2018-12-31

The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne

DSC_7616 Aka "the year in Stoats, 2018". This year, in honour of DA's comment about comments, I present my "top" posts of 2018, as measured by the number of comments they got.

* Jan: WATN: Trump  (39).
* Feb: Rocket science! (36).
* Mar: Who knew what when? (33)
* Apr: Who was that masked man? (36)
* May: What to DO about big problems? (43)
* Jun: L'affaire Peter Ridd (31)
* Jul: Unlike deniers, climate alarmists are not influential? (16)
* Aug: In the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis? (21)
* Sep: The left has no theory of the behaviour of the government? (85)
* Oct: A large part of the planet will become unlivable: either too hot or too dry? (68)
* Nov: New technologies, not Paris climate agreement, will do the job? (25)
* Dec: Brexit, again (29)

So the winner is September's post about public choice, a fitting winner for this year when my interest shifted ever more obviously towards some intersection of law, philosophy, politics, and economics.

People I insulted in 2018


(warning: may not be a complete list)

Jordan Peterson is a tosser
Is Bruno Latour a useless ponce?
L'affaire Schneiderman
Oedipus Tex, and other Choral Calamities
Scientific evidence is indispensable for effective policymaking?

That's pretty thin. I must try harder next year.

Refs


* ATTP: 2018: A year in review.
The year in stoats: 2016 (there was no 2017); 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2010; 2009.
* A New Year’s Resolution for Statocrats - Pierre Lemieux

2018-12-30

The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity

pitiless The Second Coming, of course: A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun; as noted recently by CIP. But I wanted to consider my title phrase. It is often used to bemoan the problem that while my side my be right, the other guys are much better at expressing themselves, or capturing public attention, probably by lying; the devil has all the best tunes. I find it again via MacShane, who despairs of finding someone capable of arguing for the EU, and quotes Lyndon B. Johnson: What convinces is conviction. Believe in the argument you're advancing. If you don't you're as good as dead.

Yeats is of course a poet and the skill of such is to be ambiguous; nonetheless, I shall try to interpret his words: that it should be taken as a observation, rather than a complaint. It is not a despairing complaint that he can find no-one to put forward his cause; rather, it is an observation rather common in politics that those most full of passion are generally rabble rousers, populists and demagogues. Faced with the complexity of the modern world the correct answer is, well, not quite to lack all conviction; but certainly not to provide simplistic answers.

It seems to be easy to admire those of passionate intensity. MacShane does, or at least he admires their intensity, whilst decrying their position: they are in favour of Brexit, he is not. And one often hears similar in the context of global warming: scientists warn, but cannot help themselves from mentioning all the caveats, thereby destroying the purity of their message. I, in my usual drifting-off-to-the-theoretical-perfection kind of way, am more inclined to argue that the passion is simply wrong, and "all" you need to do is teach people to distrust it.

Fundamental rights: car insurance companies no longer discriminate on the basis of gender

By a fairly tortuous route (Denis MacShane's old book on Brexit, which I'll come back to, to the UK govt's damp-squib but enormous review of EU competences, to the review of fundamental rights, to Chapter 1. Fundamental Rights in Context, introduction, point 1.2, "For example, fundamental rights have been found to mean that the sex of a driver cannot be a factor used to determine car insurance premiums".

What I'm looking for is a way to make more concrete my unease at the way the EU, and perhaps other similar institutions, define human rights1. This tends to be hard to see in the definitions themselves, which often look like motherhood-and-apple-pie, who-could-disagree-with-that, so one has to look at the consequences2. The "madness" of forbidding insurers to include sex-of-driver in insurance premiums is an obvious consequence to start working back from6.

[It turns out I discussed this in 2011: A tale of two court cases.]

Context: [Graun, 2012] Car insurance: why women face £300 rise in premiums. An EU ruling means insurance commpanies must end gender discrimination, and female drivers under 40 will be hit hardest. As it happened, it didn't work out quite like that: [Graun, 2017] How an EU gender equality ruling widened inequality. The author of the piece guesses, reasonably, that Before, insurers bluntly charged you a bit more if you were male, a bit less if you were female. Now they have to price it according to rather more concise data reflecting your individual driving behaviour. Car insurance may have become less equal. But it is more fair.

So in practical terms this looks like one of those instances where people did the obvious thing, and since it was obvious everyone did the same obvious thing, and continued doing it until it was no longer possible to do the obvious thing, at which point they switched - with some associated pain - to doing something less obvious, but better. In more theoretical terms, this starts to look like one of those instances where govt / court intervention can prompt biznis to remove inefficiency. That's disappointing, because it's exactly the answer I didn't want7.

The ABI has a doc from 2008 on the benefit of risk pricing in insurance: Insurers want to be
competitive. They can be most competitive if the premium they charge is appropriate to cover the risk posed, but no higher than necessary. Insurance companies have an incentive to ‘risk price’ as much as possible - using more, and increasingly sophisticated, rating factors so that they can accurately predict the probability of a claim, and the likely cost of that claim. So far so dull; but it does also say that "Risk pricing incentivises safer behaviour". This is true, and good, but obviously you can't incentivise people to change sex3. There's also a looks-similar-but-much-longer report from 2010.

At this point - where, obviously, I'm looking to read the actual EU court judgement - I need to rant viciously at the shit-for-brains ECJ and EU, which are incapable of maintaining links to old dox. After some effort, I find this, which I think is the text I'm looking for. The useful bit, after stripping out goo and dribble about fairness, seems to be para 18: The use of actuarial factors related to sex is widespread in the provision of insurance and other related financial services. In order to ensure equal treatment between men and women, the use of sex as an actuarial factor should not result in differences in individuals’ premiums and benefits. Now I look closer, that is "legal context" not the actual judgement, and comes from section 1 of Article 5 of Directive 2004/113:  ...the use of sex as a factor in the calculation of premiums and benefits for the purposes of insurance and related financial services shall not result in differences in individuals' premiums... This is disappointing again, because it begins to look as though this isn't a question of "human rights" at all, it is simply a question of law (ah, and there is early-2008 language in that directive, which probably explains the existence of the ABI's doc from 2008). But no! Because there's section 2, which offers a derogation for those states that want it, together with a commitment to review their decision five years after, that is, in 2012. That particular bit turns out to be badly written (no! You astonish me) because although clearly hopeful that it would stop after 5 years, it actually provides no definite termination time. And thus the actual issue before the court was whether Article 5(2) [the derogation - WMC] of Directive 2004/113 is valid in the light of the principle of equal treatment for men and women.

And the decision is an exemption from the rule of unisex premiums and benefits, works against the achievement of the objective of equal treatment between men and women, which is the purpose of Directive 2004/113, and is incompatible with Articles 21 and 23 of the Charter. So the court has returned to the Charter, and has decided the issue on the basis of human rights, although apparently strongly guided by the text of the Directive 2004/113. To anyone mathematically literate it seems obvious that the text of the directive is defective, and the meaning of "equal treatment" dubious: there are, obviously, two possible meanings: (A) one that the sexes should be charged equal premiums, and (B) another that the sexes should not be discriminated against; that they should pay proportionate to their risk. A is the stupid version; B the more intelligent one; the EU and the court seem to have decided on A, without even considering B, which is puzzling. But I should not be surprised to discover the EU and the court to be mathematically illiterate.

But now I'm back at where I wanted to be, which is reading the charter of rights in the context of a decision. Article 21, non-discrimination, is mostly Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited. Whereas article 23 is Equality between women and men must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay4. Taken literally, these articles are of course drivel: because they are binding on everyone. This is an interesting difference from, say, the US constitution. The US constitution guarantees freedom of religion not by giving you a personal "right" to same, but by banning the govt from making laws about religion. This very neatly avoids using the word "right", which has no clear meaning5. The US constitution binds the US govt, which is it's purpose, so that is all logically coherent. The EU charter of rights by contrast "grants" people "rights" of unclear meaning, and thereby binds everyone. And hence read literally forbids me from preferring women to men; or vice versa; which is drivel. At which point you're obliged to go "oh no that's not what we meant by discrimination", which of course you haven't defined either. And so it is all a mess.

Conclusion: the court, based only on the charter, could have decided the issue either way, and should have decided on the basis of sanity rather than insanity. But the language of Directive 2004/113 made that difficult. But insofar as this illuminates the charter of rights, it shows it in a bad light.

Note: piecing all this together was tedious, and perhaps error prone. If anyone can point me to a clear exposition of these issues that I should have read, please do so.

Notes


1. The report actually uses "fundamental rights" but the distinction between this and the more commonly understood "human rights" is thin: as para 1.1 says, Human rights are often described as basic rights inherent to every person. They can take the form of protections for individuals, organisations and business, such as freedom of expression. ‘Fundamental rights’ is the term used to describe human rights as they are recognised in EU law. However, EU fundamental rights do not necessarily afford the same guarantees as human rights in other contexts.

2. Note that I started writing this post before looking very far, so that's sort-of unbiased, but if I find anything too contradictory to what I want to say, this post will never see the light of day.

3. You can incentivise them to drive more safely so their entire sex's risk premium is lowered, but this is too diffuse an effect.

4.Article 23 continues The principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex, which is obviously shit, because it admits grubby compromise into your fundamental principles. But let's not go there now.

5. Alas, they totally stuffed this up for the Second Amendment8.

6. Also actuarial stuff, but I came across the insurance premiums first.

7. But I'm not downcast, because this is a theoretical not practical post. FWIW, my answer to "but if it had a good outcome why complain" is that forcing people to be good is bad, and only permissible when the contrary would be terrible.

8. Miriam questions whether "human rights" was even considered at the time of the US constitution. Wiki's History of human rights says otherwise, and of course the Declaration of Independence asserts that that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights... Whether that is quite the same meaning as we give the word can be questioned.

Refs


* Why We Need Ideology - Ilya Somin; Volokh.
* Whatever the cost may be..." Really??? - Alberto Mingardi; EconLib.
Centre for European Reform.

2018-12-29

Transparency in taxation heap good

Andrew Dessler tweets:
Economists love a carbon tax because it is transparent. But it turns out that people don’t actually want transparency. They would much rather pay a high price they can’t see rather than a low price that they can.
I'm a touch dubious abut the truth of this proposition - it reads more like someone finding an argument that they like, and agreeing with it - but no matter. For the purposes of this post, let's assume the assertion is true: that people don’t actually want transparency. They would much rather pay a high price they can’t see rather than a low price that they can. One answer is to simply accept that we're a democracy, and the people should get what they want1. But if I believed that I'd be one of the plebs, not a member of the liberal commentariat, so I need to do better. And I can, without even mentioning Brexit or Hanging or Immigration.

And that is to observe that the laws, and policy making in general, should be framed in general terms first and only applied to specific cases later. Laws, or policies, made specially for individual cases are in general a bad idea.

So the first question you ask people is, do you want your laws and your taxes to be transparent, or would you rather be taxed in subtle ways that you will find it easy to miss? The answer to this question will of course be, "we want taxes to be transparent". Because it is not true that what people want is to have money taxed from them invisibly. The observation is different: that people complain about overt taxation, and don't complain about, errm, things they don't notice. That doesn't mean they're any happier about losing money that way, though.

Only having established the general principle do you move onto the specifics of individual taxes.

Notes


1. Dignified with the name of "majoritarianism" perhaps; see-also Gunz: constitutionalism and majoritarianism.

Refs


* Milton Friedman Helped Invent Income Tax Withholding.

IAMs heap bad

DSC_7504 Bob Ward is back, and he's not happy (h/t ATTP):
economists and finance ministries must stop relying on models that are simply not fit for purpose when making investment decisions. The potential impacts of climate change caused by fossil fuel use are grossly underestimated by the current generation of economic models, which cannot quantify the cost of, and therefore omit, tipping points in the climate system, such as the destabilisation of the land-based ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica, and apply inappropriate discounting such that huge damages to future generations are trivialised.
Meh. I thought I'd seen it not long ago, and it's really Recommendations for Improving the Treatment of Risk and Uncertainty in Economic Estimates of Climate Impacts in the Sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report? (or even Climate Change Policy: What Do the Models Tell Us?), or in broader terms it's it is very hard to get a high cost for GW damage into the future, when measured against anything numerical. BW continues “optimal climate policy” would result in global warming of 3C by the end of this century and 4C by 2150. Such a result is simply not credible when compared with the scientific evidence collated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year, showing how devastating a global temperature rise of more than 1.5C would be, which is all very well, but he hasn't explained exactly where the incredibility lies. So either he is lazy, or the disparity is harder to express than he's pretending.

Andrew Dessler appears to get this totally confused by saying Economic models all agree on one thing: reducing emissions is good for the economy. But it's ridiculous, as Bob points out in his letter, to get quantitative information from them (i.e., optimal amount of warming is 3°C).  Too many value judgments embedded in those estimates. BW's point, as I take it, is quite the opposite: that the models say you can keep emitting quite a lot and the economy keeps growing. And AD is still not getting it. Later on he clarifies: if you apply a carbon tax equal to whatever SCC you pick, then emissions will go down because SOME emissions are associated with very low benefits... This I think is true, but is rather different to his original assertion, which appears to be a blanket claim that simply reducing emissions is good. Now, only some emissions should be reduced, except by ADs rules we can't get any quantitative info from the models, so we'll never know which emissions are to be reduced. Unless we simply apply a carbon tax. The conversation continues, and morphs into "So to the question at hand: Reducing emissions is fundamentally political and can't be reduced to pure economic utility maximization". I reply No; putting it that way is just an excuse for doing it badly. Reducing emissions is many problems, not all pure pol or econ. But econ shows you how to do it well; doing it by pure pol is a way of disguising prejudice and pet solutions. By which I mean that not liking the Econ viewpoint, and instead trying to frame it as pure Pol, is nothing but an excuse for substituting your prejudices for reasoned argument; and in terms of costs and benefits of GW, "reasoned" has to include arithmetic; which has to involve economics. If you discard the Econ, and go for your "gut feel", then you're Trump. At which point AD seems to agree, so we're all happy.

Refs


Paris Pow Wow Heap Good.

2018-12-25

Happy Christmas, world

Earthrise is a photograph of Earth and some of the Moon's surface that was taken from lunar orbit by astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission.
 

2018-12-22

The Green New Deal, explained

It's stupid. Hopefully it will die in a ditch, and take the proponents down with it.

That's my view, which I write in response to Dave Robert's exposition of the GND. As expected with DR, we disagree. You can also read the thing direct.

I was going to explain all the ways in which it is wrong, but they are all obvious.

Update: oh go on then


I find myself unable to resist the obvious. The "deal" is defective in a number of broad ways.

It isn't a deal, it's a political platform


There isn't really a deal on offer; there's no detail. What exists is a litmus test, or a political platform, or a propaganda exercise: describe it as you will. Technically, it is a proposal to establish a Select Committee For A Green New Deal.

It is hopelessly partisan


The new committee is to draw up a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan... for the transition of the United States economy to become greenhouse gas emissions neutral and to significantly draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality. There is no hope of the Repubs going for this; and probably little hope of a majority of Dems, either. The GNDers know this, of course, and glory in it: not for them the messy attempts at political compromise, for them ideological purity is the way! This is in part frustration at the lack of bipartisanship from the Repubs recently.

Is is the wrong way to do anything


The govt can't and shouldn't do any of this shit. I appreciate that many of my readers will disagree at this point, but you're here to read my informed analysis so I shall not spare you. One way you can tell it is all wrong is that significantly draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is a central part of the plan. Drawdown is a pet idea that someone has had and so has stuffed it into the plan, but this is no way to make policy. Is carbon capture cheaper or more expensive than reducing emissions in the first place? If cheaper it should be done; if not, not. But there is no room for economics in this nakedly political plan.


It is full of pork


As with anything like this - the recent I-1631 is a good example - the plan is inevitably a vehicle for pork. For example we have a policy (incidentally notice that although the proposed committee is to draw up the plan, it doesn't get much say in what the plan will have to cover) of upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety. I'm all in favour of every citizen of the US of A having the finest state-of-the-art comfy cushions to sit on, but I don't think it is any business of the govt to deliver comfy cushions. Another example is eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from... agricultural... including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country. This is the traditional happy-peasants school of Leftism, and it is stupid. Everywhere, farms grow larger and more mechanised and employ fewer people, and this does not happen by chance, it happens for very good reasons. It's fine having a few out-of-touch people pushing local-scale ag (hey, I'm a member of the Soil Association myself) but you don't want people like that in power.

Carbon tax now


The govt should do none of the things in this "deal". Instead, they should impose a revenue-neutral carbon tax, taking the chance to delete a few of the more hated taxes and regulations along the way, and step back.

Refs


Carbon tax now.
* Other bad ideas are available: Climate action must now focus on the global rich and their corporations, Nicholas Beuret, University of Essex.
* Peter Woit of not-even-wrong fame has an interesting thought re string theorists denying the failure of their endeavour with the reputation of science overall.
* Surfer Dan
* Meanwhile back in Blighty, Labour are idiots too.
* Michael Mann is on board, for a World War II-scale Climate Mobilization.
* Pelosi Announces Appointment of Congresswoman Kathy Castor to Chair Select Committee on the Climate CrisisPelosi has not yet described exactly what the committee will do...
@AOC on millennials and social media: "We’re, like, the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change"

2018-12-21

Exxon Mobil secured U.S. hardship waiver from biofuels laws

InsideClimateNews is sad because Reuters reports that "Exxon Mobil secured U.S. hardship waiver from biofuels laws". ICN are, I presume, unthinkingly sad because it is Exxon getting something; but I am happy because the USAnian's bioethanol rules are one of the more fuckwitted things on this planet, not excluding the Mango Mussolini himself, so the more entities with exemptions the better. Tellingly, at one point the article notes that the EPA has to balance the competing interests of refiners and ethanol producers, taking it for granted that the consumers don't get a look in.

Refs


America Is Not the Fifth Most Dangerous Country for Journalists, You Idiots
America Is Not the Tenth Most Dangerous Country for Women, You Idiots

Cage fight: The Pause

pause I largely ignored The Pause (aka a somewhat shameful episode in the history of climatology, distinguished by short-termism, panic, and grubby chasing of cheap papers in Nature). I celebrated it's death in June 2015 (and it made WATN for that year); in November 2013 I noted Cowtan and Way with the “pause” stuff is hard to take seriously in scientific terms; but the nutters were still believing it in 2016.

Anyway, for reasons unclear to me and I'm certainly not interested enough to discover, people have started scratching each other's eyes out about it. More popcorn, anyone?

Refs


* Link to the bloody Tweets
* I did edit the wiki page, starting in 2014, but not seriously. I took out some drivel and some bollocks (they can be distinguished, you know). And so on.
Justices rebuff government on asylum ban - ScotusBlog.
* ATTP, ATTP #2 (commenting on Kennedy)

2018-12-19

France Would Save $44.5 Billion by Betting on Renewable Energy, Agency Says

fr-solar So Twits Jerry Taylor. He is channelling Bloomberg:
France will save 39 billion euros ($44.5 billion) if it refrains from building 15 new nuclear plants by 2060, and bets instead on renewable energy sources to replace its all its aging atomic facilities, a government agency said. France should spend 1.28 trillion euros over the next four decades, mostly on clean power production and storage capacities, networks, and imports, according to a report from the country’s environment ministry. If it does this, France would progressively shut down its 58 atomic plants and renewable energy would comprise 95 percent of its electricity output by 2060, up from 17 percent last year.
The report itself is in Frog, but I am up to the task, unlike the report's authors, who will doubtless soon be receiving a short and brutal visit from the Academie Francaise for use of vulgar Anglo-Saxonisms like LCOE ("levelized cost of electricity") instead of CdEE. As you see, they predict various versions of solar PV getting ever cheaper, although rather suspiciously flattening out towards the end, almost as though they'd kinda given up making half-arsed guesses. Let's say we end up around E50/MWhr.

Compared to this, "Nucléaire historique", if supposed prolonged to 2060, seems to be 42 €/MWh, though as they note not all existing plants could be kept going that long. "Nucléaire de nouvelle génération (EPR)" comes in at 85 €/MWh or perhaps 70 €/MWh‏, depending on some assumptions I didn't bother read too carefully, since as everyone knows the costs of nukes is generally higher than you think. As for thermal power, they suggest prix de la tonne de CO2 sur le marché européen est supposé égal à 30 € en 2030 et 57 € en 2050. I think that 1 MWhr requires about 600 kg of coal,  which if correct means that even if thermal plants were entirely free to operate other than the carbon permits, they wouldn't be viable in 2050 compared to solar.

At that point we're only 8 pages into a 36 page report, but we seem to have got to the result, so there's no point reading on.

Refs


Results showed that self-report means generally did not differ from informant-report means

2018-12-17

GDP impartially consider'd

We start off in the usual home of bad ideas these days, Twatter. Wherein we find promulgated the thought that Nordhaus may be revered among economists, but ecologists have a very different opinion of his legacy. Many believe that the world's failure to pursue aggressive climate action over the past decades is in large part due to arguments Nordhaus has advanced. This is, of course, drivel. To be fair, as so often with bad ideas on Twatter, the "thought" isn't even novel; it's just a cut-n-paste from some nutter elsewhere. Why is this obvious drivel from nutters that no-one of any degree of sense would take seriously? Because this so massively over-states the degree to which theory, and theory of economics, has affected GW policy. A number of people, some of them very influential, have or had or thought they had excellent self-interested reasons for doing nothing about GW, and this really doesn't require any complex explanations.

Anyway, that's all largely beside the point, because the next stage is mt musing
As I think @jamesannan pointed out some years ago, why should I care whether my descendants are nine times or ten times as rich as I am today? 
Reducing climate impact to GDP is economics answering the wrong question, as well as answering it wrong.
This is the familiar issue2: can we reduce the impacts of GW down to something as crass, crude, distasteful - frankly, my dear, it smacks of trade - as money, when everyone knows that Gentlefolk don't deal with money themselves; they have people to do that for them. This is all familiar stuff, and in Economics and Climatology? from 2012 I was reacting to mt again, that time his:
economics... claims for itself a unique position among the sciences, as the crux, the central weighing mechanism, for all public decision-making.
To clarify (see the comments), mt wasn't objecting to there being a "central weighing mechanism"1, his was objecting to it being economics; I think that he wanted to use the shared morality of civilization as his mechanism instead (and still does); when I tried to probe that (do we have one? How would you know? Do all countries have the same one?) the discussion got bogged down. My objection is that we likely don't have (globally) shared morality, no matter how easy agreement may be around dining tables, and that trying to use such a concept is a recipe for the current mess, not an escape from it. The point about the economics is that it does tell a lot of people that their pet solution is wrong.

Aaanyway, having gone through that and failed to agree yet again, we come to James "tricksy" Annan:
Have also been thinking a little about this recently. One issue is that GDP is a measure of annual turnover, it does not attempt to measure wealth in any way shape or form.
Of course, noting that GDP is not a measure of wealth or income is hardly new. Nonetheless my "Meh; yes, but of course no. Feel free to substitute some other measure; you'd get much the same answers" didn't go down well. If JA is critiquing the problem that GDP is a measure of income rather than wealth, then the answers are (a) yes that's true but uninteresting (if you think otherwise, please provide an interesting consequence); and (b) on the large scale of centuries, GDP growth is exponential, so they're proportional anyway. If he's critiquing the problem that it "only includes monetised transactions, includes government at what it costs rather than the value it adds, doesn't discuss the distribution of income or consumption, only the gross amount and so on and on" (which I think it rather closer to mt's point) then yes, OK, that's a known thing. But like many other known problems that nonetheless survive, it survives because it isn't easy to see a better alternative. Also, although the measure is imperfect, on the large scale there aren't any obvious consequences. Even if you use a rather elastic definition of the word subsidy, the present-day costs of GW aren't large so the stuff we're "missing" from GW related to FF use isn't large, so correcting it would only have a small impact.

Update


Some find this post hard to scute. Naturally, I'm delighted: I didn't spend long years getting an expensive education just so that any old bloke on the wub can understand my deep thoughts. As to what this post is about: read it. Like many of my posts, it doesn't have One True Theme; I'm more reacting the to-me-strange things other people say. It was kicked off, as you can tell by implication, by JA's tweet.

But if it has one theme, it is that nit-picking an idea is cheap; that many nits do not make a nat; that observing that GDP does not describe internal disparity is about as useful as noting the Climate Sensitivity doesn't either; nor does a Mean; yet all remain useful concepts widely used for lack of a better.

I don't think effects on GDP are the best, or at least a good, way of quantifying the effects of human induced climate change is a good summary of this post. I am forced into using GDP for quantifying impacts, but only if this is necessary; for example, for comparing present-day costs of emission reduction versus the future costs of the damage of those emissions aka SCC stuff. At the moment, GDP or some related measure is the only game in town if you want to do that. Throwing up your hands, abandoning the effort, and picking an arbitrary temperature threshold is probably worse; unless the SCC calculations are so uncertain as to be clearly dangerous, and we're forced to say nothing more than "it looks dangerous, we are unable to quantify the risk". I don't think that's true; and if it was true, I think it would be ineffective.

CIP also raises the "catastrophe" point. In answer I don't really have an answer. Of their nature, they are hard to predict or factor in; they add, in a very hard to quantify way, to risk, or if you prefer to "expected" cost.

Notes


1. As I said then, the only alternative to a central mechanism is a decentralised mechanism, where everyone uses their own prejudices. Which is the bad bits of the current political mess.

2. Or indeed two issues, because the "nine times or ten times as rich as I am today" leads off into yet another discussion, which I don't think we need to go into for the moment.

Refs


Ship of fools.
* SHOCKING PRESIDENTIAL PORTRAIT  MARRS OTHERWISE RESPECTABLE PAPER ON MONKEY FECES
* The 2008 Financial Crisis - Arnold Kling

How Large Are Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies?

48368088_1020000814873394_704471771524366336_n By David Coady, Ian Parry, Louis Sears and Baoping Shang; World Development, 2017, vol. 91, issue C, 11-27. To anyone thinking "lumme guv I've 'eard this one before", the answer is yes you have, but for some reason I didn't include the keyword "Coady" in that, and for another that nice SR has just fb'd the thing again.

So the "headline" claim is something like fossil fuel subsidies are $5T/yr, or about 6% of GDP. Good grief, that's an outrage. But it's also an awfully large amount of money; do govts really have that much spare dosh to splash around on unprofitable subsidies? The answer, of course, is no, they don't. From the abstract:
Estimated subsidies are $4.9 trillion worldwide in 2013 and $5.3 trillion in 2015 (6.5% of global GDP in both years). Undercharging for global warming accounts for 22% of the subsidy in 2013, air pollution 46%, broader vehicle externalities 13%, supply costs 11%, and general consumer taxes 8%. China was the biggest subsidizer in 2013 ($1.8 trillion), followed by the United States ($0.6 trillion), and Russia, the European Union, and India (each with about $0.3 trillion). Eliminating subsidies would have reduced global carbon emissions in 2013 by 21% and fossil fuel air pollution deaths 55%, while raising revenue of 4%, and social welfare by 2.2%, of global GDP.
So this all rather tediously depends on what your definition of "subsidy" is. You could define it their way - in which case they're right, of course - or you could more restrictively define it as actual cash handed over in order to encourage people to do things. In which case they're wrong; and the largest subsidisers are FF producers like Iran or Venezuela1, as you'd expect. And the numbers come down by more than a factor of 10, when I last looked.

But when someone fb's such a thing, under the heading "While this continues, nobody can claim that we have seriously tried to get out of fossil fuels!", do you think people will understand these distinctions?

Also, note that believing these numbers means believing some version of a SCC number and thus reducing climate impact to GDP, which not everyone is keen to do; and another for air pollution, though since that doesn't involve nearly so much future damage it can perhaps be better quantified.

Notes


1. Consider the obvious ritual flings about the incompetent V govt to have been inserted at this point. But not the Iranian one? Hmm, interesting.

2018-12-15

L'affaire Cliff Mass

Following my acclaimed defence of Cory Gardner, and my detailed investigation into Peter Ridd and Katherine Hayhoe, it would appear that I also need to consider Cliff Mass, via WUWT (sorry) and la Curry (also sorry, but don't worry, they are ideologically clean archives, not bare links).

First some basics: it would appear that CM is in favour of the (sadly defeated) proposition I-732, and against I-1631. Since that's exactly my position, I find it hard to believe he is too far off track. But, la Curry would have us believe he is being labelled a denialist. On what evidence?

I think it starts The most recent ‘denier’ claims are associated with Cliff’s statements about the causes of the recent California fires: Cliff Mass: Climate change is real but . . . Since that article begins Is Cliff Mass, something of a Seattle celebrity weather guru, a climate change denier? No ... Mass, a University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor, believes that human-caused climate change is real and is influencing the world we live in today I think JC is on pretty thin ice there. But! That's not all the evidence she's got: Sarah Myhre tweeted "This. Is. Propaganda" at CM. ZOMG, no human being should be expected to cope with  that; show some decency.

But things get more amusing at If You Worry About Climate Change and Care About the Environment, Vote No on I-1631, wherein CM wrote: The initiative hardwires money to certain special interest groups–the left-leaning supporters of the measure... (see the picture below). La Curry tactfully notes [The picture was pigs at a trough.]. Perhaps that wasn't the wisest thing to say - I speak as a man well versed in wisdom and the dispensing thereof - and my link is to an archive; the up-to-date version has been whitewashed with a picture of money changing hands instead. As it happens I didn't strongly emphasise this element in my review of 1631, but I entirely agree with CM on his point.

So, meh, you write stuff like that you're going to get some rough-n-tumble; but la Curry is deeply upset: A number of University of Washington graduate students have taken a vocal stance against Cliff Mass, particularly on twitter. These same activist students that were so upset about the pig picture participated in online character assassination, calling Mass every name in the book... accused him of deception, being on the payroll of oil companies, purposely obfuscating with multiple twitter accounts, racism, misogyny, tokenism, Trumpism. And so on. Though oddly she provides not one example; and I for one am not taking Curry's word for this kind of stuff. Off Twatter, she finds one graduate student in particular gets a ‘dishonorable’ mention here: Alex Lenferna1... wrote a blog post that is basically a ‘hit-job’. Meh; read it; it isn't very exciting. I've had worse.

Conclusion: man up, nutters2.

Notes


1. Alex Lenferna: Aspiring climate justice advocate & practical philosopher.
2. I should perhaps clarify that this comment is not addressed to CM. And this is probably a place to repeat what I've said before but can't be bothered to find: becoming so sectarian that everyone who disagrees with you and you Great Justice on any point is a "denier" is to become so narrow that you can't succeed.

Refs


New Carbon Fee Initiative Drafted with More Color and Less White Supremacy - one for RS perhaps; I didn't get past the headline (he took the bait).
Academics Should Not Be Activists - Thomas R. Wells

2018-12-10

Brexit, again

As we get closer to the endgame, Brexit looks more and more like a disaster area. I voted Remain, and would again, but think that the best - and squinting a bit a moderately likely - option is for MPs to vote to rescind article 50, rather than for another referendum.

Which is why the pound went down today when May postponed the vote. Her ostensible reason - to go talk to the EU and get better terms - is delusional. The EU has no interest in helping her, especially at this stage. They, like everyone else, wants her to f*ck off. There was a fair chance that today's vote would have been so disastrous that she would have been forced to f*ck off, in which case other more pleasant options come into play. All she has done is delay those better options.

The path forwards


There are many scenarios from now. Here's my most hopeful one: the vote occurs and goes badly for May. She is forced to resign, and either some vaguely sane leader takes over or perhaps with the leadership weakened the MPs reassert themselves- unlikely I know, they are spineless disorganised and useless, but I can hope. And since we can just rescind article 50, we do so.

Given the cowardice of our MPs, I think my "hopeful" scenario somewhat unlikely; which makes the next-best another referendum, with all the perils of what-should-be-the-question(s); but it would probably work.

The Brexiteers impartially consider'd


Although I voted remain, I have some sympathy for some of the Brexiteers programme: the portion that is Free Trade and freedom from over-regulation. But it has become clear that they are incompetent to achieve these aims. The "hard Brexiteer" faction is now shutting it's eyes, wishing very hard, and hoping to get a Brexit at any cost, in order to renegotiate the deal - or simply break it - when the political climate becomes more favourable to them. Or at least that's their plan, but it is hopeless (the only kind of Brexit that makes any sense and that I could support is a Hard one, and the country will never have the political courage for that). And just as Hobbes teaches us that rebellion is only permissible if you can win, so Brexiting in that manner is only permissible if you can achieve your aims; and they can't.

To be fair, the incompetence is not limited to their side: the Remainers and the Soft Brexiteers and (IMO) the EU are also incompetent; but that's rather the point: there's no-one around competent to negotiate a change of this magnitude.

Another referendum?


I'd rather not. It is slow and error prone. We run a parliamentary democracy, the referendum is advisory, the only thing preventing us from saying "it was a giant mistake, let's not do it again" is the cowardice of MPs.

Theresa May


Is rubbish. But what mystifies me is why she is so dedicated to Leave. Before the referendum she was remain, albeit weakly; she is not a person of any great principle. I can only attribute it to blind stubbornness, which rather fits her image from the Home Office. She still looks to me like a politician - and a person - of no vision, substance, or quality. Her only ability, much touted, is surviving, for which I give her no credit.

Update: 2018/12/12: Brexit in chaos as Tory MPs trigger vote of no confidence in Theresa May.
Update: 2018/12/13: Theresa May survives confidence vote of Tory MPs although "survives" only in May-land.
Update: 2019/01/15: May's shit deal is thrown out by a vast majority. At least one MP - Cambridge's Daniel Zeichner - comes out for just-revoke-A50.
Update: 2019/01/16: That fuckwit Corbyn tries a vote of no confidence and inevitably loses, thereby if anything strengthening "cockroach" May.

James


James Annan has been predicting Brexit-will-not-happen for a while, and now has a post up with more detail (note: I wrote this post, except for this section, before reading his). Although I think will-not-happen is quite likely, I still fear that our idiots pols could yet by blind stubbornness and cowardice end up leading us over the cliff anyway. But he's been right about a number of things so I'm cheered that he may be right about this too. He's probably right about the value of academics and journos too.

Refs


Boris Johnson is a tosser.
* Boris in the bunker.
Brits Could Have a Brexit Cake and Eat It Too - not realistic, but the direction of my thinking.
Devastating Review of Nancy MacLean’s Fictional Work “Democracy in Chains” - CH
* Just blow it all up? - by Scott Sumner, EconLib
One Year Ago Today, the FCC Killed the Internet

Tackle climate or face financial crash, say world's biggest investors?

DSC_6075 It is remarkably hard to paraphrase someone else's statement whilst preserving the sense. In this case, the Graun has failed, because it didn't even try, preferring to prioritise it's own concerns above accuracy. So, via Twatter is the Graun, with my headline, and Global investors managing $32tn issued a stark warning to governments at the UN climate summit on Monday, demanding urgent cuts in carbon emissions and the phasing out of all coal burning. Without these, the world faces a financial crash several times worse than the 2008 crisis, they said.

The source for this is 2018 GLOBAL INVESTOR STATEMENT TO GOVERNMENTS ON CLIMATE CHANGE; a statement is signed by 415 investors representing over USD $32 trillion in assets. $32T is a genuinely large number, possibly around 1/3-1/2 of total assets under management, based on a quick skim. But of course they say nothing about 2008, nor a crash. They say the rather more measured Investors are taking action on climate change. The global shift to clean energy is underway, but much more needs to be done by governments to accelerate the low carbon transition and to improve the resilience of our economy, society and the financial system to climate risks.

As far as I can tell, the Graun has simply made up the stuff about 2008 and so on.

What actions do they recommend? Skipping the wurble, and leaving out the transparency-in-reporting, the substance looks to be:

* Accelerate private sector investment into the low carbon transition
* Incorporate Paris aligned climate scenarios into all relevant policy frameworks and energy transition pathways
* Put a meaningful price on carbon
* Phase out fossil fuel subsidies by set deadlines
* Phase out thermal coal power worldwide by set deadlines.

Apart from the second point (and to a lesser extent the last one; thermal coal should simply die of it's own uneconomic nature, if people stop propping it up), that all looks perfectly sensible.

Refs


Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford - via TF.
* RS's version :-)



2018-12-09

Scientific evidence is indispensable for effective policymaking?

47579329_1921628494553476_4938128439438737408_n This is the claim made by SciAm, via Twatter. Actually it's more of a hook, for yet more science communication wittering, because they continue This account definitely isn’t wrong. But the emerging science of science communication, which uses scientific methods to understand how people come to know what’s known by science, suggests that it is incomplete.

But they are lying. Not only is the account not definitely not wrong, it's definitely wrong. In almost all the big areas of policy, science is either irrelevant or trivial. Trade policy? Idiot mechantalists, lead by the Mango Mussolini aka Tariffman, abound. The war on terror? The war on drugs? Education policy? And so it goes on. Global warming, which is probably the one where science is most needed, is arguably sorta lead by science (except for the USAnians, of course), except of course in the economic responses, which is the important bit.

And so the SciAm is displaying exactly the sort of blindness that it decries: because it has the word "science" in it's title, and is run by science-y type folks, they over-estimate the importance of science - and hence themselves - to policy.

Yesterday was the annual Christmas Head race, in which we wacky rowing types display our creativity by dressing up and then rowing. Spot me, and see if you can guess our theme. Another thing that happened on Saturday was the BRIC 2018; in a result that surprised nobody, BR types took the first 6 places, but in a bit of a shocker some bloke called Karel Kabelik from Nines was 9th - ha ha, nice - in 6:04.9 - which bodes well for them. Darling Daughter is still in the 8+ league but I have faith.

Reflections on Peter Stott


Peter Stott has a blog, though it's currently a bit thin, never mind, the one I wanted to comment on is The Climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland. What can I say? It's all so naive; so well-meant; so useless. Why? Let me do the easiest example first: he lingers long on Greta Thunberg. I'm sure she's a wonderful person; but the focus on her is just PR fluff. She has nothing new to say, inevitably. The meeja love her because she is a Newe Thinge in climate change, which they love, because they really don't want to report the same old science all over again. But PS is completely taken in. Of course, he can't risk saying anything that could be interpreted as negative about her; think of the PR rebound that might occur. So he is reduced to go-with-the-flow gushing.

Point two comes from his reflections on various past COPs: At each COP that I’ve attended the atmosphere has felt different. In Kyoto back in 97, there was a fevered air of excitement as negotiators raced towards a historic agreement to reduce emissions. But without progress towards meeting the Kyoto protocol, the atmosphere at the Milan meeting in 2003 felt listless and flat. A catastrophic COP15 at Copenhagen in 2009 took international efforts to deal with climate change to a new low. But COP 17 in Durban felt more hopeful. What he fails to realise is that the ups and downs of the various COPs reflect their lack of substance. They are pretty well just hot air. If they had substance, they wouldn't be so up and down. Consider a supertanker: full, it is hard to deflect. Empty, it can be blown around by the breeze. The COPs are empty.

Third - and most relevant to the title of this blog - we have In the presentation space of the UK pavilion, which came with several rows of benches in front of a large television screen, I presented my results on the UK heatwave in one presentation and in another our latest work on providing scientific advice to help make societies more resilient to the effects of climate change. Even amplified through a microphone it was hard to be heard over the constant, noisy hubbub from the crowds milling around us. This demonstrates the obvious: the science presentations were there for show, as entertainment. What he fails to think of though is: why present the science there at all? Why pay for PS to travel there, emitting CO2 all the way? No-one going there is unaware of the science already done. No-one is going to have a last-minute epiphany because of some presentation. Of course he's only there as a travelling show to entertain delegates as they nibble their nibbles and neck their wine.

Refs


Marching for science?
* Policy?
Social Nonscience again - James' Empty Blog
* In the unlikely event of you wanting me to tell you something else that's stupid, then I offer you Lawrence Torcello taking himself terribly seriously and saying We must finally come to grips with the fact that such collusion is best understood as a crime against humanity. Sweetly, he links to a Worde Doc; it's like he hasn't really mastered this web-cloudy stuff. I suspect he'd be happier with a quill pen.
* Some more hopelessly confused #exxonknew drivel in the Graun.
Climate change: COP24 fails to adopt key scientific report.
AlphaZero: Shedding new light on the grand games of chess, shogi and Go.
No, we do not have 12 years to stop catastrophic climate change #12years - VV
Yet More on the Centrality of Consumer Sovereignty - CH

2018-12-05

Cory Gardner, climate denier?

The story so far: AGU reception to honor Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI), to award them the Presidential Citation for their bipartisan work advancing the Earth and space sciences and this makes some people sad, because Gardner denies that humans contribute to climate change! Shocking. Well, he's a Repub senator so practically bound to be a witch, but shouldn't we at least pretend to have some evidence before lynching him? RR offered "I think the climate is changing, but I don’t believe humans are causing that change to the extent that’s been in the news" which I quibbled with "you and I and all scientists know full well that there's a great deal of drivel about climate in the news" which no-one had an answer too, so let's try something else.

Wiki offers Gardner has stated that he believes climate change is occurring, but he is unsure whether humans are causing it which appears to be a true enough representation of his publically expressed views1. Is it actually denialism? Scientifically its not justifiable. The words are from 2014; if he's said stuff since then, no-one has brought it up. The doubt expressed is scientifically unreasonable and from a scientist with any climate training would amount to denialism; from a pol, since it abstains from the positive, I'm doubtful.

Twatter comes back with a Vice article, Meet Colorado's climate change deniers. But that only provides RR's quote, so meh, that's not good enough. But Wired has HERE ARE ALL THE SENATORS WHO DO AND DON'T BELIEVE IN HUMAN-CAUSED CLIMATE CHANGE (by goodness they're as shouty as RS at Wired); and this includes him in a list of "Voted against the amendment (nay—human activities don’t contribute to climate change)". However... I'm suspicious of course, because they don't provide the text of the amendment, or any link to it, only their own paraphrase,which experiences tells me not to trust2. Indeed there were, on closer inspection, two amendments, neither of which are linked. And I found them hard to find; perhaps I'm just not used to navigating such stuff. Happily Twatter (though not without snark; but where would arguing on the internet be without snark) produced a link to the amendment. Which (whew!) appears to be:

       (a) Findings.--The environmental analysis contained in the
     Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement referred to
     in section 2(a) and deemed to satisfy the requirements of the
     National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et
     seq.) as described in section 2(a), states that--
       (1) ``[W]arming of the climate system is unequivocal and
     each of the last [3] decades has been successively warmer at
     the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850.'';
       (2) ``The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], in
     addition to other institutions, such as the National Research
     Council and the United States (U.S.) Global Change Research
     Program (USGCRP), have concluded that it is extremely likely
     that global increases in atmospheric [greenhouse gas]
     concentrations and global temperatures are caused by human
     activities.''; and
       (3) ``A warmer planet causes large-scale changes that
     reverberate throughout the climate system of the Earth,
     including higher sea levels, changes in precipitation, and
     altered weather patterns (e.g. an increase in more extreme
     weather events).''.
       (b) Sense of Congress.--Consistent with the findings under
     subsection (a), it is the sense of Congress that--
       (1) climate change is real; and
       (2) human activity significantly contributes to climate
     change.

Warning: there are at least two versions of this amendment, and possibly another one kicking around, that I found impossible to disentangle; so hopefully I've shown you the right one.

Anyway, our man CG was on the Nay side of the vote for this (I did look for, but failed to find, any debate around the amendment; so I don't know if he spoke). So, yeah, you can burn him if you want to. But... this is all in the context of the Keystone pipeline, and politics. It was a political - largely party-line - vote, not his own words. I repeat what I tried to say about ideological purity in the case of Tillerson.

In the meantime, such being the tenor of our times, the AGU expresses ritual humiliation and waits to see if that will appease the pitchfork-waving crowds... ah, that was a couple of days ago, time passes, CG said on receiving the award Solutions for our most serious issues, such as climate change, will require bipartisan action and resolve, and I look forward to continuing to work with the American Geophysical Union to promote research on and tackle issues like climate change, natural hazards, and space; weaselly, but on the right side.

Notes


1. Those able to use the edit history will notice that it also links to an NYT article containing the text "a skeptic of human-caused global warming"; but since the word "skeptic" has no clear meaning, it seemed to add nothing to the article and didn't support it was a ref for; so I removed it.

2. If you've read all the way to the end, we can now consider was I right not to trust Wired's paraphrase? And of course I was. Because a "nay" vote is not a positive vote for anything; in particular it is not an endorsement of "human activities don’t contribute to climate change".

Refs


* Phil Plait on twatter links to an open letter. Notice that it doesn't find any positive statements by him either. They have the vote, per above; and his voting record; but possibly not neutrally scored, e.g. he gets rapped for voting for Gorsuch. But it has some respectable signatories: Santer, Trenberth, Cane, Shindell, Thompson, Emanuel, Mann, Vermeer, Washington, and many more. I don't see Gavin though.
Tackle global warming with hope, not fear - Mann.
* In Defense Of ‘Dark Money’