2020-12-15

A warning on climate and the risk of societal collapse?

PXL_20201212_185625846 Just when you were bored with Covid, along comes a little light relief in the form of A warning on climate and the risk of societal collapse. It is full of the usual ill-defined hand-wringing, will be ignored - we can hope - by just about everyone, except for the denialists (who will use it as yet more evidence of alarmism), the nutters (whose belief in collapse will be reinforced) and the commenterati who will entertain themselves writing pointless blogs about it. Like this one :-)

Or so I wrote about a week ago, thought "nah, even I don't care enough", and left it in draft. But now, you lucky people, you get to read these words 'cos ATTP has blogged on it3 - and tastefully quotes me, always nice to see. His justification is I think we should be willing to discuss worst-case scenarios so as to, ideally, avoid them, and while that is an uplifting sentiment, it doesn't justify the letter, because the letter adds absolutely nothing, and we're already discussing GW, under whatever name you please. As usual in these discussions, there's a sop to the whatever-you-call-them by talking about "global north" but this is a pointless distinction best ignored. There are various WYCT countries where society actually is collapsing - Sudan, say; or Yemen, depending on your standards for this ill-defined "collapse" - but this has little to do with GW2 and almost everything to do with crap govt, either in the country concerned or its neighbours.

Having said that, since I bothered to write the words below, I'll publish them:

Let's start with While bold and fair efforts to cut emissions and naturally drawdown carbon are essential. That sounds both noble and bold. One pictures a mighty Climate Leader, helping hand supporting some oppressed peasants, noble chin uplifted and mighty hand pointing boldly forwards into the glorious carbon-neutral future. But actually, restricting yourself strictly to "fair" efforts is a mistake: would you really refuse to save the planet, if it was only possibly to do so unfairly? And notice that they say that fairness is essential, so that is what they are saying. Nor can it be turned around: it is not plausible to claim that only fair efforts have any chance of success. Similarly, I'm doubtful of the bold part of the claim, with it's implication of extraordinary efforts designed to scare off people who are doubtful of the Cause. More likely commonplace efforts and sanity (like the Krauts not shutting down their nukes, the Yankees not slapping tariffs on Chink solar panels) and a carbon tax would do1.

Continuing, researchers in many areas consider societal collapse a credible scenario this century. Do they really? How might we evaluate such a claim? Well, if only the idiots who wrote the letter had provided some details, or even a link to the details elsewhere, it could be evaluated. Failing that, it's just empty words. For my part, I think certain groups of people are rather prone to overestimate the fragility of society; everything from Covid to the so-called Great Recession is taken of evidence of such fragility, rather than what it actually is, i.e. the reverse.

I think you can tell how broken their thinking is from their worry about the way modern societies exploit people. Yes, exploiting people is indeed a concern, but has little or nothing to do with the possibility of collapse. It is a perfectly valid concern about fairness, which they're entirely welcome to worry about, but mixing it all together with GW into a muddy slurry of words helps no-one.

Who is responsible for this guff? If you click on "246 others" you end up at http://iflas.blogspot.com/2020/12/international-scholars-warning-on.html which leads me to https://www.cumbria.ac.uk/research/centres/iflas/our-people/ which leads me to Jem Bendell. Say no more guv.

Update: so, does thinking about "societal collapse" help? Although I've criticised their thinking as broken, what about the underlying idea: does framing the problem in terms of societal collapse help at all? It doesn't seem to have helped them - other than in the matter of that all-important publication count and getting your name in the papers - because they didn't manage to say anything interesting or new. The "bar" of interest is I think 2 oC - or arguably 1.5 oC - because we've already "agreed" so-to-speak to limit ourselves to +2 oC, so anything that kicks in much higher than that isn't very interesting. Would SC happen before +2? If ecosystems collapse, then perhaps, but we're already worrying about EC, so that gets you nothing. Is there some excitingly non-linear effect that we're missing? If so, we're missing it, and this hasn't helped find it. Perhaps the subtext is "ooooooh, modern society is so complex and therefore fragile, we should, like, go back to a simpler era maan and live in harmony with nature". But that's wrong: modern society is complex and therefore resilient.

Refs

If it isn’t catastrophic we’ve got nothing to worry about, have we? - my post that ATTP refs, but at the Wordpress address. Those were the days when I could just toss off a quick post. * Welfare in the 21st century: Increasing development, reducing inequality, the impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies - BjornLomborg4
The impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies - ATTP.

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?

Notes

1. You could argue that such efforts are out of the ordinary, which in this world alas is true. And yes, I know it's too late for the Krauts.

2. And phrasing it as "Not all of this is climate related" is I think deceptive.

3. Which is fine. Re-reading this, I may sound a bit harsh on him, which I don't intend, but rather than rephrase anything I'll just add this little note which will make everything better.

4. Reminder. Inclusion of a reference does not imply that I agree with it.

62 comments:

Tom said...

I have thought for some time that those most activated by the threat of global warming have decided quite consciously to rope their concerns to others in hopes of expanding their support base.

IIRC it started with biodiversity issues, where they peremptorily put global warming at the head of the list of threats to biodiversity, instead of at the tail end as a potential threat. Everyone sane knows that what Matt Ridley described as the Four Horsemen threatening biodiversity--habitat loss, pollution, introduction of alien species and over hunting/fishing, constitute more than 99% of the threat to various biomes. But suddenly global warming jumped the queue and at best was primus inter pares.

So it is now with societal collapse, which as you correctly intimate can be more closely associated with governmental failure.

William M. Connolley said...

Yeeesssss... though pushing me to say anything nice about MR is a step too far right now. And I think I'd quibble the 99%: that might be true up-to-this-moment, but I don't think it is true looking-into-plausible-futures; for that, I'd give GW and unknown chance of being 50% or more (which maybe comes out confusing. I mean I think there's a fair chance that GW leads to not-all-that-much biodiv loss; but there's a non-negligible chance of it leading to a lot). But if you're concerned about biodiversity loss at present, then habitat loss is the biggie.

Gator said...

This was a political document, not scientific. I'm surprised you didn't highlight the yoga instructor to dismiss the letter. As a political document its purpose is to persuade. From my POV the main point being that we can plan for and aim for a society that we want, and has qualities we want (like fairness) rather than settle for what happens to us. Especially in the wake of some disaster or emergency when people are more willing to just do what they are told.

"But that's wrong: modern society is complex and therefore resilient." -> Surely incorrect. Complex systems are not resilient unless deliberate designed to be so. And again, we have to think of what "resilient" means to us humans. Climate change will not "destroy the earth" -- but calling Mad Max world an OK outcome is stupid. Yes, humans still exist, but no that's a shitty outcome, we can do better.

William M. Connolley said...

As a good Hayekian I am of course strongly opposed to the idea of planning our society, for the reasons that he gives. But opposition to planning should not be mistaken for settling for what happens.

> Complex systems are not resilient unless deliberate designed to be so

I disagree. I think natural ecosystems disprove your idea. But that example does show how to fix your idea: you drop the word "designed", and replace it with something like "have survived". Complex systems that have survived are resilient, cos they wouldn't be still there otherwise. And the same applies to society.

Anonymous said...

"I disagree. I think natural ecosystems disprove your idea." I disagree with your disagreement! There's a whole literature on resilience in complex systems, some of which I read once upon a time in grad school. Generally, attempting optimization often increases fragility: see, just-in-time manufacturing and supply-chains in COVID, or complex financial instruments and the 2008 housing crisis. Natural ecosystems collapse all the time - there's a reason that 99 percent of all species that ever existed are extinct, and that invasive species can be so disruptive. Having said that, I don't think that society is in imminent danger (whether from climate change or other causes): there's sufficient slop in most of our systems to handle fairly big shocks (e.g., housing crisis, COVID, etc.). But I don't think its the complexity of our systems that save us, but rather that we're operating pretty far from our limits: we have a lot of excess capacity for food production, transportation, energy, housing, etc. (which is part of what makes the problems of hunger and homelessness so frustrating!).

On the issue of climate change and biodiversity: the thing about climate change is that it is everywhere, and over long time scales. For any given problem (an individual coral reef or species, an individual country), climate change will almost never be the primary driver of collapse. But it is an additional stressor. And when you add it up over all the coral reefs, all the endangered species, all the problematic countries, it could actually be more important to address climate change than attempt to protect everything else simultaneously. (of course, in the ideal world, you are doing both: trying to reduce the rate of temperature growth globally while you introduce local protective regulations and better governance structures, etc.).

My two cents. -MMM

Gator said...

"I disagree. I think natural ecosystems disprove your idea. But that example does show how to fix your idea: you drop the word "designed", and replace it with something like "have survived". Complex systems that have survived are resilient, cos they wouldn't be still there otherwise. And the same applies to society."

Au contraire, natural ecosystems seem to prove my idea. Mass extinctions? How many species have been lost in the last few hundred years? How many more will go as climate change proceeds (didn't you mention habitat loss)? Nothing has "survived" humans - we haven't been around with technology long enough. Just look at the climate record. And this leads into the idea of planning vs. waiting to see what we get.

Like I said Earth will survive. If we go from today to a world of ants, fungus and algae --is that resilience? There's a big difference between "will survive" and a world that I want future humans to inhabit.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

The Apocalypso singers carrolling on and on about societal collapse represent a long and lame tradition:

https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2020/12/beyond-fringe-on-prophets-of-doom-who.html

What ever happened to societal consiliance? It argues for their continuing evolution that so many past societies have risen in complexity into regional civilizations ,or been absorbed by them , rather than vanishing entirely. Just as the Roman collapse begot Europe, the post-classic Maya morphed into a cultural soft power that transformed many of its invading neighbors.



THE CLIMATE WARS said...

I tried Firefox and still can't get links to work

...and Then There's Physics said...

Complex systems that have survived are resilient, cos they wouldn't be still there otherwise. And the same applies to society.

Yes, but complex systems can still undergo substantial adjustments at times. I realise that this isn't (I think) what you're suggesting, but if all we care about was the existence of complex human societies, then maybe we shouldn't care too much about climate change. On the other hand, if we would rather not go through highly disruptive adjustments in response to something like climate change, then we probably should actively think about how to manage this.

William M. Connolley said...

My assertion that complex systems are resilient was somewhat glib and I didn't really mean it. What I was trying to do was attack the all-too-common opposing view: that complex systems are inherently and invariably fragile. As to how we should respond... I think people fall to easily into "how to manage this" language, without realising that this is effectively a political position.

...and Then There's Physics said...

What I was trying to do was attack the all-too-common opposing view: that complex systems are inherently and invariably fragile.

Okay, yes, I agree.

Gator said...

...Physics: "On the other hand, if we would rather not go through highly disruptive adjustments in response to something like climate change, then we probably should actively think about how to manage this."
Yes, exactly.

Stoat: "My assertion that complex systems are resilient was somewhat glib and I didn't really mean it. What I was trying to do was attack the all-too-common opposing view: that complex systems are inherently and invariably fragile."
It's fine to oppose that, but I think it would be a hard argument to make that complex systems don't tend towards fragility without design. Simply having multiple places for things to fail makes it more likely that something will fail. The ecosystem is (I think) a bad counter-example to this. Change any environmental parameter by 1% and the entire ecosystem changes. Gaia might not care what animals and plants are about, but humans sure care.

"I think people fall to easily into "how to manage this" language, without realising that this is effectively a political position."
OF course. So is "the Invisible Hand will fix this." Even if you want the Invisible Hand to fix things though, we talk about managing the reward/cost structure to push the Invisible Hand to do what we want. Carbon tax? Investment credits? etc. I have seen no evidence that a pure free market will ever solve big problems in a way that is satisfactory to what I think the majority of the population wants: life, liberty, happiness. (Very USA of me.) Health. Slavery existed under free market conditions. Authoritarian rule under free market conditions. Ecological disaster and pollution.

William M. Connolley said...

I don't think you're right about ecosystems. There are studies - waves hands - showing that more complex ecosystems are more resilient; prairies, and stuff. I think you even see this in Daisyworld.

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

Here's my response to ATTP as posted at his place:

ATTP:
Thank you for coming to grips with those sounding alarms about the imminent danger of an horrendous collapse.

As 31 years is a bit of a stretch for the word ‘imminent’, you really should share your views with former Vice Persident Gore, who announced on 1 May 1989:

“My purpose is to sound an alarm, loudly and clearly, of imminent and grave danger, and to describe a strategy for confronting this crisis … the horrendous prospect of an ecological collapse. ”

CF:
https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2015/04/a-war-against-fire.html

Phil said...

WC: "more complex ecosystems are more resilient"

From which point of view?

From the point of view of the ecosystem, perhaps. Complex ecosystems and societies have many specialists and some generalists. With a shift in conditions, a reasonable chance that some of those specialists might thrive, and that the generalists will expand.

From the point of view of a species, perhaps not. A large shift in conditions will doom many specialists.

It seems to me that complexity requires stable conditions. And that simple systems are the result of large changes in conditions.

izen said...

@-WC
"I don't think you're right about ecosystems. There are studies - waves hands - ..."

And yet the history of the Earth is one of collapsing ecosystems.
Most of the European and American mega-fauna disappeared during the Younger Dryas. A brief cold spell just after the Holocene optimum, it is true that a complex ecosystem survived, and disputes remain about the cause, but rapid climate change/human intervention certainly eradicated a LOT of biodiversity.

izen said...

@-ClimateWars
"Just as the Roman collapse begot Europe, the post-classic Maya morphed into a cultural soft power that transformed many of its invading neighbors."

The Roman collapse in Western Europe and the Mayan collapse led to a subsistence agricultural system with no city building and a disappearance of literacy and technology. It took nearly thousand years for the re-invention of water and sewage systems and civic buildings on the same scale to re-appear.

Nathan said...

What's so convincing about Hayek anyway?
It's just more Libertarian handwaving.

Give me a Social Democracy any day, thanks

William M. Connolley said...

> during the Younger Dryas

I don't think that's a good example, if you're trying to think about fragility of resilience. A system can be as resilient as you like, but it won't survive being scraped by a kilometer thick icesheet. The point about resilience is surviving shocks that fragile systems won't.

> What's so convincing about Hayek anyway?

You'd need to try reading him to find out. Happily for you my review of Popper is due... this holiday; see-also Howard Zinn: A People's History of the United States.

Nathan said...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road_to_Serfdom

It's not happy reading...

Nathan said...

"As a good Hayekian I am of course strongly opposed to the idea of planning our society"

I think the problem may be around 'what is planning'?

Did he give a definition?

According to Wiki
"Mises Institute economist Walter Block has observed critically that while The Road to Serfdom makes a strong case against centrally planned economies, it appears only lukewarm in its support of a free market system and laissez-faire capitalism, with Hayek even going so far as to say that "probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rules of thumb, above all the principle of laissez-faire capitalism". In the book, Hayek writes that the government has a role to play in the economy through the monetary system (a view that he later withdrew),[55] work-hours regulation, social welfare, and institutions for the flow of proper information."

So it seems Hayek wasn't opposed to certain types of planning.

I think, as with all things political and economic, there is no 'ideal' system. It's about bumbling through as you can and playing whack a mole with actions that don't work as well as planned. This is not an argument against planning, it's an argument that there is no perfect system and we just have to keep trying to make sure people (especially the young) have opportunity.


"George Orwell responded with both praise and criticism, stating, "in the negative part of Professor Hayek's thesis there is a great deal of truth. It cannot be said too often – at any rate, it is not being said nearly often enough – that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamt of." Yet he also warned, "[A] return to 'free' competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the state.""

No perfect system, and 'not planning' doesn't make things better

Also given Thatcherism is based on his work, are you a supporter of those policies?

William M. Connolley said...

You really ought to read Hayek, rather than wiki articles on same, if you want to know what he thinks. If you can't be bothered to do that, then you'll have to duck out of conversations on his thought.

Thatcher: I marched against T's govt when young, but in a somewhat half-hearted and ignorant way as a student does. "Cecil, Cecil, Cecil: in, out, in, out!" we chanted, laughing. Ah, what it is to be young. But now I am old I have reconsidered: T was correct in the essentials.

Phil said...

I've went the other way.

Thatcherism (and the related politics on this side of the pond) is a simplistic failure.

Tom said...

WMC (tongue somewhat in cheek) how long will it be before Lomborg is similarly transformed into someone who was correct in the essentials?

Nathan said...

"You really ought to read Hayek, rather than wiki articles on same, if you want to know what he thinks. If you can't be bothered to do that, then you'll have to duck out of conversations on his thought."

Is the Wiki wrong?

"As a good Hayekian I am of course strongly opposed to the idea of planning our society"

It's more about what you think of Hayek.
Doesn't look like he opposed planning, so I guess 'planning our society' means something different?

"T was correct in the essentials."
OK

William M. Connolley said...

> Lomborg is similarly transformed

I've been quasi-complimentary about L in my own way, not more than 3 years back. But mostly, I've ignored him; I think because he isn't very interesting. I'm sure I wrote somewhere that TSE always chooses the upside... oh yes, here but all in all... meh.

> Is the Wiki wrong?... Doesn't look like he opposed planning

It is more that you're determined to misread it, and layer your own views on top. If you're interested in H's views, read him.

Tom said...

Well, Lomborg isn't very interesting now, but he was back in the day. And he was, IMO, mostly right.

Nathan said...

"It is more that you're determined to misread it, and layer your own views on top. If you're interested in H's views, read him"


Trying to understand what you mean, but no need for you to explain if you don't want to.

William M. Connolley said...

> he was, IMO, mostly right

He was wrong about details, that merged into a big thing: that he always underestimated GW. Set against that, I guess you think he was mostly right about... what? Using economics? Cost-benefit analysis? As I said, I didn't write about him at the time so can't really recall... looking at wiki it isn't really clear (with regard to GW) what his big ideas were. Or are you referring to his non-GW ideas?

I recall thinking that his "Copenhagen consensus" was cowardly, because he evaluated cost-benefits of various things, but carefully avoided war-on-terror or war-on-drugs.

> no need for you to explain

If "If you're interested in H's views, read him" isn't clear enough, then I don't think I can see any way to make it any clearer.

William M. Connolley said...

Back at L, I've now found the last time you asked and I answered, in 2018.

Phil said...

A Nash Equilibrium is often not optimal.

Also see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cournot_competition

William M. Connolley said...

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cournot_competition

I'm not sure where you're going with that, or what it is in response to. In any case, in most areas, the assumption that "all firms produce a homogeneous product" is not true; indeed, quite to the reverse, we see firms desperately trying to differentiate themselves. And no, saying "but all bread is basically the same thing" isn't an answer to that.

William M. Connolley said...

But! By happy coincidence, I come across me quoting from H, in Stolen text: Hayek's The constitution of liberty, chapter 19. So if you like that, consider reading more. And if you don't, then don't.

Gator said...

Re the "Stolen text" post. Hayek sounds trivially outdated and superficial almost like current day climate deniers. "Things are so complex that we now have experts..." First he complains that a social security apparatus is complex and then complains that you need to be an expert to understand it. I feel like much of his criticism arises from a pre-computer age where "why, you'd have to have REAMS of calculations to understand that!" but here we are. And of course, underlying this is not economics, but the simple political stance that "I should not have to pay for anything that does not benefit me."

So, yeah, his text does not encourage further reading.

William M. Connolley said...

You read that very quickly; perhaps too quickly. His point is not that we have experts; rather, one of his points is that these systems are so complex that they are only understood by experts; and that the only people that do so devote enough of their time to becoming experts, are those in favour of the systems. This hampers criticism, because if you provide high-level crit, people will insist on you mastering the details.

There's a useful analogy with the heliocentric vs geocentric debate; where the test - at least initially - was not logical coherence or overall improvability of the system, but the very narrow one of whether it produced better predictions, which Copernican heliocentricity failed.

> I should not have to pay for anything that does not benefit me

That is indeed a reasonable... not principle; perhaps aim; separability. You'll notice of course that he begins by noting that it is not reasonably achievable in a modern society, and that he regards not achieving it as reasonable.

However, you have missed his main point; I won't spoil the fun by telling you what it is.

Nathan said...

Well that snippet of Hayek not so enlightning.

The issue here is that there's no data or actuall assessment of real-world situations. It's just a whole bunch of statements that he claims are 'logical'.

"Freedom is critically threatened when the government is given exclusive powers to provide certain services powers which, in order to achieve its purpose it must use for the discretionary coercion of individuals."

How is it critically threatened? What does it mean for freedom to be critically threatened? where is the data? Where are the examples or at least anecdoaes?
How is this convincing of anything?


"Once the apparatus is established, its future development will be shaped by what those who have chosen to serve it regard as its needs."Really? How does he know this? Does he know the future of organisations?
And how is this necessarily bad? The MCC is run by people who serve it's needs. Is it now a terrible organisation? What about Manchester United - served by people and shaped by them according to what they think it's needs are... So awful. Or is it just Government run organisations that are bad. And if so, why?

"It is something of a paradox that the state should today advance its claims for the superiority of the exclusive single-track development by authority..."
Who claimed this?

..."in a field that illustrates perhaps more clearly than any other how new institutions emerge not from design but by a gradual evolutionary process. "
No new institutions emerge from design... Really?


" In fact, the way in which Insurance has evolved is the most telling common tary on the presumption of those who want to confine future evolution to a single channel enforced by authority."

Who is enforcing a single channel by authority?


It's a bunch of opinion.


Nathan said...

"This hampers criticism, because if you provide high-level crit, people will insist on you mastering the details."

This is amazingly ironic...

William M. Connolley said...

Re Lomborg, I could say that attacks on him like @richardabetts just seem... like his opponents don't even know how to talk properly; or are so wrapped up in their physical climatology that they can't contribute. But I can't be bothered to argue that with them any more.

...and Then There's Physics said...

WMC,
The problem I have with what I think your argument is is that, as Kevin Anderson points out in this article, the models used in IAMs are assuming marginal changes near economic equilibrium. So, you can't really use them to project large changes away from some kind of economic equilibrium. I have yet to hear a solid argument for the range in which these models might produce reasonable estimates, but it would seem that they can't really be used to reliably estimate the impact of ~8C of warming, which is what Lomborg has included in the paper Richard Betts was commenting on.

Now, you might say that a critic should produce a better estimate, but if that isn't really possible (which I suspect is the case here), then that doesn't suddenly validate the estimate made by those who try to do so. Also, the scientific method doesn't really include "I've run my model and got a result, now prove me wrong".

William M. Connolley said...

Oh noes, you've sucked me into the argument! And I've fallen for it...

I saw you on Twatter. I agree that we've got no good estimates for what +8 oc (global; hence far more locally) might do. But where does your desire to know about the costs of +8 oC come from? We're pretty well agree not to go there, so who cares?

I think I read some of KA's piece at the time, but got put off. calling IAMs "leviathan" models is stupid or ignorant; it's hard to know which. Compared to AOGCMs, they are tiny. He spends far too long talking about NETs. And he seems clueless. I could expand on that if you like; but his words are such a morass of nonsense that I don't feel inclined to wade in without encouragement.

As for RB: I didn't like his: "His economic argument is contested, but also there's much more to consider than that. If your homeland simply gets TOO HOT in summer, or flooded by the sea more often, how is that "better"?" - this implies that TOO HOT can be separated out from the economics, which of course it can't be. Instead, I read it as RB running away from the economics and wanting to talk about TOO HOT. In which case, what does he actually mean?

I guess he might mean there are some temperature changes, and SLR, that are "obviously" so large that you don't need to do any economic analysis to see that they are bad. But I'm dubious that +3 oC is in that league, in which case, RB's "rebuttal" to L fails.

...and Then There's Physics said...

Oh noes, you've sucked me into the argument! And I've fallen for it...

Sorry :-)

But where does your desire to know about the costs of +8 oC come from? We're pretty well agree not to go there, so who cares?
I don't want to know what it is. I'm suggesting that Lomborg's claim (in his recently published paper) that it will be small (~10% of GDP) is flawed on many levels, not least of which is that most IAMs have economic growth baked in. I think Kevin Anderson is correct that IAMs assume marginal changes near economic equilibrium. If I understand this correctly, it might be okay to use them to estimate an SCC and to then try to determine the pathway we'd follow if we imposed a suitably priced carbon tax. In that scenario we would, in principle, be remaining close to some kind of equilibrium (we'd be pricing carbon and allowing the market to adjust). You can't, however, simply run an IAM out to ~8C and then claim that the impact will be small whatever we do, because that would almost certainly not be representing a scenario where we're remaining close to some kind of economic equilibrium.

I think RB's point (which I mostly agree with) is about what one means by "better". There are clearly plausible scenarios where some region may experience changes, the impact of which would almost certainly not lead to an outcome that anyone would regard as "better". I interpreted RB's point to mostly be that it's too complex to make simple claims about things getting better, or - equivalently, I guess - worse.

In the interests of not extending this debate, I'll wish you a happy festive season :-)

Tom said...

First, let me echo ATTP's extension of holiday greetings. I need to agree with ATTP on at least one thing a year--it's in my contract.

In my mind, when I see arguments postulating effects of 8C or 10C or whatever, those numbers are just proxies for 'too hot to survive,' and I treat them as such. I think the case for 8C is so untenable that it belongs in the realm of fantasy.

I really like Richard Betts (he liked my book, so natch) and I'm surprised to see him make such a weak argument. Maybe it's the limitations of the medium...

Phil said...

> "I think the case for 8C is so untenable that it belongs in the realm of fantasy."

Like a crazy reality TV star becoming US President.

Tom said...

No Phil, we already had a bad actor as prez. Trump is just a tired sequel. Almost predictable given the state of the Repubs.

8C is far less likely.

Phil said...

8C or not depends on politics.

I don't presume to predict future politics. In the worse case we don't worry about slow things like climate change.

Order of magnitude, 8C is about 2.5 doublings from pre-industrial. We have done the half and are committed by current status to at least another half, best case.

So best case we get to 3C plus or minus some delta. Yet even then, there are significant uses of carbon fuels that can't be replaced. Jet fuel for military, for one. Some human sources will continue long after the humans that started them have died. Like coal seam fires and natural gas leaks from long closed wells. Also the warming will have side effects, some of which might release still more carbon, such as the melting of the permafrost.

Worst case? I'm not sure that it does not include 8C or even higher.

So humans burn enough carbon for 1.5 doublings, a bit more than best case. Permafrost melts and gives another half doubling. Then parts of the biosphere change to give another half doubling. Or something like that. Unlikely? Depends on things we can't know, like future politics and what the biosphere will look like at 6C warmer.

What limit is there on human releases of carbon? Permafrost melt is likely, and there is about 1,460-1,600 billion metric tons of organic carbon in the Northern Hemisphere. What will the biosphere look like at 6C warmer?

THE CLIMATE WARS said...

IZEN :"subsistence agricultural system with no city building and a disappearance of literacy and technology. It took nearly thousand years for the re-invention of water and sewage systems and civic buildings on the same scale to re-appear."

Izen, Byzantium rose in all its architectural glory even as the Western Empire decayed,. On this side of the pond, Teotehuacan did not collapse like Tikal , and , the Mixtec, Toltec and Aztec went on writing, trading , and intensively cutivating food for urban populations larger than any in Europe.

You might find Mike Coe's The Maya an edifying as well as enjoyable read.

William M. Connolley said...

I think +8 is unlikely, and costing it rather meaningless, so what does Lomborg say? In his recent paper his main item in the abstract is Using carbon taxes, an optimal realistic climate policy can aggressively reduce emissions and reduce the global temperature increase from 4.1°C in 2100 to 3.75°C. This will cost $18 trillion, but deliver climate benefits worth twice that. The popular 2°C target, in contrast, is unrealistic and would leave the world more than $250 trillion worse off but I presume the +8 must be somewhere.

ATTP, your claim is "Lomborg's claim (in his recently published paper) that it will be small (~10% of GDP) is flawed" but I don't find any discussion of +8 oC in the paper (which I've only skimmed, so feel free to point me to the section I've missed).

3.1. "The climate damage functions from integrated assessment" shows some graphs of other people's estimates, but doesn't as far as I can see discuss the high end... it does consider +4 oC, but I don't think that is too controversial (indeed he sources fig 19 as an updated IPCC pic, and I presume you're not complaining about the IPCC...).

Ctrl-F says that "8°C" occurs nowhere. Am I looking at the right paper?

...and Then There's Physics said...

WMC,
I was thinking of Figure 20, which I believe he generated (even if he didn't develop the damage functions) and which was included in his promotional tweet which says "Global warming has real cost, but even strong temp rises cost ~4% of GDP — not end-of-world.". I guess he didn't technically "claim" that the impact of 8C would be small. Is "strongly implied" good enough? One of my points (which may have got lost) is that ~10% at 8C seems so nonsensical that it's hard to take these estimates seriously in general (i.e., if ~10% at 8C is nonsensical, then at what level of warming should we regard such estimates as reasonable?).

Maybe you disagree with this, but my understanding is that one should be cautious of using these kind of estimates to make the kind of claims that Lomborg is making (whether it's ~10% at 8C or ~4% at 4C). There are a number of ways to generate these damage functions, but none of them involve actually observing what happens if we were to undergo global warming of 4C, or 8C. This might be okay if you're trying to find some way of implementing a damage estimate into a cost-benefit IAM in order to produce some kind of optimal pathway (i.e., you need something) but to use them to "strongly imply" that the impact of many C of warming would be small seems like a stretch.

William M. Connolley said...

Fig 20 and 19 are much the same, I think. But if your objection is to "even strong temp rises cost ~4% of GDP — not end-of-world", in the context of fig 20, then I think your beef is with the Twit, not the paper.

And even given that, if your interpretation is "whether it's ~10% at 8C or ~4% at 4C" then you're still understanding "strong" to mean "+4 oC", not +8. And I think it is natural to think ~4% refers to +4, from that graph; it could just about be taken to refer to +8, but I think that would be odd; you could perhaps criticise him for not being more specific. Or you could perhaps compliment him on using "strong" to refer to +4 oC, i.e. not shying away from GW.

I think that its hard to see +8 oC as within the plausibly-valid range of IAMs, without some convincing work to show that it is, which I think is lacking. I'm less convinced about +4 which seems, intuitively, for whatever reason, much less of a stretch.

> if you're trying to find some way of implementing a damage estimate into a cost-benefit IAM in order to produce some kind of optimal pathway

But that is what Lomborg is doing in the paper. In the Twit he is being more political, but I think his 4-oC-not-end-of-world is (a) likely true, and (b) reasonable as a rebuttal of the commonly-seen 4oC-would-be--catastrophic narrative, which narrative rarely defines what it means by "catastrophic" but tends to use it as a synonym for must-be-avoided-at-all-costs.

Nathan said...

In his paper Lomborg uses Nordhaus' DICE model to create a cost benefit analysis to show that 3.75 degrees in the sweet spot... Similar to Nordhaus' 3.5

But apparently
https://www.pik-potsdam.de/en/news/latest-news/an-economic-case-for-the-un-climate-targets-early-and-strong-climate-action-pays-off

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0833-x

So in the end who knows.




Nathan said...

"4-oC-not-end-of-world"

'not end of world' is similarly rarely defined.

Nathan said...

Stiglitz is also unimpressed

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/books/review/bjorn-lomborg-false-alarm-joseph-stiglitz.html

William M. Connolley said...

The PIK study tells me it is mostly changes to the damage function and discount rate that lead to preferring +2 to +3.5; I could believe either but I'd have preferred it if the PIK note had explained the split; and the Nature paper is paywalled.

Stiglitz... ends up advocating the Green New Deal which I've already covered.

Everett F Sargent said...

Well, I am rather late to the party as it were or so to speak.

But, I do not think I have missed anything of importance ... so all I can say is that this holiday season is rather strange and that the end times are nigh sometime after 2020 or 2525, which, you know, does not make me Nostradamus or even George Clooney.

William M. Connolley said...

I really should have had a Happy Christmas post so my one or two readers could pop up and say hello.

Nathan said...

"Stiglitz... ends up advocating the Green New Deal which I've already covered."

So... Because he backs the GND he can't be right about Lomborg?


William M. Connolley said...

Well, no. But I read through S and could have quibbled all his arguments but didn't want to; that seemed to be the easiest way of quibbling them all.

Phil said...

We could define you with your use of "a contemptuous term used to refer to an Australian Aboriginal person."

Better to focus on the best people can offer.

William M. Connolley said...

Was that Historic Urgenda Climate Ruling Upheld by Dutch Supreme Court? I didn't think that "native" was bad, but people clearly objected so I'll retrospectively apologise.

But in the seasonal spirit, what is good about S's piece? He acks "[Lomborg] urges imposing a carbon tax and investing much more on innovation". S noting that GW is more than just warming is another good point. Risk is a good point, too; as is the danger of getting the answer you want by inviting the experts you want.

I just wish that people were reading something between S and L, rather than the two fighting.

Phil said...

Moving your Overton Window.

The problem with getting the answer you want is that answer might not be reality.

And reality bites.

Nathan said...

S also focus' on the discount rate. That's also the focus of the PIK.

I suggest looking at the insurance industry, and see what they think of climate risks

+3.5 degrees takes us back to the climate of the Oligocene... It's totally unknown how we would fare.

Also note that Lomborg uses the work of Diaz to reduce the costs of sea level rise. Using the very benign term of 'adaptation' but when you read Diaz, the adaptation is actually 'retreating' or 'abandoning', and then claiming that this is inexpensive. There are a lot of places that would struggle to do this. Bangladesh is a good example, they're now surrounded by an armed border wall by India to prevent them leaving.

William M. Connolley said...

Related fragility drivel: "Suez Canal shutdown shows the vulnerability of the global economy to extreme events" at https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2021/03/suez-canal-shutdown-shows-vulnerability-of-global-economy-to-extreme-events