Bryan Caplan  

Bauman Responds on The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change

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The Improvident Rich... Partial Reply to Yoram Bauman...
Yoram Bauman, co-author of The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change, asked to respond to my review.  I'm about to go to my parents' golden anniversary party, so I probably won't respond until late next week.

Here's Yoram:

Response to Bryan Caplan's review of Cartoon Climate Change

Thanks to Bryan Caplan for his review of my Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change, and double thanks if he cross-posts this response on his blog (although it may mean I have to tweak my jokes about how I've been banned by a libertarian blog).

As with most academics, Bryan keeps his words of praise to a minimum and instead focuses on criticisms. I will do the same (!) but let's begin with what appears to be the good news: Bryan says "there is much to like" in the book, that he "genuinely liked" it, and that he was "entertained and enlightened".

On second thought, however, this "good news" is remarkably vague, and I am worried that it is intentionally so. It is this worry---and not narcissism---that leads me to ask: What exactly did Bryan like in the book? What was he enlightened about? And is he hiding something that he doesn't want to tell his readers, or perhaps even something that he doesn't want to admit to himself?

I ask this because Bryan exhibits all of the symptoms of a global-warming-related malady known as Selective Scientific Ignorance. I did a Google search for statements that Bryan has made about climate science, and the most encouraging things I was able to come up with were (1) a post from 2007 about how he believes in "moderate global warming" because global warming skeptics aren't taking bets and (2) a reference to a 2007 survey of climate scientists. (BTW, here's the 2013 survey update.) But I also found his review of Superfreakonomics, a review that calls out as a highlight the book's "surprisingly skeptical look at global warming". (For a less flattering view, see my back-and-forth with Steve Levitt and/or this classic post that ends with climatologist Raymond Pierrehumbert, Levitt's colleague at the University of Chicago, giving Levitt the Google Map directions to his office.) And I found his review of my Cartoon Macro book, in which he somehow manages to focus on the wonders of his hero, Julian Simon---"For whom my son Simon Caplan is named"---while ignoring Simon's failed guess that "global warming is likely to be simply another transient concern, barely worthy of consideration ten years from now." (Simon wrote that in 1996).

Why do I call this Selective Scientific Ignorance? Because it doesn't stop Bryan from pontificating about other matters, like geoengineering, about which he writes elsewhere that "all things considered, geoengineering looks far superior to other policy options on the table." More on this below, but, gosh, is this person who has considered all things really the same person who says that his "understanding of natural science is very weak"? More on geoengineering below, but I for one am eager to hear what Bryan has to say about ocean acidification, or about the impact of massive atmospheric sulfur injections on global weather patterns.

Like Bryan, I'm not a natural scientist, and I'm not an epidemiologist either. But I'm comfortable saying things like "smoking causes cancer" instead of dog-whistle baloney statements like "some scientists say that smoking causes cancer" or "nobody is making bets that smoking doesn't cause cancer" or (holy cow, Bryan!) "Key question: Does smoking really dominate if you regress lung cancer deaths over the past century with cigarette consumption and also placebo variables like church attendance per capita, the Dow Jones, televisions per capita, etc.?" (More on this from Bryan here; don't miss his "I wish experts would tell me" plea at the end that makes me wonder if he needs Google Maps too.)

I could go on, but I'll just call the question. Bryan, you said that you were "enlightened" by the book, so what exactly did you learn from it? More importantly, what are you willing to publicly acknowledge about climate science? Are you comfortable saying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas? That human emissions of carbon dioxide are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations? That global temperatures have been increasing over the past century? That humans are partly responsible for those increasing global temperatures? That "it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century"?

The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change provides my answers to these questions (Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and No I'm Not Comfortable Saying This But I Am Comfortable Saying That The Vast Majority Of Scientists Are Convinced), so I'd like to hear what you have to say about them, Bryan. Can you provide answers? Or are you just going to continue to tolerate in yourself a lazy acquiescence that saves you the trouble of confronting your own views, of confronting politicians like Marco "our climate is always changing" Rubio, and of confronting fellow economists like Steve Levitt who write misleading baloney about how "When Al Gore urges the citizenry to sacrifice... the agnostics grumble that human activity accounts for just 2 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions"? (Now that you've read my book you know why that's misleading baloney, right?)

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's proceed to the numbered points of attack in Bryan's original review. (And I hope that everyone will keep in mind that Bryan "genuinely liked" the book!)

1) "We can use cost-benefit analysis [CBA] to put climate change in perspective." It's much harder than you think, Bryan. For example, read Pindyck 2013, who argues that risks from climate change should be thought about as similar to the Cold War risks of thermonuclear conflict between the US and the Soviets. (Would you advocate the use of CBA to "put the Cuban Missile Crisis in perspective"?)

Moreover, there are four independent reasons that the waters for CBA are muddy. Reason #1 is that CBA has trouble dealing with uncertainty: if there's a (say) 1% chance that climate change will be catastrophic and a 99% chance that it will be no big deal, how do you account for that in CBA? I don't think anybody who knows the St Petersburg Paradox (and Marty Weitzman's related work on "fat tails") has a good answer here. Reason #2 is that CBA has trouble dealing with inter-generational issues involving the distant future. (More on this below.) Reason #3 is that CBA has trouble dealing with intra-generational issues, e.g., the likelihood that climate change will be harder for Bagladeshis than for Americans. (And no, I'm not buying into any "hypothetical compensation schemes".) Reason #4 is that CBA has trouble dealing with non-market valuation on the massive scale that we're talking about here; a good rule of thumb is that CBA is good for engineering but less good for geoengineering.

Put those four reasons together and it's clear to me that you're opening a can of worms for no good reason. That's fine in a textbook---it's often the point of textbooks!---but in a cartoon book there's no space.

2) "Cost-benefit analysis is sensitive to discount rates." See above, but more importantly I think you're being too technical and (like most discount-rate fetishists of all political persuasions) missing the real questions. The real questions are about the wealth of future generations relative to the current generation, and about their preferences. Unfortunately it's pretty hard to answer these questions---especially, as we note in the book, about the distant future---so when you ask the hypothetical Kaldor-Hicks question that underlies discount rates (How much money would we have to set aside now to compensate future generations for climate damages?) you end up in the can of worms again.

3) "Insurance is NOT a no-brainer." You're absolutely right that buying an extended warranty for a toaster is a bad idea, but the cartoon book repeatedly emphasizes low probability outcomes that are catastrophic, which is a pretty good focal point for insurance. Of course, as you point out, the attractiveness of insurance also depends on the cost. I agree with you that the cartoon book lacks some subtlety on this point, and if I'd had twice as many pages I would have done better. Instead we get what I think is a reasonable summary given the space available: "If we give up a small piece of cake... we can get peace of mind."

4) "Leading techno-fixes really do look vastly cheaper than abatement." Ah yes, here we are, back to Mr. All Things Considered. Unfortunately, I don't really have any more fireworks to set off because I am no expert on geoengineering. I certainly have nothing against considering it. But I also know (and you should too) that the "costs" of pumping SO2 into the upper atmosphere are not limited to the dollar costs of pumping the stuff up there. So I'm concerned that geoengineering is being oversold by people like you who haven't thought it all the way through and have a "What, me worry?" approach to the risks of climate change. PS. At the very least we should all be able to agree that Levitt and Dubner were way off in claiming (in Superfreakonomics) that "perhaps the single best objection" to their garden hose idea was that "it's too simple and too cheap." Way off. Yes?

5) "National emissions regulations can have perverse global effects." Here I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill. True, national efforts to reduce (say) oil consumption would shift the global demand curve to the left, which would lead to a new equilibrium and (provided the supply curve is not perfectly elastic) a smaller drop in consumption than a naive analysis would suggest. But... why is this perverse? (It just sounds like economics to me!) What is perverse in my view is that you fail to note that the book emphasizes the importance of international action, e.g., with the division of the world population into "5 Chinas".

6) "Expressive voting is a big deal." I know this is one of your hobby-horses, Bryan, but I'm afraid you haven't convinced me that this is a big deal. Look at the climate legislation that's out there: the British Columbia carbon tax, the (failed to clear the Senate) Waxman-Markey bill, California's AB 32 cap-and-trade system, etc. It all looks pretty substantive to me. Do we really need to get into the psychology of voting, whether from greens who obsess about recycling or from free-market folks who obsess about the hockey-stick illusion? The answer---or at least my answer, especially in a cartoon book that is supposed to cover the basics of climate change in 200 short pages---is No.



COMMENTS (58 to date)
Eric writes:

I'll answer the questions as a skeptic, giving my probability assessments on whether I believe I'm right. I'm not Bryan, but I have a Ph.D. in Physics and am currently a professor in an insurance department.

Are you comfortable saying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas? 99%+

That human emissions of carbon dioxide are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations? 98%

That global temperatures have been increasing over the past century? 55%. I'd say I was at 50% in 1992 and rose roughly linearly to about 90% by 2006. Climategate dropped me back to 55% where I've stayed for the last several years. Why wouldn't I bet on this? First, I don't bet on anything. Second, The same people I would be betting against (Mann and others with an agenda) control the record. It would be like betting against the police about the speed their radar clocked me.

That humans are partly responsible for those increasing global temperatures? 90%, conditional on the above questions all being true. 0% conditional on them being false :-).

That "it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century"? Can't really answer this in terms of probabilities since it says "extremely likely" which is already a probability :-).

Some other links in the chain not asked:

A warmer world is a worse world? 25%. While some of the above "links" are problems, I'm at above 50% on all of them. This is the killer for me. This is where I believe the argument completely falls apart. I'm not in favor of carbon-based taxes because I don't believe anyone knows the size of the externality and I'm pretty sure we've even got the sign wrong.

Carbon-based taxes pass a cost-benefit analysis: 25%, and that's conditional on "A warmer world is a worse world".

Radford Neal writes:

the cartoon book repeatedly emphasizes low probability outcomes that are catastrophic, which is a pretty good focal point for insurance

A problem with this is that there are also low probability catastrophic outcomes of serious attempts to reduce CO2 emissions - for example, trade wars over attempts to force every country to tax emissions, which lead to wars that involve shooting, or nuclear bombs...

So it's not very much like regular insurance.

Josiah writes:

Eric,

You say:

That global temperatures have been increasing over the past century? 55%. I'd say I was at 50% in 1992 and rose roughly linearly to about 90% by 2006. Climategate dropped me back to 55% where I've stayed for the last several years.

I'm a bit confused about the basis of these probabilities, particularly given that the UAH satellite temperature dataset is maintained by John Christy.

Sam writes:

I'll take a crack at the questions, like Eric did:

Are you comfortable saying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas? 99%+

That human emissions of carbon dioxide are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations? 99%+

That global temperatures have been increasing over the past century? 95%. Sort of depends what you mean.

That humans are partly responsible for those increasing global temperatures? 98%

That "it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century"? For various reasons this statement has a somewhat different epistemic status than the above. To make it into a precise assertion, let's say it means the 95% confidence interval for the unknown quantity (increase in temp. anomaly from 1950-2014 due to increased radiative forcings from human CO2 emissions since 1800) / (total increase in anomaly) is contained within the interval [0.5, 1]. My estimate of the probability that this assertion is true is about 75%.


Some other links in the chain not asked:

A warmer world is a worse world? 70%. The only work I know in quantifying this is Nordhaus's study, which I haven't read in detail. I think he thinks the costs of warming outweigh the benefits. But given that the serious effects are so far off, the error bars are enormous. Also, as far as I can tell, the evidence for some of the most commonly claimed effects of climate change (increases in hurricane activity, drought, etc.) is not that convincing. Increasing my estimate is the non-negligible tail risk of a "regime change" (melting permafrost or greenland ice sheet or ...) leading to much bigger temperature increase and sea level rise.

Carbon-based taxes pass a cost-benefit analysis: meaningless unless the level of the tax is specified. Restate it as: the optimal level for a Pigouvian carbon tax is positive, averaged across the whole world. In this case, my probability is 53% (70% chance warmer is worse, 75% chance humans are the dominant reason for warmer).

Any unilateral US action to mitigate climate change (a positive carbon tax or cap and trade scheme) passes a cost-benefit analysis: 5%, based entirely on it leading to coordinated international action, which seems exceedingly unlikely.

David Anthony writes:

While economists may have some Selective Scientific Ignorance, these doomsayer scientists almost always have Complete Market Ignorance, where every negative scenario can only be improved by government intervention or we are all DOOMED.

Where I think most of the DEMANDS THAT SOMETHING BE DONE RIGHT NOW fall apart is when they admit that

1. The chance of something catastropic happenning are very low, and.

2. The marginal changes in carbon emissions are unlikely to prevent such a catastrophic scenario, if we are indeed heading towards it.

So, I choose not to lose any sleep at night over it. It's a shame that so many other people have been whipped into a panic over some models that aren't really very good at predicting future outcomes, because they've actually created a "boy who cries wolf" scenario where lots of people are going to be highly skeptical, even when they reach the point where their models are actually very good (if ever).

Josiah writes:

I have to say I found this response by Bauman pretty underwhelming. The first half of the post isn't even really a response to what Bryan wrote so much as a series of attacks based on what he does or does not believe about climate science. And as for the cost-benefit stuff, there may be reasons why using cost-benefit analysis is problematic in the context of climate change, but I don't see how that's an argument for not addressing the subject.

I enjoy Bauman's stand-up comedy routines. But this post comes across as humorless.

Eric writes:

@Sam

meaningless unless the level of the tax is specified.

I agree I could have been more clear. What I meant was, the costs of a carbon tax include decreased economic activity in the future and I give only a 25% chance that, even if a warmer world is a worse world, the benefit of cooling the world outweighs the lost economic activity.

@Josiah

My understanding is that the satellite record and the surface record used to show serious disagreements causing Pat Michaels (for instance) to trust the satellite record more. Then, at some point, an error was discovered that brought the satellite record more in line with the surface data.

I'm a scientist by training and I'm not surprised. I know how easy it is to look for errors in one direction (to remove the disagreement) and then stop looking when the desired conclusion is reached. Given the political state of climate science, I though an "error" in the satellite data would be much more likely to be discovered, as many more people had a vested interest in finding it. Most climate scientists have a potential interest in distorting surface record (i.e. Hiding the decline) and the number looking for a surface error were outnumbered at least 10 to 1 by those who wanted the satellite data to be wrong. Now that I believe the surface data to be untrustworthy, I'm at least somewhat distrustful of the correction to the satellite data as well. In addition, the satellite data continues to show no significant warming in the 1998-2008 period:

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/07/10/2280091/patrick-michaels-catos-climate-expert-has-history-of-getting-it-wrong/

The site is certainly not sympathetic to my position.

I did say, though, that my probability is 55%. It's still above 50-50 so I think the world is, more likely than not, warming.

By the way, Scott Armstrong

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Scott_Armstrong

has offered to bet Al Gore on temperatures. I can't find the details, but my memory is that Armstrong would bet even money that future temperature will be closer to trend (which is a mild rise) than the IPCC prediction.

Harold Cockerill writes:

I'm confused as I've been reading that the increase in temperatures stopped about 15 or 16 years ago. Is this not the case? If this is the case then how do climate scientists square this with an increasing amount of Co2? Also the amount of warming measured is apparently a lot less than the warming predicted by the models they are using to scare the crap out of everyone. If the models aren't close to measured increases how good are the models?

NL7 writes:

Low probability catastrophes are not necessarily always good candidates for insurance, especially given the opportunity cost of the "premiums." It might make more sense to pile up wealth or savings as a general reserve against catastrophes. General wealth is usable against a host of possible disasters or emergencies, including effects of climate change; carbon abatement is primarily only useful in the realm of preventing climate change (not even the realm of dealing with its effects).

How much should we spend on insurance against catastrophic asteroid impacts on the Earth? Invasion by aliens? Obviously there are key factors to consider beyond the scale of a given potential catastrophe, such as the likelihood of catastrophe and the chance of successful abatement. Alien invasion could be unmitigated disaster, but most people rate its likelihood somewhere approaching zero and in any case we might spend half of world GDP but be unable to counteract some alien technology - so even if the cost of doing nothing is total species annihilation, the rational choice is probably to ignore the risk. My point is not that climate change is as unlike

I also don't agree that one's "peace of mind" necessarily forms a cognizable claim on others lives. So much of the political debate is about signaling and expressiveness that it tends to infect most debates on the subject. So while I realize this was an informal argument, I think it is telling. "Peace of mind" arguments without adequate tradeoff evaluations sound a lot like mere signaling. How much should people be obligated to pay to accommodate the signaling desires of others?

NL7 writes:

To complete a sentence fragment in my above comment:

My point is not that climate change is as unlikely as alien invasion, but just that the likelihood of a catastrophe matters to making an insurance decision.

Jeff writes:

#5 is puzzling. Bryan's point is clearly a valid one, which you seem to concede with the statement that your book "emphasizes the importance of international action, e.g., with the division of the world population into '5 Chinas.'"

Are we talking about redrawing national borders? Some sort of emissions zones? And who, exactly, is going to do this dividing? What purpose will the divisions serve in implementing some kind of climate change policy? How are you going to enforce these arbitrary divisions? Questions abound.

Tom West writes:

A warmer world is a worse world? 100%

However, I'd break that down to:

A warmer world is a catastrophically worse world for 2 billion poor? 90%

A warmer world is a catastrophically worse world for industrialized nations? 5%

Which is why I don't think we'll see any significant progress. We reap the benefits, while they pay the price.

To be honest, the few-percent-probability apocalyptic scenario I see as possible is that the soon-up-against-the-wall leader of a poor nation with nuclear weapons (Iran, Pakistan, India) will blame the rest of the world for the environmental catastrophe as it collapses, and launch a spasm attack. Half a dozen nukes towards Russia and China become several hundred towards North America.

Tom West writes:

By the way, I think Yoram's point about Bryan's pussy-footing around Global Warming is spot on. It's one of those difficult topics where the logic one applies elsewhere successfully leads to the "wrong" conclusion.

I find it's the rough equivalent to the left's difficulty with open borders. Yes, we're all for helping the *all* the poor, and that is probably the best way to help the poor, but... let's talk about something else.

Radford Neal writes:

Tom West: A warmer world is a worse world? 100%


However, I'd break that down to:


A warmer world is a catastrophically worse world for 2 billion poor? 90%


A warmer world is a catastrophically worse world for industrialized nations? 5%

All of these probability assessments are ridiculous. Not even a 1% chance that warming is a net benefit overall? Absurd. 90% chance of it being not just bad, but catastrophically bad, for the poor? Absurd. Only a 5% chance that it's catastrophically bad for the rich? Maybe reasonable on its own, but not if you think there's a 90% chance it is catastrophically bad for the poor.

I think this is a clear, and unfortunately not unusual, example of climate change opinion that is driven by ideology, not facts.

MikeP writes:

A warmer world is a catastrophically worse world for 2 billion poor? 90%
A warmer world is a catastrophically worse world for industrialized nations? 5%

These are not exogenous observations with respect to global warming. In particular, the path from the 2 billion poor to the industrialized nations includes a lot of inexpensive energy.

So making energy more expensive in order to avert global warming is more likely to keep those 2 billion poor poor rather than allowing them to become industrialized and well off.

Indeed, millions of poor die every year from conditions that would vanish if they were wealthier. Compared to that, the predicted harm to the poor in the decades-distant future due to global warming should carry very little weight.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

OK, given he's advocating ignoring CBA, let's look at just CO2 effects:

Given last decade's solution of corn-based ethanol is now a sacred cow in agriculture even though it increases CO2 relative to its alternative (and drives up food prices and hurts aquifers), why does he think the odds that doing something big will be better than nothing? More costly technologies tend to require more energy than less costly technologies, and transferring these costs from variable to fixed (eg, building solar panels with big batteries), seems like a recipe for a bunch of boondoggles.

Maurice de Sully writes:

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Tom West writes:

In one word: Bangladesh

Is there anyone who truly believes that if sea levels rise even a trivial amount, they aren't totally screwed?

Not too mention that even minor temperature increases in in hot regions that are only barely feeding their populace in good years.

Of course, disasters breed disasters, so as the effects of GW cause crop failures, which cause wars, etc., we'll all be able to safely attribute any disasters to a variety of causes.

There are many places where they're already perilously close to ecological collapse. In such places, there's no margin to mitigate the effects of even the most trivial GW effects and even small effects can have catastrophic consequences.

That's why I believe that the wealthy nations will survive just fine, but a substantial proportion (5-10%) of the 2 billion poor are in *deep* trouble.

By the way, believing that GW might well be catastrophic to a significant population doesn't preclude a belief that mitigation strategies won't be successful or aren't worth the price.

(I should note that I'm not particularly green. I'm well aware that the fate of 100 million people in a continent far away is not enough to provoke me to action. It'll take government action to make me pay for the externalities of my consumption that will be the only truly effective means of making me change behaviour outside of a few token gestures I make to allow myself to feel "well, I could be worse".)

Josiah writes:

In one word: Bangladesh. Is there anyone who truly believes that if sea levels rise even a trivial amount, they aren't totally screwed?

Depends on how rich Bangladesh is at the time. Most of the climate models project average income in developing countries in 2100 higher than in the developed world today.

Yoram Bauman writes:

A few responses, holler if I didn't get to you and you want me to:

@Jeff: Look at the Montreal Protocol, or other international agreements. (We cover this in the cartoon book.)

@NL7: I agree that you need to think about insurance premiums. (I said as much in my reply to Bryan.) You might enjoy Nordhaus's paper on the Dismal Theorem.

@Harold Cockerill: Look at global temps from NASA. Temperatures have been flat for the past decade but the decadal trend is clear. You can also see how unusually hot 1998 was because it was an El Nino year; there's a decent chance of another El Nino year this year.

@Josiah: Like most comics, I'm only guaranteed to be funny if you pay me.

@Eric: Do you really think there's a conspiracy about global temperature? Don't be ridiculous.

@Tom: Good points about rich v poor. We cover this in the cartoon book too :)

Radford Neal writes:

In one word: Bangladesh. Is there anyone who truly believes that if sea levels rise even a trivial amount, they aren't totally screwed?

I'm no expert on Bangladesh, but my impression is that the effect of sea level rise on the extent of a river delta where silt is constantly being deposited isn't totally obvious. Also, if land there does get covered by ocean, does that create a rich new fishing ground? And one would expect a rise in CO2 levels to increase agricultural yields, other things being equal. Note: I don't think Bangladesh's population is so high that space for housing is the issue; it's food production.

Also, by a 90% chance of catastrophe, I assumed you meant in some sort of general sense (which is rather hard to define, of course). Practically any change is going to be bad for somebody or other. Since lots of things are constantly changing, that wouldn't be of much significance.

Temperatures have been flat for the past decade but the decadal trend is clear.

Actually, they've been flat for over 15 years. Until that reaches 20 years, one can say that the most recent decade is the hottest of the last X decades, but that's not a very informative way of looking at the data.

And in the graph you link to, the trend from 1910 to 1940 is just as great that from 1970 to 2000. It's generally accepted that increased levels of CO2 wouldn't have had much effect before 1950.

Eric writes:

@Yoram – No, I don’t believe there is a conspiracy. I believe there is (possibly, I said 45%) an uncorrected bias on the part of a large number of people and outright fraud on the part of a handful. It’s for the good of mankind, after all.

By the way, I think your “I support the troops” bumper sticker routine is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Re: Bangladesh: Per Capita GDP in 1990: $284, Global Average Temperature Anomaly: 0.40
Per Capita GDP in 2009: $635, Global Average Temperature Anomaly: 0.59.

I haven’t done a full regression and GDP per capita is an imperfect measure of well-being, but it sure seems like temperatures have risen and Bangladeshis are better off. Actually, this only says Bangladeshis in Bangladesh are better off. It doesn’t count the fact that about 3% of Bangladeshis leave Bangladesh on net every decade, probably for better economic opportunities. I care about people, not places.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_past_and_future_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/time-series/global/globe/land_ocean/ytd/12/1880-2014.csv

http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?d=PopDiv&f=variableID%3A85

Jeff writes:

Warmer temperatures mean longer growing seasons, do they not? Obviously, it's a little more complicated than that, but in general, I don't think there is good evidence at the moment showing that food production would be negatively affected by moderate warming, although I could be wrong.

Thanks for the reply, Mr. Bauman.

Urstoff writes:

What's the cheapest possible policy that would have a non-negligible effect (define that however you want) on slowing global warming (define that however you want)?

What's the cheapest possible policy that would stop global warming?

What's the cheapest possible policy that would reverse global warming?

Mark Bahner writes:
That global temperatures have been increasing over the past century? 55%. I'd say I was at 50% in 1992 and rose roughly linearly to about 90% by 2006. Climategate dropped me back to 55% where I've stayed for the last several years.

I'd say that the odds that the global temperatures in the decade of 2000-2010 were warmer than the global temperatures in 1900-1910 are close to 100%.

There are surface temperature measurements, satellite and balloon measurements (which don't span the century, but show *clear* increases even over their limited measurement periods), proxies like glaciers, arctic sea ice, bird migrations, etc. etc. It's almost like evidence that the world is more than 6000 years old.

ThomasH writes:

@ #1
CB analysis of climate change is indeed hard (in part because of the discount rate problem) but what is the alternative. NOT using CB analysis is getting almost no response and sometimes individual responses that can be overly costly. [The discount rate problem is not so hard when one separates the discount rate into a rate of time preference and a shadow price of capital] But CB analysis of specific investments will be limited so long as the costs and benefits do not incorporate the costs of CO2 emissions
@ #4
“Techno fixes“ if they are less costly than other investments that reduce CO2 concentrations or ameliorate their effects (so far as I know they deal only with “warming” not oceanic acidification) are not alternatives to a carbon tax to deal with climate change. They will be chosen by properly conducted CB analysis.
@Urstoff:
This is a very un-Hayekin question. Why try to predict which technologies will be the best for reducing or reversing climate change? Markets are far to complex for this question to be answered. A carbon tax will change relative prices and today's technology is not tomorrow's.

Daublin writes:

I invite people to put the two articles next to each other and really compare them. It's really remarkable how fast the conversation can degenerate if you bring science into the discussion around climate change.

Bauman's leading points are to establish what tribes Bryan is a part of. He takes time to say that Bryan is a "free market type" and that he has the "malady known as Selective Scientific Ignorance". I see this move all the time, and I don't know why it is so often forgiven.

In the details, Bauman concedes many of Bryan's points. A friendlier discussant could put that sort of thing up front, instead of engaging in the verbal equivalent of dumping a beer on someone's shirt. Bauman admits, for example, that geoengineering is entirely plausible. He also concedes that the insurance perspective is not defensible from a dollars and cents perspective.

The most substantive issue where I seem him sticking to his guns is on the whole concept of cost-benefit analysis. Bauman claims that climate change is too important for CBA. I confess I don't really follow his argument on this. For example, he says that CBA doesn't deal with uncertainty, but CBA in the face of uncertainty is just insurance. In general, it is a very bold claim that CBA does not apply. Such a claim deserves more defense, or more likely, a concession.

Scott Scheule writes:

I'd just like to thank Dr. Bauman for taking the time to respond.

Urstoff writes:

ThomasH:

I didn't say technologies, I said policies, which includes a carbon tax. So, for example, what's the smallest possible carbon tax (US only, OECD only, or global) that will measurable slow/stop/reverse global warming?

Joshua writes:

I'm glad Mr. Bauman responded, but I found the first third of his reply unnecessarily derisive. I don't mind that kind of debate in general, but I would hope for something that assumes honesty on the part of the interlocutor.

I suppose this is the price of entry:

Are you comfortable saying that CO2 is a greenhouse gas? Yep, but it seems to me that few alarmists acknowledge that CO2 achieves diminishing returns as a greenhouse gas, and that most of the models' warming is from poorly understood feedback effects.

That human emissions of carbon dioxide are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations? Yep

That global temperatures have been increasing over the past century? Yep

That humans are partly responsible for those increasing global temperatures? Yep

That "it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century"? Nope. I don't think it's unlikely either. I just don't know. I think here is where alarmists have a huge lack of humility. The climate has had huge swings over the last million years and we have a very poor understanding of exactly why that has happened. There are some interesting theories, but nothing that is worthy of being put into a climate model.

I'm also concerned that everybody in the alarmist camp seems to dismiss out of hand the notion that warming could be at all helpful for anybody.

Finally, I'm afraid that the alarmists might be even more Pollyana politically than I am climatically. The corruption endemic to government will capture much of the resources thrown at the climate change effort and drive up the costs thereof, so the costs quoted by alarmists are wildly low.

Yoram Bauman writes:

@Radford Look at the temperature graph again and if your main take-away is that temperatures have "been flat for over 15 years" then, well, I can't help you. Regardless, I encourage you to keep an eye out for the next El Nino (likely coming soon).

@Eric Thanks for your kinds words about my bumper stickers routine. The best thing I've heard lately is your comment: "That human emissions of carbon dioxide are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations? 98%". First of all, Please Mister can we find a way to bet about this? Apparently you're willing to make a 50-1 bet about something related to your lack of belief in this, so Please Mister tell me what it is! Second, just a note: my question was not a quantitative question about the odds, my question was a Yes/No question about whether you feel comfortable saying XYZ. What's your answer? (And PS as a physicist how are you not 100% sure that CO2 is a greenhouse gas? Do you doubt Tyndall? Or are you just one of those "99+% sure that the earth is not flat" types?)

@Jeff: My understanding is that food production will benefit in some locations and lose out in others, with more losers than winners, but I am certainly no expert on this topic (in part because---rightly or wrongly---I don't worry about this as much as others). See Chapter 7 of IPCC AR5, which seems like a decent overview to me. It's important to keep in mind that climate impacts on food production are tricky, partly because it's a moving target: we can do genetic modification, we can adopt drip irrigation, we can switch crops, we can eat less meat, etc. (I learned this while working on a paper on climate impacts on dairy production; see the funny parodies at the link, but the more important point is that cows are getting better.) PS. Also note that the issue is not just average temperature but also highs and lows, plus precipitation, bugs, etc. You can see why this is tricky.

@Urstoff: My favorite policy is revenue-neutral carbon taxes. I think $30 per ton CO2 (which is what they have in British Columbia) is a good target for this decade, and I've written elsewhere that my guess is that a global carbon tax of $100 per ton CO2 is a good target for the middle of this century.

@Daublin: I didn't say in this post that Bryan is a "free market type", so I don't know where you got that from. In any case, I'm a pretty free market type myself, and darn proud of it! Hence revenue-neutral carbon taxes. Or read my Cartoon Econ books and judge for yourself. Beyond that, Bryan and I have been giving each other kudos on Twitter, so I don't think it's helpful for you to come in and criticize. PS. I don't think climate change is too important for CBA, I just think climate change is not a good fit for CBA. (Read my post for Why.)

@Scott: You're welcome, thanks for taking the time to chime in :)

Yoram Bauman writes:

@Joshua: On the substance of your post: you write "The climate has had huge swings over the last million years and we have a very poor understanding of exactly why that has happened. There are some interesting theories, but nothing that is worthy of being put into a climate model." Are you an expert on this? If not, I'm going to go with AR4 WG1 FAQ 6.1 (IPCC 2007): “Model simulations of ice age climate... yield realistic results only if the role of CO2 is accounted for.” Where did I get that quote from? From the page notes of my book, which is why the book says (p74) that "models do a pretty god job of simulating [the] ice ages." So: You should explain why you think there is "nothing that is worthy of being put into a climate model." If I'm wrong then I'll post a correction, and if I'm not wrong then maybe you should read my book.

PS. On the matter of style, you found part of my reply to Bryan "unnecessarily derisive". Well, I find a large part of the public debate about climate change to be unnecessarily time-wasting. My answers to the questions I posed above are not all that different from yours, but for some reason we have to spend lots of time talking with people like @Eric who thinks it's only 98% likely that human emissions of CO2 are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

And who do I blame? Let me be honest: I blame Bryan. The man works at a university full of atmospheric scientists, but I'm 98% sure he's never gone to meet with any of them to learn about climate basics, and if he has I'm 99+% sure that he's never shared what he's learned about climate basics with his blog audience.

That would be fine if he was an innocent sitting on the sidelines---we can't all be experts in everything---but Bryan is an active participant who goes to conferences about climate change and says things like "all things considered, geoengineering looks far superior to other policy options on the table." Gosh, that sounds to me like somebody who ought to know something about climate science and want to share what he knows with his blog readers. But as far as I can tell his blog says almost nothing about the basics of climate science.

That's baloney, especially when he then turns around and criticizes my book as a "missed opportunity" because it "spends so much time on the climate science". On a scale of one to chutzpah, that's not killing your parents and then asking for leniency because you're an orphan, but it's pretty close.

David Friedman writes:

I've been involved pretty actively in the online arguments over warming, so have at least seen most of the arguments on both sides.

I would say yes (and have) to Bauman's list of questions (global temperatures trending up etc.), save for the claim that humans are mainly responsible, which I think might well be true but am not confident is true, since I don't think the IPCC models have done a very good job of prediction so far. My fundamental disagreement is with the claim that the net consequences of doing nothing are predictably large and negative.

There are both positive and negative externalities from warming, their size depends on events over a long and uncertain future, and my conclusion is that one cannot reliably sign the sum. I reached the same conclusion with regard to population increase in a piece I published some forty years ago.

Since some of the uncertainty will be resolved over time, uncertainty is an argument in favor of delay.

Like some others commenting, I find the public discussion heavily biased. Reading news stories on the most recent IPCC report, one gets the impression that it implies impending catastrophe. Reading the scientific sections of the report, it looks more like a wet firecracker. The claim that warming increases droughts was made in the fourth report, retracted in the fifth. The fifth found no relation between warming and hurricane damage and predicted none for moderate additional warming. It projected sea level rise above current levels of about one to two feet—less than a meter at the high end of the error range for the highest emission scenario. It estimated the costs that would be imposed by sea level rise on island nations and low lying coastal states (i.e. Bangladesh) could be as high as "a few percent" of GNP.

How well does any of that fit the public perception?

I observe the 97% claim based on either Cook et. al. or Anderegg et. al. taken seriously, when anyone who bothered to read the papers and pay attention could observe that neither implies what it is commonly claimed to imply.

I observe William Nordhaus publishing a piece a few years back in the NY Review of Books fiercely attacking a WSJ oped for making claims that are consistent with his own results, a fact that one discovers if one notices that his four trillion dollars cost of waiting fifty years before doing anything comes to an annual cost of less than a tenth of a percent of world GNP.

For details of some of that, see the relevant posts on my blog:

http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/

I would offer more specific links but I'm currently in China where my blog is blocked, so I can't get at specific posts to copy their URL's.

Eric writes:

@yoram,

As I said before, I don't typically bet on anything, certainly not longshots. I'm not really willing to have a 98% chance of giving you $1 in exchange for a 2% chance that you'll give me $50, even though I think these are fair odds. I also have a hard time imagining an adjudication system we'd both agree is fair. I'm not a fan of the "betting norm" this site advocates for reasons we can talk about if you'd like.

As for 99%+ of CO2 as a greenhouse gas, I never say 100% about anything anymore. Many years ago, I did once bet a friend about the name of a road I'd driven on roughly 500 times when I was 100% sure of its name and told him so. I lost since I had lost track of what road we were actually on. Plus, humans, including me, are very bad at small probabilities. Some of my 99%+ would be 99.7% and some would be 99.9999999% and I'm not sure I'm really capable of distinguishing at that level.

I would indeed write 99%+ about the earth being round, about the existence of electrons, about whether General Relativity is true, etc. Is the "brains in a jar" argument really, literally, impossible? Am I 100% sure I'm not psychotic?

I know your question was about Yes/No answers, but I think that, phrased that way, these are leading questions so I don't see a reason to answer them as asked.

I believe degrees of confidence should be expressed probabilistically (rather than in a Binary fashion) and that new information should cause one to do Bayesian updating on the probabilities. I would answer "Yes" to the 99%+ and 98% questions, I'm comfortable saying CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that humans are contributing to its increase. I'd answer "No" to the 55% question, even though I think that it is more likely than not that the Earth has warmed and will warm in the near future. And a straight "No" answer would make it sound as though I was very confident the temperature series is wrong, which I am not.

Radford Neal writes:

@Yoram: Look at the temperature graph again and if your main take-away is that temperatures have "been flat for over 15 years" then, well, I can't help you.

Yes, let's look at the graph.

First, do you agree that human emission of CO2 will have had little effect on temperature prior to 1950? If so, do you agree that presenting a graph going back to 1880, which happens to have a step increase from 1910 to 1940, not due to CO2, and saying "look! It's obvious! CO2 is warming the earth" is just a tad misleading?

Second, do you agree that saying "the last decade is warmer than any previous decade!" is not as informative as saying exactly what has been happening to global temperatures recently? Indeed, deliberately less informative?

And finally, how much have you reduced your confidence in CO2-caused global warming being a large problem as a result of the 15+ year plateau in global temperatures? (I'm assuming here you had an opiniion years ago, which of course I might be wrong on...)

Yoram Bauman writes:

@David Friedman: I agree with a good bit of what you say (e.g., in my book we say that sea level rise this century is likely to be about 2 feet) but I think you're overselling your position a bit (e.g., you don't caveat that we're talking about sea level rise this century). In any case, let's continue this conversation when you're back from China (and Bryan is back from his trip home).

@Eric: My apologies for questioning your probabilistic approach to life. Good luck with that.

@Radford.1: My understanding of climate science is that if you happen to want to regress global temperature on something you should regress it on ln(CO2), not CO2. (In other words, exponential increases in CO2 produce linear responses in temperature.) So smaller increases of CO2 had relatively larger effects when CO2 concentrations were low... all of which is to say that No, I don't agree that "human emission of CO2 will have had little effect on temperature prior to 1950". (For more on this, see for example the [controversial] "early anthropocene hypothesis" of William Ruddiman, who BTW has a climate science textbook that I found quite helpful in writing my book.

@Radford.2: Summarizing is always less informative than being exact, and I suppose that Yes it's a deliberate attempt to save time and space.

@Radford.3: Let's begin by scrolling to the bottom of this link to look at the NOAA temperature data, calculated in differences from the 20th century annual global average. I like to look at 10-year averages, so here's what I get when I compare 10-year periods ending in 3s (to include the most recent full year of data, 2013):

1974-1983: 0.13C
1984-1993: 0.26C (up 0.13C)
1994-2003: 0.49C (up 0.23C)
2004-2013: 0.58C (up 0.09C)

Average increase over the past 4 decades: 0.15C/decade, which is exactly what it says in my cartoon book. (IPCC AR5 doesn't have a decadal estimate, but AR3 and AR4 projected 0.2C/decade.)

So: You ask "how much have you reduced your confidence in CO2-caused global warming being a large problem as a result of the 15+ year plateau in global temperatures?"

My answer: A little bit but not much.

Todd Kreider writes:

Minor point: It is better to use GDP/capita ppp to get at Bangladesh's standard of living. It didn't grow at all from 1970 to 1990 then averaged 2% per year in the 1990s. The good news is that growth averaged 5% from 2000 to 2010 and is likely over $2,000 per person today; still very poor but on the right track. if really on the right track, Bangladesh could easily see 7% growth out to 2034, which would put them at almost $8,000/year (ppp) -- about where China was in 2010. Bangledesh will be far richer than China today since they will have access to 2034 medicine, enhancement pills, etc.


Levi writes:

The reason most of this post is an attack is that attacks are all the alarmist types have left. This is especially true since their "97% consensus" statistic was blown apart.

Radford Neal writes:

@Yoram:

Yes, the warming effect of CO2 is approximately logarithmic in its amount. But we're not starting at zero, so small increases early in the industrial revolution had a small effect.

Specifically, from this plot, it seems that CO2 increased from about 285 ppm to 305 ppm from 1800 to 1940, a factor of 305/285=1.07, which is less than one-tenth of a doubling (ie, less than the tenth root of two), with almost all of the increase actually occurring after 1850. According to this discussion, the "transient climate response" to a doubling of CO2 over 70 years is estimated in AR5 to be between 1 and 2.5 degrees Celcius. A tenth of this is between 0.1 and 0.25 degrees Celcius. The rise in temperature in the the plot you linked to from 1910 to 1940 is about 0.5 degrees Celcius, so if you believe the AR5 sensitivity figures, it's unlikely to have been mostly due to CO2 increase (even less likely if you account for the increase not having been linear).

Regarding your comment that "Summarizing is always less informative than being exact, and I suppose that Yes it's a deliberate attempt to save time and space", are you really claiming that people say "the last decade is warmer than any of the previous four decades" because it's shorter than "temperatures have been flat for the last 15 years, but they increased during the preceding 30 years"? It couldn't have anything to do with wanting to conceal the recent behaviour of temperatures, could it?

Looking at the relevant period after 1950, we see 20 years when temperatures were flat, followed by 30 years when they increased, at about the same rate as 1910-1940, before CO2 had a big effect, followed by 15 years to the present when they again are flat. It's not really very convincing evidence of a big effect of CO2, if looked at objectively.

Now, it is possible that when you look at more than just the plots of temperature and CO2, you can learn more. Perhaps there is more evidence for a big effect of CO2 if you remove the effects of volcanic eruptions, aerosols, solar variation, etc. But then you have to trust that this is being done properly. The rhetorical purpose of showing the temperature plot, and saying "See, it's obvious!" is to try to convince people that the evidence for a big effect of CO2 on temperature is so clear that you don't have to trust complicated computer models, iffy guesses at levels of aerosols, or whatever. But that isn't so; it's just propaganda.

The crux of the debate is whether or not feedback effects magnify the relatively small direct effect of CO2 to a degree that is cause for serious worry. That is not something that is clearly evident (either way) from a casual look at the temperature plot, though of course the longer the temperatures stay flat, the less inclined one should be to think the effect is large.

Mark Bahner writes:
I observe the 97% claim based on either Cook et. al. or Anderegg et. al. taken seriously, when anyone who bothered to read the papers and pay attention could observe that neither implies what it is commonly claimed to imply.

I posted on the Cook et al. "97%" claim yesterday:

No, seriously...the emperor is nekkid

Mark Bahner writes:
@Urstoff: My favorite policy is revenue-neutral carbon taxes. I think $30 per ton CO2 (which is what they have in British Columbia) is a good target for this decade, and I've written elsewhere that my guess is that a global carbon tax of $100 per ton CO2 is a good target for the middle of this century.

Why should the people of any time sacrifice for the people of 5+ decades into the future, who would almost certainly be much better off?

I would very much appreciate if you would give your predictions for the situation in 2100. I asked the editors of MIT's Technology Review to provide predictions, but they never did. In fact, no one who has ever advocated for people of today sacrificing for the benefit of the people of 2100 has ever given any predictions about the situation in 2100. (My strong suspicion is that they know people in 2100 are likely to be far better off, and they don't want to admit they're advocating the poor sacrificing for the benefit of the rich.)

Why should the less-well-off sacrifice for the benefit of the better-off?

Yoram Bauman writes:

@Mark Bahner writes "In fact, no one who has ever advocated for people of today sacrificing for the benefit of the people of 2100 has ever given any predictions about the situation in 2100."

Please Mister can we make a bet about this? I will bet you $100 (adjudicated by Bryan) that this is wrong. If $100 is too rich (or too poor) for you then let me know if you'd rather bet a different amount of money and I'll consider it. Please Mister let's do this... but before you say Yes you might want to read Nordhaus 2013, or Nordhaus 2008, or even the opening lines of my cartoon book (if Bryan had done a better job with his review he might have shared them with you):

Two stories are going to dominate the 21st century. Story #1 is about economic growth, especially in poor countries in Asia and Africa. Capitalism and free-market economics are going to create a lot of new wealth and give many more people the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
So Please Mister let's make a bet! (And if not perhaps you'll correct your statement, or maybe even buy a copy of my book?)

@Radford.1: I'm not a climate scientist so I'm not going to say more about human contributions to global temperature increase pre-1950s unless you take the time to go read the IPCC and then summarize for me. (Sorry, but I don't have the time to follow everybody down their various rabbit holes.)

Radford.2: Since you're such a big fan of complete honesty please send me a link to your posts from 10 years ago where you admit that temperatures had been steadily increasing for the previous 30 years.

Other than that---i.e., beyond trying to hold you to your own standards---all I can do is tell you what I do, which is (with my previous post to you being perhaps my first and last exception) look at average temperatures by decade (relative to 20th century average):

1970s: 0.06C
1980s: 0.23C (increase of 0.18 [with rounding])
1990s: 0.40C (increase of 0.16)
2000s: 0.57C (increase of 0.18)
2010s: 0.60C (so far, increase of 0.02)

My view is that the climate science community (or at least my interpretation of it) has called it pretty much correctly since the 1970s, so they've earned my trust for now.


Todd Kreider writes:

@Yoram:

If you prefer ten year averages, then you should also state that the average warming trend has been flat as a pancake over the past 15 years. Something tells me that if 2014 turns out to be like 1998, you won't put that into your preferred ten year average but instead will be clanking your pot and pan together yelling: "Second highest temperature in a hundred years!"


@Mark Bahner:

I saw your 2050 predictions. When did you become so conservative about growth and technology? ;-)
What happened to a trillion Human Equivalent Brains by 2033? Stay the course, man!

Mark Bahner writes:

I wrote,

In fact, no one who has ever advocated for people of today sacrificing for the benefit of the people of 2100 has ever given any predictions about the situation in 2100.

Youram Bauman responds:

Please Mister can we make a bet about this? I will bet you $100 (adjudicated by Bryan) that this is wrong.

Well, before we made any bet, I would need to clarify what I wrote (at 1:28 AM, EST...which is my time).

What I meant to write was that nobody who has ever said we should sacrifice for the people of 2100 has ever put *their* predictions in the blog table:

No one has filled out this table but me (as of May 18th, 17:30 EST).

I asked the MIT Technology Review editors to do so. They didn't. I've asked many people at various blogs (e.g. "Skeptical Science," "And Then There's Physics") to fill in numbers. They haven't.

In fact, I even asked you. ("I would very much appreciate if you would give your predictions for the situation in 2100.") So far you haven't.

Mark Bahner writes:
My view is that the climate science community (or at least my interpretation of it) has called it pretty much correctly since the 1970s, so they've earned my trust for now.

The current temperatures (as of 2013) are virtually indistinguishable from what James Hansen predicted in 1988 that they would be if all greenhouse gas emissions were stopped in the year 2000 (Scenario C).

James Hansen's 1988 predictions vs reality

Mark Bahner writes:
I saw your 2050 predictions. When did you become so conservative about growth and technology? ;-)

What happened to a trillion Human Equivalent Brains by 2033? Stay the course, man!

I have the GDP in 2050 as being a little over 5 times what it was in 2012. So that's an annual growth rate of about 4.5%. That would put the per-capita growth rate faster than any 38 years in the history of mankind.

But it may be too low. The problem with knees in curves is predicting exactly when they will happen.

But let's put it this way: When the first year of 7% growth in the world economy occurs--which I expect to happen in the next 20 years--I predict that the average growth rate after that will exceed 7% per year.

Yoram Bauman writes:

@Todd writes: If you prefer ten year averages, then you should also state that the average warming trend has been flat as a pancake over the past 15 years. Something tells me that if 2014 turns out to be like 1998, you won't put that into your preferred ten year average but instead will be clanking your pot and pan together yelling: "Second highest temperature in a hundred years!"

Sorry, but this is wrong. I don't think I've ever emphasized single-year temperatures, and as evidence (albeit not proof) you can go back and look at my hilarious exchange with economics professors Ruffin and Gregory back in 2000, i.e., right after the 1998 El Nino spike. Or look at everything else I've written over the years; if you find me harping on single-year temperatures I'll send you a free copy of my book.

@Mark: Wow, it's a long way from "no one has ever written this" to the equivalent of "no one has ever written this on my random blog survey", especially since I just tried to access your survey and got an error message. Good luck with that.


Todd Kreider writes:

@Yoram

I didn't say what you have said but was anticipating what you are likely to say.

2009 to 2013 0.57 decrease of 0.10
2004 to 2008 0.67 increase of 0.09
1999 to 2003 0.58 increase of 0.11
1994 to 1998 0.47 increase of 0.04
1989 to 1993 0.43 increase of 0.17
1984 to 1988 0.26

Using 10 year averages is a way to hide the decline. Wait, I've heard that phrase before...

There has been no increase, within measurement error, in the past 15 years.

Yoram Bauman writes:

@Todd: Please Mister can we make a bet about whether I actually end up saying what you anticipate I'm likely to say? Just let me know. I'm happy to put money in escrow with Bryan if you are, and if I spend 2015 harping about high temperatures in 2014 then you can have it. (And if I don't then I can have it!)

So Please Mister can we make a bet? Otherwise instead of accusing me of banging pots and pans I suggest you put a lid on it :)

PS. Those of you who think I'm being unfair to Bryan (or anybody else on this thread) should take a look at my review of Frank Ackerman's book here. When I see something I try to say something, regardless of which side of the political or climate spectrum it's on.

PPS. Those of you interested in seeing more of my book can now see lots of pages by going to Amazon and clicking on the "Look Inside". You might even be able to buy it on Amazon even though it's not officially out until June 5! (There's also a nice review from Kirkus Reviews.)

David R. Henderson writes:

@Yoram Baumann,
you can go back and look at my hilarious exchange with economics professors Ruffin and Gregory back in 2000,
I read the whole thing, Yoram. I don’t get why you call it hilarious. You’re a good comedian and so I would normally defer to you on what’s hilarious, although there was one other time a few years ago when we didn’t agree. But could you explain what you find hilarious about this exchange?

Mark Bahner writes:

@Yoram: "@Mark: Wow, it's a long way from 'no one has ever written this" to the equivalent of "no one has ever written this on my random blog survey'"

It's not so far when you consider my statement immediately before that was: "I would very much appreciate if you would give your predictions for the situation in 2100. I asked the editors of MIT's Technology Review to provide predictions, but they never did."

...and my immediate link after that was to my blog post.

I have no idea why you can't get to the post. My blog main address is:

Mark Bahner, Random Thoughts

...and you can go to March 7, 2013...the blog post title is, "What is the morality of the less-well-off sacrificing for the better off?"

Mark Bahner writes:

"In one word: Bangladesh

Is there anyone who truly believes that if sea levels rise even a trivial amount, they aren't totally screwed?"

I know a way that could result in fewer deaths in Bangladesh in the 21st century from tropical cyclone storm surge than there were in the 20th century, regardless of what the sea level rises to in the 21st century (as long as the rise is, say, less than 2 meters).

That would be to develop a portable storm surge protection system that could be deployed anywhere in the world with a few days' notice:

The U.S. should develop a portable storm surge protection system

Yoram Bauman writes:

@David R. Henderson: What's hilarious about my exchange with econ profs Ruffin and Gregory is how deeply buried they are in the echo chamber of baloney.

Look at what they write, e.g., "There are in fact very few climatologists in the United States, and the majority of them are skeptical of global warming."

This was wrong then and it's wrong now, and IMHO it's hilariously wrong. Also hilarious is their reference to "black helicopters", and of course I find it hilarious (and free-market appropriate) that their book never made it to another edition and is now selling on Amazon for $1.16. (Those of us pushing for smart climate action don't usually get the last laugh!) BTW, for a more comprehensive view, take a look at the latest edition of my review of the treatment of climate change in economics textbooks. I think you'll find that it's quite fair, and note that top grades were awarded to the books by Hubbard and by Mankiw, both top advisors to Mitt Romney.

Back to a more important question: Where does this baloney come from?

As I said before, I blame Bryan. Look, I didn't come into this planning to go bananas about Bryan's views on climate change, but the more I dug into it the more bananas I went. I get the impression that EconLib attempts to hold itself to fairly high intellectual standards and perhaps even "search for truth", but Bryan's writings reminded me of my days on the high school debate team, where your job is to give away nothing to the "other side".

To pick just one example, consider the last line from Bryan here: "If the case for AGW comes from basic physics, even though applied statistics alone counsels agnosticism, I wish experts would tell me." Now, another way to phrase this is: "I know there is a theoretical case for AGW that comes from basic physics, but I'd like to know more about the empirical evidence." Bryan chooses the high school debate option, and as far as I can tell he's quite consistent about that.

Why does this matter? For me it matters because tomorrow I'm participating in a debate about a cap-and-trade proposal here in Washington State. The debate is sponsored by the free-market Freedom Foundation and I have no problem with that---the environment director of the equally free-market Washington Policy Center is on the advisory board of my campaign for a revenue-neutral carbon tax---but I'm concerned that the "debate about cap-and-trade" is going to end up being a "debate about the basics of climate science". This is bad for just about everyone, and the underlying problem is that people like Bryan have been hiding under rhetorical rocks instead of acknowledging climate science basics that they (presumably) know to be true.

Hopefully when Bryan comes back on-line after his family vacation he'll defend himself... and perhaps even make amends. (A boy can dream, right? And I think he has a lot to amend for; just ask me, I have a list! :)


Scott Scheule writes:

Yoram,

Harshly put, but you've got to call them like you see them. Just for the record, not all libertarians 'round these parts are skeptical of global warming, nor dismissive of the opinions of experts in their respective fields, nor willing to glibly pontificate in areas where we, by our own admission, lack expertise. Some of us are glad you're participating here.

Daublin writes:

Yoram, not only did your original article focus on attacking Bryan, rather than on his arguments, you have if anything amped up that conversational pattern.

For example, you write: "As I said before, I blame Bryan. Look, I didn't come into this planning to go bananas about Bryan's views on climate change, but the more I dug into it the more bananas I went."

From my perspective, Bryan is making straightforward arguments that deserve a polite response. If climate change is important, then surely we need to understand what is actually happening, and surely we need to understand the economic perspective on what responses make sense. Your proposal to abandon CBA is quite radical; in a world of finite resources, we really must make choices about where those resources will go.

You say that Bryan's posts drive you bananas, and I invite some introspection on why. Yes, if you ask a natural scientist, they'll often express disdain about anyone who is skeptical about CO2-control policies. However, now you know that many of their claims are easily countered, so easily that you have used the perjorative "high-school" to describe the counter-arguments. Now that you know the counter-arguments, why is it problematic to acknowledge them? Why is it so important that this particular subject be the one that has simple answers that only an obtuse person would disagree with?

I do not know you, but for many people, it seems to be a form of fear. When a lynch mob is brewing, you don't want to be perceived as on the other side of the mob. The mob's members are just as afraid as you are, and they will tear you apart just to prove they are on the right side of the issue.

Yoram Bauman writes:

@Scott Scheule: Thanks for your kind words, and I'm delighted to be participating as well... and heaven knows I would love to have more libertarians pushing for sensible policies like a revenue-neutral carbon tax (which in my view is much much better than what, say, California is doing).

@Daublin: All I'm saying about CBA is that I don't think it's very useful. It's like having GPS in a cave. It would be great if it worked, and I would love to use it, but GPS doesn't work in a cave.

As for some of your other content:

1) I would strongly encourage everyone to separate basic CO2 science from complicated issues about climate change impacts and (definitely!) CO2-control policies.

Example #1 of what I think we should avoid is what @Radford Neal writes up above: "The crux of the debate is whether or not feedback effects magnify the relatively small direct effect of CO2 to a degree that is cause for serious worry." This is like talk about CAGW [Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming]: it mixes basic climate science together with language ("serious worry", "catastrophic") that is incredibly vague and very difficult to get a handle on. @Radford should instead say something like "The crux of the debate is whether or not feedback effects magnify the relatively small direct effect of CO2 by 3x [or some other number]." That would produce a debate about climate science, and---unlike the debate about what we should worry about---it's a debate that has an actual factual answer.

Example #2 of what I think we should avoid is what you write about "natural scientist[s who] often express disdain about anyone who is skeptical about CO2-control policies". Mostly what I encounter are natural scientists who express disdain about anyone who is skeptical about basic CO2 science, stuff that's been known for 100+ years. But some natural scientists also pontificate about policy, and I don't usually find their arguments terribly compelling. (For example, Jim Hansen seems to think that carbon taxes are much much better than cap-and-trade, and although I'm a fellow carbon tax fan I think his economic arguments are not very good.)

So go ahead and tell natural scientists that economics is not their area of expertise. But climate science IS, so I hope you'll listen to them about that.

2) You asked me for introspection, but I guess I'm just better at extrospection, so let's take a look at Bryan's class notes on expressive voting. At the top we learn that expressive values are about "image", about "what they say about a person". Then at the bottom we get an application to Environmentalism that is broken down into parts A-F:

A. "Caring about the environment" is probably one of the biggest expressive issues of our time. Okay, fine. I agree with this just like I agree with the next point:

B. There are of course some instrumental values involved too: Few people want to breath the air of Mexico City. Okay, fine. But notice: nothing about global warming.

C. But most environmental issues look largely expressive: 1) Recycling; 2) Preserving wild lands; 3) Endangered species; 4) Conservation; 5) Logging. Okay, fine: I mostly think recycling is pointless too. But notice: nothing about global warming.

D. Moreover, even for the more instrumental-looking problems, voters are usually bizarrely hostile to "the easy way out": 1) Emissions trading, domestic and international; 2) Planting trees as carbon sinks; 3) Liming lakes to counter acid rain; 4) Privatizing common resources; 5) Geoengineering

Wow, about half of these examples are about global warming! And the closest that Bryan gets to a statement about whether he thinks global warming is an instrumental problem (as opposed to one of the mass of "most environmental issues [that] look largely expressive") is a vague statement suggesting that global warming is an "instrumental-looking problem".

Bryan, what the heck is an "instrumental-looking problem"?

I can tell you what I think it is, but I'd like to hear from Bryan.


Mark Bahner writes:
The debate is sponsored by the free-market Freedom Foundation and I have no problem with that---the environment director of the equally free-market Washington Policy Center is on the advisory board of my campaign for a revenue-neutral carbon tax---but I'm concerned that the "debate about cap-and-trade" is going to end up being a "debate about the basics of climate science".

I presume the "basic climate science" you don't wish to discuss includes such things as exposing your claims about the benefits of your proposed course of action as bogus?

Like someone with an engineering or science background pointing out that your proposal will likely have the same effect on reducing "sea level rise" and "ocean acidification" as…well, the good people of the State of Washington never urinating in the ocean when they go to the beach?

Or perhaps pointing out that if you *really* wanted to "improve air quality and reduce airborne toxins" you might...I don't know, actually tax the pollutants that you were interested in reducing? For example, your CO2 taxes could easily cause a preference for diesel engines over gasoline engines...but diesel engines emit much more harmful particulate than gasoline engines. And in fact, some of that particulate is black carbon, which causes global warming.

Or perhaps that "reduce the encroachment of infectious diseases" is perhaps an even more bogus "benefit" than "reduce sea level rise" and "reduce ocean acidification"? (That people in Washington never urinating in the ocean might have a *larger* effect on “encroachment of infectious diseases” than your proposal?)

Are those inconvenient basic climate science truths the sort of things that you don't want to discuss in the debate?

P.S. I presume you’re not going to act like a “high school debater,” and you’ll instead give this analysis to your opponents before the debate?

P.P.S. The preceding was of course all in good fun. Although I would like to know who your opponent will be in the debate, in case you're too busy to get this information to him.

Mark Bahner writes:

In case anyone was curious about the numbers behind my preceding comments, they are:

Washington State emitted about 71 million tons of CO2 in 2011. The world emitted about 32 billion tons. So Washington State emitted about 1/500th of the world’s CO2. Further, Washington’s emissions have *already* fallen from a high of 86 million tons in 1999, while the world’s CO2 emissions are increasing. So Washington’s emissions of CO2 are likely to be less than 1/1000th (0.1 percent) of the world’s CO2 emissions in this century. (And that doesn’t even consider that CO2 emissions are only about 60% of the total warming forcing from greenhouse gases. Or that even considering greenhouse gases ignores black carbon, which may be an important warming pollutant.) Let’s be incredibly charitable, and postulate that Yoram’s proposed course of action will eventually result in a 20% decrease in Washington’s emissions relative to what they would be. If the global sea level rise by 2100 would be about 0.4 meters without Yoram’s proposal, the sea level rise with Yoram’s proposal being followed might be...maybe 0.3999 meters. Similar “benefits” would be realized for ocean acidification. The effects on the “encroachment of infectious diseases” into Washington State might even be more trivial.

Science is so annoying that way. ;-)

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