Could we get this climate change thing right please?

Pledges by nations to cut carbon emissions will fall far short of those needed to prevent global temperatures rising by more than the crucial 2C by the end of the century. This is the stark conclusion of climate experts who have analysed submissions in the runup to the Paris climate talks later this year.

A rise of 2C is considered the most the Earth could tolerate without risking catastrophic changes to food production, sea levels, fishing, wildlife, deserts and water reserves. Even if rises are pegged at 2C, scientists say this will still destroy most coral reefs and glaciers and melt significant parts of the Greenland ice cap, bringing major rises in sea levels.

Two degrees is a political target and as such is obviously wrong. This is an economic problem and as such is only goiing to be solvable with economic logic.

The question is, how much is it going to cost? This is exactly how the Stern Review worked (no, don’t tell me about hiatus and all that, stick with the basic logic which is true whether there’s warming or not).

There’s some damages from it happening. There’s some costs to preventing it happening. So, how much preventing do we want to do in order to avoid how much cost?

Please note that this logic is correct whatever you think about climate science itself. It’s true if emissions have absolutely no effect, some, or truly ghastly amounts.

We might add in a little fudge factor for insurance purposes (Marty Weizman’s argument that uncertainty argues for more action) but the maximum amount we want to spend to avoid is equal to he damages we avoid by doing so.

And that inevitably means that how much we do is determined by how fast we try to make the changes and the methods by which we try to make the changes. Using more expensive methods more quickly means that we should optimally do less to reduce future damages. Because we’ve just chosen to do things in a doubly more expensive manner. Similarly, using the most economically effective methods (say, a carbon tax) and over time (working with the technological and capital cycle, a la Nordhaus, not Stern) means we can and should do more to avoid those future damages. Because we using doubly cheaper methods and so can and should do more damage reduction for the same cost.

And that’s why setting a temperature target is the wrong way to do it. Because it ignores the one single most important part of the calculation: how much money for how much money?

16 thoughts on “Could we get this climate change thing right please?”

  1. You’re operating from a few false premises. The Climate Change Activists are not speaking from a rational position, so logic will not work on them.

    They also have little interest in solving the problem (if it is one, Prof. Hans Von Stoch, a real climate scientist, says we don’t know yet if it is or not). Instead, as some have admitted, they want to ‘smash capitalism’ (Naomi Klein et al). This is a very roundabout way to solve a problem of atmospheric physics, which we may not have.

    So, you are dealing with a religion, not a rational science in the main (some, like Prof Richard Betts, excepted), Logic will not work, rationality is wasted. These people now have power, and they like it. It looks like they can’t be stopped, and will continue on their destructive path until they have undone all the gains in prosperity which technology and free markets have brought us.

  2. The economic argument relies on the science being true.
    The actual science, unlike the lunatic second paragraph above, suggests that we are still in net benefit territory, that climate sensitivity to CO2 is lower than feared, that some of the recent rise is probably normal fluctuation, and that the major ice sheets would, at worst, take hundreds of years to melt.
    Meh, let’s take another look at the science in 20 years and see if we need to do something.
    Meanwhile, we should get on with stuff the tree-huggers don’t care about, like helping the world’s poorest.

  3. I recommend both “The Merchant in Medieval Europe” and “Global Crisis”.
    Both offer a wad of flannel about climate change along with the history, but the take away is that medieval trade was improved by a warming world, and the little ice age provoked wars, famines, and the four horsemen.
    So if we’re going to have climate change I know which way I’d prefer it to change.

  4. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    I don’t get it Tim.

    No matter how many times we show that this climate change schtick is hooey ( it fails on so many levels: climatology itself, physics, chemistry and historical evidence ). You insist on coming on here spouting this half-arsed lunacy as if there was any valid argument in its favour.

    If you’re not careful we’ll have to ban you for pendantric sophistry.

  5. Bloke in Costa Rica

    If the externalities are positive (which they might be for modest warming) then doing anything to ‘mitigate’ it is harmful, and if they’re zilch on net as I suspect then you get the equivalent of a divide-by-zero error in all your calculations.

    I’m not much bothered about this species loss. Things that make you go “ooh” when you see them in the zoo will probably be fine. The ones that are in real trouble are the sort of things you’d hit with a rolled-up newspaper if you saw it crawling across your kitchen floor, so fuck ’em.

  6. Since we know that our magnificent Climate Change Act won’t change the climate by one iota, not even if the entire western world enacts their own version and probably not if the entire world commits economic suicide, then any attempt at mitigation is not only pointless but ruinous.

    Therefore, the only sane response to possible future climate change is to ensure that our descendants are rich enough to adapt to it. And the best way to ensure that they can adapt is to ensure that there is plenty of cheap, reliable energy for them.

    This means using fossil fuels for now while phasing in nuclear to a much greater extent and trying to shorten the endless twenty years it will take to develop viable fusion.

  7. First off – yes Tim, your economic logic is correct. A “carbon” tax is the proper economic response to the economic implications of man-made CO2 induced climate change.*

    However, your entire argument is rendered irrelevant by the reality of your first sentence. For “climate change” is a political issue, not a scientific or economic one. We already know the political “solution” to climate change – world socialism.

    Any proposals you come up with will have to work as part of world socialism, or as part of the journey to world socialism. Otherwise they will be ignored by the political activists behind the climate scare.

    .

    *It would be best if the tax rate is set in proportion to an outcome that’s a specific prediction of the climate theories. And the revenue should go as payments straight to citizens pro rata.

  8. Bloke in North Dorset

    Soarer nails it.

    This is about authoritarian lefties finding a cause that they can use to control us.

    Next time you’re talking to someone banging on about it ask what they would do if they were offered a magic wand and all they had to do was wave it and the global warming problem would go away and we wouldn’t have to change our lifestyles in any way whatsoever.

    I’ll bet 90% would smash it up so it could never be used.

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke in North Dorset – “I’ll bet 90% would smash it up so it could never be used.”

    To whit:

    If you ask me, it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it.

    The Plowboy Interview with Amory Lovins. Mother Earth News (November/December 1977). Retrieved on 2010-01-05. (1977)

    I can think of several things we might do with it. End world hunger and poverty for one.

  10. It isn’t a science.

    You can’t conduct a controlled, repeatable experiment on it which gives consistent results. So it isn’t a science.

    It’s a computer model, using childishly simple algorithms produced in the 1990s.

    I’m with Freeman Dyson and Richard Feynman on this one.

  11. And what about ‘apres moi le deuge’.
    The aging population should look out for itself. Let ‘youf’ do what it may.

  12. Tim

    You’ve carved out an odd little niche. Regarded as an alarmist by some like Tom Nelson on the skeptic side and dismissed a priori as a right winger by most on the warmist side.

    Still I admire the persistence

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