Book review: Climate Shlock

PXL_20210922_092023032 By that nice Gernot Wagner2. And some bloke called Weitzman. I now notice that I've discussed GW's work before, and that work reffed Schlock, which dates from 2015. The subtitle is "The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet".

Who is supposed to read this stuff? A general audience. Will they, and should they? Probably not: or at least, if they read the words, I doubt they'll be understood. There's nothing too complex, if you're familiar with the ideas, but there's enough that's hard on the surface that people who want to not hear will just bounce off.

Chapter 1 starts with the Chelyabinsk meteor and is edging towards the idea of taking sensible precautions in the face of unknown potential disasters. We learn that "many observers" regards GW of more than 2 oC as potentially leading to "catastrophe" but that economists struggle to understand that term, without a dollar value: 10% of GDP? 50%? What? Then we segue onto the familiar-to-us-all problems of dealing with GW: it is global; slow; irreversible; and plagued by uncertainties. Fat tails get a mention, but we'll come back to them later. Time to quibble: Fourier didn't discover the GHG effects of CO2 at any time let alone in 1824 as any fule kno. The book has references, but they're all tucked away into the back to avoid scaring the horses, so you have to keep flipping around to find out what is well reffed and what isn't. They correctly point out that the solution to GW is Pigouvian taxes4; and discuss why we can and can't actually do anything.

Chapter 2 is a series of definitions, sort of, or perhaps very brief discussions of relevant points; but e.g. reducing the history of climate science to 4 bullet points is too brief; this is part of the awkwardness of the book's target-audience-point.

Chapter 3 is about "fat tails" and is I think... hmmm, well, let's say "overly pessimistic". We're arguing about the value of Climate Sensitivity, and hence the expected warming for 2x CO21. Certainly the values they choose are higher than AR6 gives. I think they'd like to be talking about Weitzman's Dismal Theorem but they back away from it. Tol has stuff to say, too. [Aside: they use the familiar idea that people insure against large improbable risks. But I don't think this analogy helps them, quite the reverse: the point is, that people do choose to run these risks: they don't do absolutely everything possible to avoid them; instead they insure. We now return you to...] There's familiar stuff about DICE damage functions and related matters. There's discussion of whether damage functions should affect rates rather than levels, and so on. What there isn't is (as Tol notes) is any discussion as to whether flailing around with climate policy might leave us overall poorer. In the end, they go for "it is all too complex; let's use $40/ton" which is fine by me7. On discount rates, I think I'm going to rely on my A review of a Review of The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change which I think is very much the same stuff. There's a brief (and erroneous) discussion of the analogy of an asteroid-heading-towards-Earth-in-a-century3. Some bits have got slightly out of date: he bemoans - well, as I did - the ETS because the carbon price is too low - but it isn't any more.

Chapter 4: willful blindness. The debate about whether to act on GW should be over, they say, and even on how to act; the question is how high should the price be? While I would love to believe that, it is not true5. A majority of economists would accept it, but not a majority of pols, and not even a majority of scientists - as for the general public, they haven't even thought of the question. Just read the bloody comments on any of my posts on carbon taxes. They return to $40/t, but are then forced to confront a problem: according their analysis, the risk-of-catastrophe is quite high, let us say 10%, and for that $40 is a paltry price... should it not be $400, or $4000, to prevent catastrophe? This analysis spirals out of control as JA noted and fundamentally goes nowhere, and we move on to the next chapter, geoengineering.

Chapter 5: geoengineering, or rather, not (see-also my Reflecting Sunlight). Anyone talking about GW has to talk themselves out of geoengineering, because it is cheap. They point out all the obvious problems - not a full solution, what if we suddenly stop, winners and losers, governance, ocean acidifcation, blah blah the usual stuff. I think their conclusion insofar as they have one is weakly in favour of research8; I'm rather more strongly so although TBH I think it is likely doomed because of the screachers. Notice that some of their objections (geoeng will cool; some people might like it warmer) are dumb, because exactly the same objections exist to halting CO2 increases or CO2 capture; and their distinction between active and passive is I think spurious.

Chapter 6: for no obvious reason they have another chapter on geoeng, but don't really say anything else. Also, they're desperately focussed on reflecting sublight and barely a word and no detail on ocean iron fertilisation. Are they embarassed because as economists they're unable to recommend the cheap solution?

Chapter 7: what to do? This is all worthily sensible and makes all the obvious suggestions. Except... they're all, like everyone else's, somewhat superficial. Suggesting that we help educate our citizenry to have better ideas is perhaps too slow. Given that most of the solution is likely better solar, better wind, electric cars, perhaps they could encourage people to help this effort? Or, they could adopt my solution6.


1. Yes, 2x is arbitrary and CO2 doesn't stop at 2x if you keep emitting; but we have to concretise the discussion somehow, and we shouldn't care too much about post 2100.

2. What are GW's real credentials? He calls himself a climate economist; Tol calls him a cliamte activist. You be the judge. MW's credentials are of course impeccable.

3. What should you do if your observations and calculations suggest that a large asteroid will hit the Earth in a century or so? Not much. Improve your observations; re-check your calculations; perhaps boost research into rockets. But instituting a crash programme of rocket building would be dumb. To make that more obvious, consider what if, a century ago, people had discovered an asteroid heading our way in two centuries.

4. Or should be. Increasingly, though, it is looking more and more likely that we'll get a somewhat less efficient transition: wind and solar will just become cheaper, we'll swap to that, and there will be a tremenous froth of pointless nonsense on top.

5. Thus their chapter title is self-referential, tee hee.

6. Which is using my native intellect and high quality education to... write software. And, of course, helpful blogs: if only anyone would listen. This of course is nothing to do with my desire for money but because I'm inclined to trust the market to find the most useful use for me; but happy co-incidence, that's whoever will pay me most.

7. Most people in favour of carbon taxes end up about there; like most people interested in CS end up at 3 oC or thereabouts; that doesn't mean that all the words wrapped around it are worthless, but I think if I was a general reader I'd be disappointed: so many quibbles, ideas, qualifications, and we just shrug and pick a number.

8. To be fair to GW, he is still Twitting in favour of research into solar geoeng.


* Climate Shock Bet by Bryan Caplan

The Cost of Insuring Expensive Waterfront Homes Is About to Skyrocket - if only. If we (well, OK, not me, those funny USAnians and their disfucntional govt) can't even get simple things like this right, what hope for harder stuff?

‘Greenflation’ threatens to derail climate change action - FT

What does "local control" actually mean? by Scott Sumner

Whither Tartaria? - ACX

* Rational Irrationality in High Places by Bryan Caplan; on Pinker: It’s really only with I think the Enlightenment more or less that the idea that all of our beliefs should be put in the reality zone, should be scrutinized for whether they’re true or false. It’s actually in human history a pretty exotic belief. I think it’s a good belief, a good commitment, but it doesn’t come naturally to us. See-also Review – Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker by CIP.

Alito blasts media for portraying shadow docket in “sinister” terms.

* [2021/11] I Win My Climate Shock Bet by Bryan Caplan - no great surprise. Worth reading though for how the Other Half reacts; see esp Social Desireability Bias: "Frankly, it looks like Wagner and Weitzman want to impoverish the world by many extra trillions of dollars to ensure that humanity’s savior is the United Nations instead of the United States or (horrors!) Elon Musk... sound like typical smart people under the spell of Social Desirability Bias.  They care [m]uch more about solving climate change inoffensively than solving it cheaply." And a response; to which I commented.


Phil said...

Chelyabinsk meteor is recent history.


Tom said...

How delightfully lukewarmerish much of your conversation is.

23 Pigou!

Phil said...

I'm amused at the funny UKians and their disfucntional govt and functional spelling.

And Brexit. Queued up for petrol recently?


Forget $40.

Climeworks DAC plant in Iceland is on line, and the retail price of undoing your CO2 footprint is three and a half Euros per kilo of contained carbon ( C/CO2 M.W.= .27)

That's close on $ 4,000 a tonne, retail, and the press release says Munich Re paid ~$ 736 /tonne for offset tranche for $736


Phil said...

Why partisan hacks don't like being called partisan hacks.


Yet even hacks have to sleep at night.

William M. Connolley said...

ACB pretty well gets it right up front: "Judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties". Alas your author isn't smart enough to parse that; or rather, is so blinded by his own partisanship that he won't read it.

> For Barrett to insist on her nonpartisanship at a center named for the legislator whose procedural hardball was...

This is typical unthinking poisoning-the-well stuff. Where she spoke is irrelevant; and if you want to discuss how she was installed, do so directly. This is bad churnalism, so far.

> that justices are simply following the law... framing their actions as consistent with the rule of law

More confusion from yer man. The law is often, and almost always when it reaches the supremes, ambiguous and in need of interpretation (as the sainted Hobbes told us; and many more after and probably before). So the supremes acting *consistently* with the law is no big thing; and it is hard to think of times when they didn't (RvW is one possible counter example). But "simply following the law" is a strawman, because of ambiguity: the common law tradition is that judges find the law, and then pretend that everyone already knew the law.

There are different judicial philosophies and definitely different individual opinions. Labelling those that you dislike "hacks" is unthinking.

I think that stuff like this, which deliberately sets out to undermine the court for party advantage, is analogous to the Trumpist undermining of the electoral process; and like it, is bad.

Can you think of a recent supreme decision that was definitely wrong in law?

William M. Connolley said...

"Reading between the lines, I think she learned pretty much the same thing a lot of the rest of us learned during the grim years of the last decade. Of the fifty-odd biases discovered by Kahneman, Tversky, and their successors, forty-nine are cute quirks, and one is destroying civilization. This last one is confirmation bias - our tendency to interpret evidence as confirming our pre-existing beliefs instead of changing our minds. This is the bias that explains why your political opponents continue to be your political opponents, instead of converting to your obviously superior beliefs" - ASX.

Phil said...

Dred Scott.

The complete and total victory of slavery and white supremacy in the Supreme Court. Or this, somewhat more recent.


When the politicians get to select the voters rather than the reverse, bad things are going to happen.

"This last one is confirmation bias - our tendency to interpret evidence as confirming our pre-existing beliefs instead of changing our minds. This is the bias that explains why your political opponents continue to be your political opponents, instead of converting to your obviously superior beliefs. And so on to religion, pseudoscience, and all the other scourges of the intellectual world."

You, of course, are completely immune.

William M. Connolley said...

Having to go back too DS kinda demonstrates my point; that's a bit like Godwin.

Shelby is recent but doesn't prove yours: you may disagree with it - many people do - but asserting that it is definitely wrong in law is wrong. And it was from 2013; had it been clearly against the will of Congress, there has been plenty of time to pass more up to date legislation.

William M. Connolley said...

See-also the table on page 15.


Gernot worked with David Keith at Harvard on geoengineering governance before signing on with Bloomberg.

Their long game may be bonds, as climate governance can translate into banks making money from underwriting ESG-related bond sales. Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance is now scored on specific metrics related to intangible assets.as Bloomberg Green notes:

"Banks have earned about $3.6 billion in fees in 2021 from arranging sales of bonds advertised as instruments of green, social or sustainable development for companies, governments and other organizations, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s more than double the $1.6 billion banks pocketed so far this year from issuing debt for fossil-fuel companies."

Unknown said...

the original meaning of "free market" was "a market free from rents," where unproductive creditors were not allowed to lay a private tax on productive manufacturers.


Today, the meaning has been reversed - a market is "free" if creditors face no limits on rent-extraction.

William M. Connolley said...

Errrm well welcome Unknown, but how did we get onto free markets? Never mind. Your source is CD who isn't a WP:RS on these matters. Better to turn to wiki, which says "For classical economists such as Adam Smith, the term free market does not necessarily refer to a market free from government interference, but rather free from all forms of economic privilege, monopolies and artificial scarcities". Which includes govt. CDs identification of AS as the original source for the concept of free markets appears to me to be dubious, but I'm not a historian of these concepts.

Notice that CDs first example of a rentier (the monopolist ferryman) is only such because of the monopoly he gts from... yes, you guessed it: the govt.

Phil said...

Not all monopolies come from government.


A monopoly can give a government power.


is correct in that the modern meaning of "free market" has removed the limits on rent-extraction.

Phil said...

Missing Unknown

Phil said...

DS -- Those that dismiss the lessons of the past will relearn them.

The hard way.

William M. Connolley said...

> sets out to undermine the court for party advantage, is analogous to...

I've said this before.

Phil said...

Yes, you have ignored the lessons of the past in the past.

Gator, for example gave good advice.

"Re Jim Crow, please accept that you know next to nothing about US politics, especially at the state and county level. Why would you? So maybe when someone says "Jim Crow is not dead" you might reply "Wow, that's surprising! Whatever do you mean?" rather than "You're wrong in some very nitpicky, literal way haha". It just makes you sound like an ignorant dick, which I assume you are not in real life. "