Bryan Caplan  

Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change: Rejoinder to Yoram Bauman

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Here is my (delayed) rejoinder to Yoram's response to my review of his Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change.  He's in blockquotes, I'm not.

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.

You should stop worrying, Yoram.  I thought you did a good overall job, but due to the graphic format, my favorite parts were hard to describe in words alone.  I wanted to scan a few of my favorite pages, but I was worried about copyright.  If you get me permission from your publisher to post two or three of my favorite pages, I will.

I ask this because Bryan exhibits all of the symptoms of a global-warming-related malady known as Selective Scientific Ignorance...

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"?

Like most bloggers and almost all journalists, I often discuss areas where I'm not qualified to write an academic literature review.  Climate change is one such topic - and I think I've been forthcoming about my limitations. In normal English, "all things considered" does not literally mean that the speaker has "considered all things."  It's much closer to "As best as I can gather..." than "Given my encyclopedic knowledge..." 

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.

The sum of what I ever knew: I spent a week reading about geoengineering four years ago.  I set up a lunch for my closest hard science friend to cross-examine a leading geoengineering advocate.  And I participated in a conference on the topic.  My take-away: I'd given critics of geoengineering multiple opportunities to criticize the idea, and their complaints seemed weak.  Yoram may ridicule my efforts, but it seems like an unusually diligent attempt to form an opinion about an issue I don't personally research. 

One of the reasons I read Yoram's book, by the way, was to search out additional analysis of geoengineering.  By my count, he's now missed two opportunities - his book and his response to my review - to expand my knowledge of the topic.

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 find Google Scholar a better way to locate research than Google Maps.  And I did search Google Scholar before posting my regression query.  I found nothing directly on point, and as far as I recall none of the comments directed me to anything better.

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?

My answers on all counts are the same as your answers, Yoram: 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.

Or are you just going to continue to tolerate in yourself a lazy acquiescence that saves you the trouble of confronting your own views...

I'd think the "lazy" approach would be to uncritically embrace the expert consensus.  Instead, I'm making an effort to reconcile several views in tension with one another.  By default, I accept the scientific consensus.  Two of my other defaults, however, are to mistrust environmentalists and doom-sayers generally.  My tentative reconciliation of these views is that the standard story of climate change is qualitatively right, but quantitatively overblown. 
Furthermore, the prudent Bayesian response to Yoram's book is to think the dangers are a little more overblown than I initially thought.  Why?  Because I expected more from Yoram.

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.
I'd much rather learn about the best CBA on global warming, followed by some discussion of the weaknesses, than hear "it's harder than I think" or read blanket methodological objections.  When you don't even try to present the best CBA, I raise my probability that the best CBA shows that climate change is not a big deal.
(Would you advocate the use of CBA to "put the Cuban Missile Crisis in perspective"?)
CBA of the Cuban Missile Crisis would have been great, yes.  I'm also a big fan of CBA of the War on Terror

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.

I'd probably start by putting in a 1% chance of GDP falling to zero forever, and see what that looks like.  Or subtract 1% times expected deaths given a catastrophe times the usual value of life.  Almost anything would be more convincing than pre-emptively giving up.

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".)

Then do standard CBA, and supplement it with a distributional breakdown.  Furthermore, if you're willing to try to get the world to drastically curb impending carbon emissions, what's so quixotic about international compensation proposals - possibly in the form of more open immigration policy?

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.

Most of your claims are subject to analogous caveats.  You usually ably handled the problem by hitting the high points, then briefly acknowledging complexities.  Why didn't you do the same for CBA? 

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.

No, it's a terrible focal point for insurance.  Most people fail to insure against many low-probability catastrophic events - and you probably don't want to call them fools.  Just one example: Costco.com sells a year's supply of dehydrated food for $1499.99.  This product provides excellent insurance against a long list of natural and man-made disasters.  Question: Have you bought it?  If not, why not?  The same goes for what you drive (probably not the safest car), where you live (probably not the safest neighborhood in your area, much less the country or world), where you travel, who you sleep with, and so on.  Low-probability catastrophes lurk around every corner, but the standard response seems to be, "Until I see concrete dangers, I'll take my chances."

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."

That's a deeply unreasonable summary of your own position!  If the world capped carbon emissions at 150% of their current level, would Yoram Bauman really have "peace of mind" about the state of the planet in 2100?  Do you really think you're going to get stricter cuts than that?  And of course without CBA, it's very unclear whether we are paying "a small piece of cake," or delaying the modernization of the Third World by decades.

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.

I can easily understand why this issue might not be worth your time... if you weren't an environmental economist writing a whole book about climate change.  But if Yoram Bauman isn't qualified to weigh the cost-effectiveness of geoengineering relative to emissions reductions, who is?  Call me old-fashioned, but where I come from reviewers request information and authors supply it, not the other way around.

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".

Maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill.  Maybe you're making a molehill out of a mountain.  This is just the kind of issue an applied environmental economist such as yourself is trained to resolve.  Yet I don't know any more about it than I did before I started your book.

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?

I'm hardly the only person worried that "feel-good" attitudes make environmental policy more costly and less effective.  Check out Alan Blinder's chapter on tradeable pollution permits in Hard Heads, Soft Hearts.  You've taught environmental economics.  Have you really failed to encounter non-economists - including environmental activists - who reject the whole economic approach as offensive?

I admire Yoram's urge to convert people who don't already fully agree with him.  After all, "Never preach to the choir" is one of my seven guidelines for writing worthy non-fiction.  False modesty aside, though, I'm one of the best partially unconverted readers Yoram is likely to find.  We're both economists, we both respect scientific consensus, and we both love the graphic format.  Patiently address my specific doubts, and I will listen. 



COMMENTS (23 to date)
nshackel writes:

[Comment removed for ad hominem remarks. --Econlib Ed.]

Joshua writes:

I appreciated Mr. Bauman's dialog in the comments of his rejoinder, and I still have some homework to do from that.

On a separate note:

...ends with climatologist Raymond Pierrehumbert, Levitt's colleague at the University of Chicago, giving Levitt the Google Map directions to his office.

One thing I'm curious about is whether you (Caplan) have talked to the climatologists at GMU. Assuming there are any. Biggest University in Virginia - gotta be some right?

For that matter, what sort of economic resources have climatologists tapped? (I know I know - go read the IPCC report)

One thing I've noticed in the environmental debate is that climatologists usually make for bad economists, and economists usually make for bad climatologists. The biggest difference is that the economists usually seem to be a bit more humble in their ignorance.

LR writes:

Unfortunately it seems as though Bauman has a conclusion (impending doom from climate disaster which is totally and cheaply avoidable) looking for evidence. Richard Tol, an economist on the IPCC, slammed them recently for being alarmists who refuse to guard against groupthink. Maybe instead of verbally bashing Caplan for his (GASP!!!) skepticism, he should read a bit more about CBA in climate change.

Josiah writes:

On CBA and climate change, I would recommend William Nordhaus' Climate Casino, which addresses most of the issues Yoram raises in detail.

One of my big takeaways from Nordhaus' work is that the optimal reduction target is very much dependent on what level of participation you have internationally. If everyone imposes the recommended carbon price, then 2C might be a reasonable target. With 50% participation, by contrast, achieving a 2C target is basically impossible.

Incidentally, I know a number of people have raised the issue of whether warming might be beneficial because of increased agricultural production. Nordhaus deals with this question in Climate Casino, and concludes that a modest amount of warming would increase agricultural production overall (though some regions would be hurt), but that once you get past a few degrees the harms of increased warming to food production would outweigh the benefits (there are, of course, potential impacts from warming that don't involve agriculture).

Bill writes:

I recently came across this piece on uncertainty as it relates to evaluating climate change and potential policy actions. I don't have access to the two journal articles referenced. I hope Bryan and/or readers who do have access will react to the message in the summary. Thanks.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140404140301.htm

Brian writes:

Bill,

One of the authors, Lewandowsky, is hard to take seriously based on his previous work. The link does say this:

"New research by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol, and international colleagues, shows that uncertainty should make us more rather than less concerned about climate change."

Well, uncertainty SHOULD make us more concerned. That's only human, right? When we can't see whether there are monsters in the closet, we get concerned that there might be. It's an evolutionary adaptation based on the idea that being incautious and wrong is a lot more costly than being cautious and wrong. (Come to think of it, this sounds a lot like Pascal's Gambit.)

The problem is that the question is not about whether we should be concerned, but about whether we should DO something about it. And here the logic is clear--high uncertainty makes action less likely than low uncertainty. Lewandowsky's failure to address this distinction between concern and action makes the paper irrelevant.

Bill writes:

Bryan, thanks for your response. I was having trouble with Lewandowsky's assertion that greater uncertainty "compels greater urgency for climate change mitigation," and wondering if he is dismissing costs associated with a Type 1 error.

Suppose the null hypothesis is that CO2 accumulations will not lead to catastrophic warming/damage.  (Perhaps one way to quantify this is to hypothesize that doubling CO2 concentration will lead to average surface temperatures less than or equal to 2C degrees.)  If improper rejection of this hypothesis leads to policy changes that prematurely abandon carbon based energy sources (here, "premature" refers to a transition path away from carbon based energy that is non-optimal, using economic efficiency as the criterion), this will presumably reduce the output of world economies from their potential (and also deny 3rd world countries access to relatively inexpensive, carbon-based energy sources.)  How does greater uncertainty weigh against taking those cost seriously, and opting, instead, for more urgent mitigation?

Bill writes:

Correction: " ... doubling CO2 concentration will lead to an average surface temperature INCREASE of less than or equal to 2C degrees."

Mark Bahner writes:
One thing I'm curious about is whether you (Caplan) have talked to the climatologists at GMU.

Yoram probably doesn't want Bryan talking to *this* climatologist at GMU:

Patrick J. ("Pat") Michaels (born February 15, 1950) is an American climatologist. Michaels is a senior research fellow for Research and Economic Development at George Mason University,[1] and a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute. Until 2007 he was research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, where he had worked from 1980.[2][

:-)

Rationalist writes:

Climate change probably is overblown; technological fixes do exist and will get better over time. The immense cost of reducing CO2 emissions is neglected by many people.

However climate change has become an ideological issue, so it is unlikely that people will think rationally about it..

Todd Kreider writes:

OK, I'll answer Yoram's original questions as well as fill in part of Mark Bahner's table for the year 2050. These are the answers I would have given in 1997 when I was in Japan studying the language with 50 other students. Since the Kyoto Protocol was in Japan, it made sense to study that in class. But that topic seemed to go on and on, and I got a bit vocal arguing that global warming was hyped, especially after I read about the assumptions in the models.

A friend told me that some of the students thought my views on global warming were pretty weird. The students there focused on history, literature, anthropology, economics, business, the arts and philosophy -- not science. My undergrad degree was in physics and while not too good at it, I seemed to have a much different view of science than those who were criticizing me.

I told my friend that we are on a computer curve , Moore's Law, going up for at least twenty more years, and I thought to at least 2030 was likely even if beyond Moore's Law by then. I said we should easily be able to geoengineer by the 2020s and certainly by the 2030s if need be. I added that solar power is also on a steady downward cost curve and should be "everywhere" by around 2030 or so and that fusion might work by the 2030s. They could not reasonably model out to 2050 let alone 2100.

By 1997, I thought it was likely that there was some game playing among some climate scientists to keep funding high but assumed there were enough studying global warming that the basic measurements were likely reasonably accurate.

I explained to my friend that I thought temperature rise would be very mild over the next ten two fifteen years and that within ten years it wouldn't be considered a crisis. I wasn't surprised by Climategate in 2009, but it was worse than I had thought.

To fill in the questions Mark Bahner asked Technology Review to fill in:

* World GDP per capita in 2050... next post! I have important beer drinking to do in Madison by the lake...

Josiah writes:

Bill,

I haven't been able to find an ungated version of the paper you linked to, but from reading reviews it sounds like the argument turns on the fact that predicted damages from warming don't increase linearly. The negative effect of an increase in temperature from 3C to 4C over preindustrial temperature is much greater than the negative effect of an increase from 2C to 3C. So a CBA will have higher estimated damages if you think doubling CO2 will result in 1C to 4C of warming than if you think it will result in 2C to 3C of warming, even though the median temp increase is the same in both cases.

However, I don't think this is the type of uncertainty that most skeptics have in mind, so I'm not sure if the argument is really responsive.

Bill writes:

Josiah, thanks for your response. I agree your suggestion of nonresponsiveness.

Bill writes:

I googled "Stephan Lewandowsky, uncertainty," and found some interesting pieces. Here are a couple from a while back that challenge the Lewandowski thesis.

http://rankexploits.com/musings/2012/uncertainty-lets-just-call-it-an-acquaintance/


http://judithcurry.com/2012/06/06/uncertainty-is-not-your-friend/

Michael writes:

Yoram says,

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.

and Bryan reponds,

I'd probably start by putting in a 1% chance of GDP falling to zero forever, and see what that looks like...

As I read Weitzman's fat tail results, the response is a non-sequitor

What Weitzman showed is that if there is a meaningful third moment in your beliefs about impact, CBA is impossible without specifying a new values parameter. That means you can't ask it what is the value of a 1% chance of extinction; you have to feed it that number, and then it can tell you things like the social cost of carbon. This is disguised in conventional CBA by the use of Gaussian probability distributions, which have zero third moments.

The idea of using current Value of Statistical Life estimates is sensible but subtle. I'm sure someone is working on it. It is one way to get a number for a Weitzman parameter. Another is polling about the hypothetical -- "contingent valuation" -- or related hypotheticals such as a 1% chance of one's own grandchildren starving. I bet the latter will give us social costs of carbon way beyond the feasible.

Todd writes:

@ Mark Bahner

Filling in some of your blanks for the world in 2050. In the 1980s, I began to think that a Singularity could happen between 2040 and 2060 if computer power kept doubling but when thinking of global warming I usually assume the doubling will continue to 2030, so no Singularity in the argument. (If you assume a Singularity in 2050, it does keep the discussion very short...)

World GDP per capita: It looks like you are assuming the current growth rate of around 4% to 2050 to arrive at $60,000. I'd put it at over $100,000.

World life expectancy at birth for 2050: You wrote 82. I'll stick with my 1989 prediction that anyone born after 2020 could easily live 300 years.

Global CO2 emissions in 2050: You wrote about 20% lower than today. I'd say at whatever level those in 2050 want them to be.

Global malaria deaths: You said 50,000. Me -- around zero.

Percent of world without access to proper sanitation. You wrote 10%, I'd say 0% unless war.

Mark Bahner writes:

Hi Todd,

I predicted (probably too conservatively) global per-capita GDP in 2050 at $60,000 (PPP, adjusted to ~2012). (I later added that, when the first year of 7% world GDP growth occurs, which is likely to be in the next 20 years, the average growth after that will be at least 7%). You predicted $100,000.

I predicted global malaria deaths at 50,000. (Down from circa 750,000 currently.) You predicted ~0.

I predicted 10 percent of the world without proper sanitation (down from 37 percent currently). You predicted ~0%, unless war.

Your numbers would produce such a tremendous discount rate on the social cost of carbon that no matter how bad global warming would be, there would be no reason to address it now.

As I pointed out on my blog, and elsewhere, even if we assume the cost of capturing CO2 from ambient air and putting it underground is $1000/ton, that would yield a cost of $7.8 trillion per ppm removed from the atmosphere. If the world had ~9 billion people, and a per-capita GDP of $100,000, that would yield a world GDP of $900 trillion. If they spent 10% of that ($90 trillion per year) they could remove about 12 ppm per year. Even if CO2 was rising at 3 ppm per year, they could lower CO2 by 9 ppm per year. If CO2 was at 500 ppm, they could get down to 280 ppm (the pre-industrial concentration) in 25 years. The U.S. spent 10 percent of its GDP on the military for ~25 years after WWII.

If the world will be anything close to what you think it will be, there would simply be no reason to even think about global warming caused by CO2 emissions.

As an aside, even if my prediction of $60,000 in 2050 and $1,000,000+ in 2100 is the case, there would also be no reason to even think about global warming today, because the people of ~2060 would be at about $100,000 per capita GDP.

This is the sort of discussion I want to have with Yoram. Or anyone else, like the editors of Technology Review, who thinks the people of today should sacrifice to reduce their CO2 emissions. It might be that they simply don't envision nearly the improvements that I envision.

But I suspect that they actually agree with me that the people of 2050 and 2100 will be much better off. But they don't want to admit it. I think that makes them actually bad people. I think that's particularly true of the editors of Technology Review. I don't see how people who write a magazine that regularly reports on amazing advances in technology can somehow think that technological and economic progress will somehow stop or dramatically slow down.

Todd Kreider writes:

Hi Mark,

It has been disappointing reading Yoram's responses to Bryan, and it seems me that he latched on to the "technology won't change much" Left view of 15 years of flat temperatures, his back is against a wall since he seems to have been so committed to dire IPCC projections of a hundred years out. He, nor any government body, could have possibly predicted in 1897 what the world would look like in 1950 or 2000 but for some reason he thinks that the IPCC can do it for 2050 and 2100.

Last year, I happened to see Yoram give an interview on The News Hour with their business reporter about climate change and China. His responses followed by my responses:

* "The happy story I have about climate change is that if we can somehow globally figure out how to produce electricity especially without a lot of carbon emission, then we can go a long way in solving the global warming problem."

me: Yoram must have heard of nuclear power. Or perhaps if he mentioned nuclear power, he knew that over half the people listening to him would immediately tune him out.

* When asked about solar power costs, which have been steadily coming down for decades and "could take care of the whole problem in 14 or 15 years" (interviewer), Yoram responded, "If solar power keeps coming down and down and down, and if it doesn't stop and heads towards zero then sure, I guess eventually they'll come down below the cost of coal but what economists like to argue for is that we should drive up the price of fossil fuels to incorporate the external costs associated with climate change and air pollution." He adds, "And one of the reasons for arguing for that is that by driving up the price of fossil fuels, we will drive innovation; that's the best way to drive down the costs of these alternatives."

me: Yoram either doesn't know or doesn't want to acknowledge that the cost of solar has been steadily decreasing despite subsidies to fossil fuels and regardless of on and off again subsidies to solar. Just as importantly, he either doesn't know or doesn't acknowledge that the interviewer's projection of widespread solar use (much better storage also coming) by 2028 is what the curve shows. Instead, Yoram seems to slight this by saying "sure...eventually..." and even adds that the costs would have to keep heading towards zero when solar would be competitive well before that. But a world with far more solar messes up his dire global warming prediction:

* (interviewer) "And that's the problem with so many Americans and the people in the middle as you put it in your comedy routine, who believe in magic."

(Yoram) "If I had to bet, I'd sort of bet that we're going to find out how bad climate change is. I mean, it's going to be very difficult to turn this ship around. I'm not clear that the political will is there to make that happen."

Yoram didn't answer Bryan's qustions but if he was still reading, I'd ask: When do you think we'll "find out how bad climate change is" after 15 years of no temperature change? He doesn't provide a decade for when he thinks this will happen. Any day now...

Todd Kreider writes:

Something went awry while editing. The opening should be:

It has been disappointing reading Yoram's responses to Bryan, and it seems me that he latched on to the "technology won't change much" Left view that was solidified in 1997. After 15 years of flat temperatures, his back is against a wall since he seems to have been so committed to dire IPCC projections of a hundred years out.

Brett writes:
You've taught environmental economics. Have you really failed to encounter non-economists - including environmental activists - who reject the whole economic approach as offensive?

Having taken one of Bauman's micro for policy analysis courses I can confirm that many if not most students found the economic approach offensive. To his credit, I think the number at the end of the course was smaller than at the start. I was not a policy maker, economist or environmental scientist, just a engineering grad student with an interest in the topic -- also a libertarian spy.

Mark Bahner writes:

Hi Todd,

I missed when you previously wrote:

(If you assume a Singularity in 2050, it does keep the discussion very short...)

Indeed. It definitely keeps the discussion of global warming short (because it will be easily economically achievable to bring CO2 concentrations down to pr-industrial concentrations by removing CO2 from the atmosphere).

But another thing that it does is that the world needs to seriously *start* discussions that haven't really even started yet. We need to start discussing the massive unemployment that is likely to occur in the next couple of decades as computers/robots are able to do most jobs less expensively than humans.

That, to me, is the real shame of global warming. There's a tremendous opportunity cost of people focusing on something that is very unlikely to be important, and not focusing on things that are likely to be important.

Todd Kreider writes:

Hi again Mark,

As I wrote before, I have kept the idea of a Singularity separate from climate change in part because when I first thought about what I called a "black hole" as the time when computer power would be so great that a person in 1989 couldn't understand society then (around 2040 to 2060), I didn't know if the exponential would continue that long. I still don't but think it can go to at least 2030, which would be sufficient to both keep unwanted CO2 out as solar, etc. becomes widespread and to do any necessary further adjustments.

As for job replacement, I began making predictions based on computer power and diffusion --
1985: The Soviet Union will end and democracy will come to Russia within ten years.

1987: widespread nanotechnology from 2030

1989: a PC will beat the best chess players in the 2000s

1990: world government by 2050.

1990: work will become more and more creative for everyone in coming decades.

1990: email and images will be everywhere (in the richest countries) by 2000. I missed the internet. oops.

1996: machine translation will be excellent for French, German, Spanish to English by 2006 to 2009 and translating jobs will start to fall from 2009 ;

1996: for a friend - "brain repair from 2016 to 2019 to treat more minor brain injuries, Alzheimer's disease and stroke," (I found out in 2004 that Kurzweil said mid 2010s)

1996: robots in pharmacies from 2007 with
pharmacists in decline from 2012. This will become a major issue in the 2010s as many highly skilled jobs are replaced by computers.

1997: solar with good storage from 2025 to 2035, bioengineering from 2020s if needed.

1997: global warming won't be considered a major issue in 2008.

2002: Japanese to English translation mostly editing by 2015 so loss of translators. (This is a much tougher language pair than German/English)

2002: all major disease mortality rates slashed by 80% to 90% by 2020.

2007: the number of radiologists significantly reduced from 2017 - 2020.

When I made those predictions , which I quickly made when something hit me, like seeing how the internet would make excellent statistical machine translation possible, I'd predict, and people would think my time line was crazy.

I think this is Yoram's issue when he blows off how widespread solar could be in 2030. He doesn't seem to be paying attention to technological solutions and forgets computer acceleration as do 98% of economists. The News Hour journalist understands it, though. One more coming on global warming fear versus job loss fear...


Todd writes:

So Mark, if you look at the above, you'll see that I think this is the decade for a major shift where highly skilled labor will be affected as much as lower skill labor. Translators, doctors, lawyers, tenured professors, etc. assumed they'd have the same job for life. But they forgot about The Curve... I don't think all of those professions are doomed but big chunks will be taken out of them.

Kurzweil has been even more optimistic than me, arguing that by 2030 people won't easily differentiate work from play.

There could be more pain than I had thought in the short run, although my view is that most will shift fairly quickly into other interesting work.

When people see that their job could be on the line, they'll take notice. I sometimes read comments by radiologists in the early 2000s that their jobs would be safe. After all, they have the AMA. But I read one blog post in 2011 that said: "I just Watson win on Jeopardy, and I now know that someday I'll no longer be a radiologist." There will be more like him.

Anyway, goof luck to Yoram with his books. I'll pass on his latest but get his micro and macro cartoon books.

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