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Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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..."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.