.

However, there are two obvious lines of defence: (1) Trump was merely expressing the opinion that the Ukraine should forcefully pursue corruption in the country1; and (2) that the connection to the national security of the US is rather weak. So while the Dems will be all for, I think any Repub that wants an excuse to be against will not find it hard to find one, unless something rather more damming comes out. At least, while opinion remains as it is. If in the course of the inquiry enough comes out to turn people against him, that would change things. But so much has already become public and not changed his base support, why would this?


1. Which is arguably entirely true - that they need to pursue corruption more strongly. What I don't think is true is that Trump gives a toss about that.

2. Per comments: not quite. This is an impeachment inquiry, not an actual impeachment, at the moment.


* Realignment, Not Upheaval, Defines Our Political Moment by Stephen Davies
* Politics is the problem---trade is the answer by Scott Sumner


Boris Johnson is a tosser

48712863271_b6d44bbb98_o Bojo previously won an award for being the only person I've called a tosser twice; and now tops that by getting a third accolade. The context: Boris prorogued parliament, it-is-to-be-presumed in an effort to avoid parliamentary debate and scrutiny; in particular to avoid them seizing the order and passing a law to force him to ask for an extension to Brexit. That failed, so arguably the case was rather pointless, though we'll see.

My own opinion was that the judges would rule the matter justiciable, because it increases their remit. I'm doubtful that it is fundamentally as opposed to opportunistically good; and think that the matter is political and so outside the court's purview, as the govt argued. The court has an obvious conflict of interest, inevitably. However, given the tenor of the times, there will be general public and MP support for the judges, so they've picked their time well. Given that, Bojo was a fool for risking this1. Judges find law rather than making it at least in theory, and what they've "found" now gives them authority to intervene in pretty well anything they like. Per Hobbesthe Interpretation of all Lawes dependeth on the Authority Soveraign; and the Interpreters can be none but those, which the Soveraign, (to whom only the Subject oweth obedience) shall appoint. For else, by the craft of an Interpreter, the Law my be made to beare a sense, contrary to that of the Soveraign; by which means the Interpreter becomes the Legislator. Note that in this context "appoint" doesn't just mean fire-and-forget; it means control.

Tomorrow - as that wazzock Corbyn just said on the R4 10 pm news - parliament will resume. It will be interesting to see what they manage to do with that. Because arguably all they needed to do, has been done2. Will they manage to "scutinise" him? It would be fun if he had a meltdown.

The judgement itself carefully avoids saying Bojo lied to the Queen, presumably in an effort to keep her out of all this mess: We do not know what the Queen was told and cannot draw any conclusions about it. That is I think a small rebuke to the Scottish meninwigs. The two examples that the courts offer for justicability in para 32 are unconvincing, as well as very old, and don't obviously relate to the matter at hand (para 41 might be more convincing but I didn't look at any of those cases). I think they know they're on very thin ground here. Notice also the weaselly might have been accomplished in para 33; as they know full well, it's too late for that. para 35 points out that there is existing case-law that the analogous dissolution is non-justicable; they then spend a lot of words ignoring that. Para 50 then sets out a vague "standard" that could be interpreted by anyone any way, and para 51 somewhat dishonestly asserts that it's a good standard. After that I think it becomes uninteresting; they've made up their minds and will wrap some words around whatever they want to decide.

Side note: I think the lack of prorogation means there is no Queen's speech, which means if Bojo wanted to put anything tricky into that, he's probably stuffed.


1. Honesty compels me to confess that my prediction was that they wouldn't do anything like void the progation; but Bojo has higher paid advisers than me. Bojo's main sin is to be a lightweight piece of fluff at a time when someone competent was required; perhaps he was correct to back off last time.

2. Indeed, if they hadn't been prorogued, they'd probably still be vacillating.

3. Sumpers sounded sensible on R4 but what he wrote in the Times does not. Nost of it evades the issue, and the bit to the point (Yet the Supreme Court’s judgment should be welcomed even...) is wrong. As, of course, is "Parliament is the supreme source of law".


* See-also my comment at Is That Cricket? by Bryan Caplan
* Dems go for impeachment; pass the popcorn
Global schadenfreude shortage looms after huge surge in demand in UK