Arnold Kling  

Freeman Dyson on Global Warming

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He writes,


The warming effect of carbon dioxide is strongest where air is cold and dry, mainly in the arctic rather than in the tropics, mainly in mountainous regions rather than in lowlands, mainly in winter rather than in summer, and mainly at night rather than in daytime. The warming is real, but it is mostly making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter. To represent this local warming by a global average is misleading.

Read the whole thing. One excerpt does not do justice to the piece.


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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/754
The author at amcgltd in a related article titled Climate Heresies writes:
    When I say, "climate change probably isn't the big damned hairy deal everyone makes it out to be," people often dismiss me as a crackpot. Which I suppose is fine, because I am*. But when Freeman Dyson does it,... [Tracked on August 29, 2007 9:42 AM]
COMMENTS (24 to date)
Matt writes:

I read most of it. His view is that we have not heard the whole story on carbon dioxide because of the chaos of living organisms.

Maybe not the whole story, but if the heretics figure something out, they better hurry because carbon dioxide levels are 30% above the 650,000 year norm and stil rising fast.

reason writes:

Und...

Surely a corrolary of this is that sealevels will rise faster than we might expect by merely looking at the global average because ice is concentrated in colder places. I'm sure that is reassuring to people living on the coast.

reason writes:

RE: Matt, your word "heretic" is such a great choice because with AGW it truly seems, like most religions, to be those with faith against those without.

RE: reason, Don't be so quick to assume large sea-level rises. Temperature increases that do not take the temperature above 0C will have no effect at all on ice melt. Temperature increases from -C to +C will, as will increases from low +C to higher +C. Given that this is mostly affecting the high latitudes, the winter months and the night time, why should we expect MORE warming at +C temperatures than if it affected warmer areas? The average winter temperature in the arctic is something like -40C. I haven't heard anyone talk about 40*+ of warming.

aaron writes:

reason,

Yes, those faster rising sea levels sound terrifying. 1.5ft over the next 100 years will surely be more devastating than the 1.5ft over the past 150 years.

reason writes:

Never heard of the possibility of the Greenland icesheet sliding off?

Chuck writes:

How much of the frozen ice at the poles is water and how much is salt water? Salt water freezes and thaws at colder temperatures.

At that is pointless, because where ever in the world the average temperature has been -1C, there will be ice, and when that average temperature gets to 1C, it will become water.

Furthermore, we often get feedback in systems like this. There was a huge ice sheet in the antarctic, IIRC, that broke up much faster than expected because, they think, that as the ice turned to water and flowed through the remaining ice, it caused the remining ice to become less reflective of radiation and to warm faster still.

Furthermore, climate is a complicated system, and the models are surely wrong, maybe a little, maybe alot. But, one can't say if they are going to be wrong in our favor or against it. The evidence is already coming in that perhaps the models were wrong in ways which underestimated things.

If one accepts that global warming, should it occur, would be a disaster that we should try to prevent, then at that point the approach to climate change becomes risk management.

And when you consider what is at risk, we are very much better to try and prevent it.

aaron writes:

When an actual change in risk can be measured and attributed.

aaron writes:

No, it makes more sense to be prodigious and flexible. Prevention is ridiculous. We don't have good data, we don't have probabilities, and we don't have the slightest idea of the costs and the effectiveness is near nill and greatly overestimated (economics suggest that unintended consequences will result in only the slightest effect from policy change).

8 writes:

I don't know if Dyson intended it, but if you combine his global warming heresy with his geopolitical heresy you get a very scary picture if our society decides to redirect a significant amount of productive energy towards global warming.

David Thomson writes:

"And when you consider what is at risk, we are very much better to try and prevent it."

A bus when leaving my home could also hit me. But how likely is it that this will occur? Should I park a tank on my front doorstep? Must I wear a helmet and body amour when crossing the street? Human beings should not overreact when confronted by risks. An exaggerated response could even cause far more harm.

Matt writes:

Everyone is a climate engineer here, either advocating that we continue the same or advocate that we change the ice line.

But, you all start with the premise that mankind has raised co2 levels above the norm, and that makes man a climate engineer.

So now we have all sorts of experts telling the climate engineering idustry how to run their business. What happened to go old libertarian idea that climate engineers should be left in a free market to run their industry?

Heather writes:

On a slightly different note, when do free markets stop working? I know that typically a company looks for a payback on investment of ~3 years, which means that projects with longer time horizons, despite being worthwhile, are typically not invested in by a company, but may be invested in by a government. Does this mean that because the free market does not produce the product, it is a poor investment? I would argue that is not the case, but rather the limited time horizon of an individual's outlook.

This relates to global warming in my mind because, while we may not see the effects of the warming in my lifetime, they may be felt in my children's lifetime. A market with that time horizon is unlikely to see investors unless an immediate consequence or incentive is introduced. This smacks of government intervention, which I can't say I like, but at the same time, I am at a loss as to how else to address the long time horizons involved.

8 writes:

Heather, there are mining and tech/biotech companies that lose money decade after decade, yet they're still in business and you can buy their stocks today.

As for long time horizons, let me give the example of one of my friends in China. A couple of years ago he made more money at his white collar job in one year than his father (a professor) had saved in his entire life. Forcing the father pay for anything the son can pay for today would have been crazy.

aaron writes:

Heather, both costs and profits diminish with time.

I don't know about small businesses, but companies are looking for a continuous payback, and the prices of stocks are usually looked at for a payout over 20 years.

aaron writes:

And Dyson is right, you want to look at warming, look at the trend in the minimums. Looking at the peaks is idiotic.

1998 was a record year, but not significantly different than 1934, before AGW. And all the heat that the earth held in 1998 left in 1999. Kinda blows away notion of large greenhouse warming, which is predicated on the retention of heat.

Heather writes:

Okay, so a time horizon of 20 years might be something a person invests in, but what about a time horizon of 100 years? As time increases, the risk of the investment increases. Is this a problem for expensive ventures? And while you can operate at a loss for some period of time, the expectation is for a profit in a person's lifetime.

8, I'm not sure how your example of the Chinese friend relates to long time horizons. It speaks to inflationary pressures, but not necessarily the prudence or likelihood of long term investments.

aaron writes:

Yes, it is a problem. That is why governments usually fund the big projects like the first roads, space program, electrical grid, wars. The benefits aren't usually realized for many years out and a direct collection from users isn't possible.

Worth mentioning, the risk of investment isn't that the business will encounter a catastrophe or run out of resources over that time frame, it's that something better will almost certainly come along. It happens over time and we simply shift our investments.

8 writes:

It's not an example of inflation but of economic growth and productivity. If we have to direct 3% of our productive resources to solve global warming, but in 2100 it will only require 0.5% of resources due to greater wealth, we should let the future people pay for it.

aaron writes:

This post from the economist captures the idea well also.

pauld writes:

Heather wrote:
"On a slightly different note, when do free markets stop working? I know that typically a company looks for a payback on investment of ~3 years, which means that projects with longer time horizons, despite being worthwhile, are typically not invested in by a company, but may be invested in by a government."

I am curious as to where the 3 year payback period notion came from. I am extremely skeptical that it represents some type of rule-of-thumb for many reasons. First, I cannot imagine many companies use payback periods as a method to evaluate capital investments. Second, I can think off the top of my head of all sorts of investments that businesses make that have much longer than three year paybacks. For example, any new drug brought on the market likely has paybacks that are measured in decades. Proctor and Gamble spent I believe over twenty years bringing its fat substitute (olestra?) onto the market. I can think of many, many other examples of R&D and capital expenditures made by companies that far exceed three years.

aaron writes:

Actually, I think most business think in perpetuity. Expectations over 20 years is what people buying equities look at.

But after 30 years out all models seem to fail. Just too many variables.

aaron writes:

And that 20 years is just an approximation I inferred from PE ratios.

Drew writes:

There's a great Dyson clip up on YouTube in which he speaks about climate change: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTSxubKfTBU

aaron writes:

Heather, this article by Michael Lewis in the New York Times provides some great background information on insurance the nature of catastrophic risk. It's a good read.

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