The problem with Eric Wolff

There’s almost nothing controversial in his climate science. But then he goes off the rails:

So, what can we do? Before I can answer that, I need to throw away my lab coat. I have been writing as a scientist. In that role, I can tell you what will happen if we follow a particular economic and energy policy. Of course I have an opinion on what that policy should be, but I give it as a citizen and not as a scientist. We cannot control how the climate responds to the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ocean, but we can control how much extra there is. We need to go as far as we can in reducing carbon emissions, without bankrupting ourselves or impoverishing the developing world.
It’s a source of huge frustration to scientists that a rational discussion of how far that is has been drowned out by two contradictory tactics. One is to question facts we are certain about. The other is to insist that we have such a good understanding that we can plan as if only the most benign predictions will come true.

Science doesn’t bring only a warning: it can also offer solutions. We need to deploy today’s technology to make a start on reaching a low carbon future. However, huge advances are possible in the efficiency of solar cells, in storing intermittent energy, and in methods of capturing carbon from otherwise polluting power stations. A concerted campaign of investment in the scientists, engineers and companies who can deliver these improvements will give us the best chance of meeting the commitments needed at the negotiations.
I would feel ashamed to know that, in my lifetime, we set a course that might radically change the face of the planet. The past tells me that climate does change, and that when it does so, it is always disruptive. So my hope for the climate negotiations is that politicians will face the facts and have ambitious aspirations, backed by ambitious plans to meet them. That way we can avoid all kinds of hot air.

Because we already know what the economic answer is. Firstly, we want to know roughly what grand policy we should follow. From hte SRES it’s actually baked into everything that we assume about climate change.

We want a capitalist and globalised world. A1 in the terminology of the SRES.

Then, we want one that doesn’t use fossil fuels (so much). That is, we’d prefer A1T rather than A1FI. Excellent, so how do we get there? As the Stern Review, Richard Tol, John Quiggin, William Nordhaus and every other non-comatose economist who has studied the problem says, we need a carbon tax at the social cost of carbon.

At which point we’re done. Might be worth throwing a bit more money at interesting research ideas. Solar’s such a large industry that it can fund its own innovation these days, even if we might keep paying for the scientists in their labs. Something like iron fertilisation’s rather more of a public good so could usefully use tax money. But beside the carbon tax these are all near trivia.

Globalised capitalism with a carbon tax and the rest is details. That is the scientific consensus.

30 thoughts on “The problem with Eric Wolff”

  1. Atrocious editing, apologies. ‘..make poor people in the west poorer’ ‘…and leave poor people everywhere else condemned to their fate.’

  2. So what’s “social cost of carbon” then Tim? Estimates range by a factor of more than 10x so there’s less consensus on that than there is on TCR. So we’re back to centralised imposition by politicians with a) ideological agendas b) no understanding of climate science c) even less understanding of markets.

    Not a recipe for successful policy-making!

  3. No, the scientific (ie, not Hansen et al who are crazed loons doing it wrong) consensus is in the $30-$80 range. So, about the carbon price that the UK already imposes. Shifting £30 billion of taxation from non-carbon emissions (say, employers NI) to carbon emissions (fuel duty, carbon price etc) really ain’t that great a deal. It’s under 5% of total taxation.

    There’s no reason at all why the total tax burden should be higher. Just differently distributed. It’s really, really, not a big issue.

  4. I would be amenable to your argument Tim, except that there are no politicians alive capable of switching taxation as you suggest. They all want additional taxation. Hence the very significant reduction in public concern about the importance of mitigating global warming. In the UK in particular, it is going to be even less a concern when the lights start going out. And let’s not forget the already high costs of electricity due to renewables subsidies. The effect, even if it wasn’t wanted, is that we have significantly impacted the living costs of the poorer in society, and lined the pockets of those who have exploited the renewables obligations.

  5. “I can tell you what will happen if we follow a particular economic and energy policy.” No he can’t, he can give an expert opinion predicting the likelihood of outcomes if a particular economic and energy policy is followed. Bearing in mind that the successful predictions of the climate doom industry have been as near zero as makes no odds, it should therefore be unsurprising that public concern is at an all-time low. ” One is to question facts we are certain about.” Given the number of times the “settled science” of Climate Change has been successfully challenged That is a monstrous statement for a scientist to make.

  6. “I have been writing as a scientist. In that role, I can tell you what will happen if we follow a particular economic and energy policy”

    No you can’t! As a physical scientist you might -MIGHT! – be able to tell us the environmental consequences of a particular aggregate response to a certain policy. You will not, however, be able to tell us what that response will be.

    As a physical scientist you should know you will find carbon-based gasses up your backside; so pull head from up there.

  7. Didn’t the Clean Air Act operate by making the use of non-smokeless fuel more expensive than smokeless fuel by fining people who used non-smokeless fuel. That created an economic incentive to move away from smokey fuel.

    If it is a policy decision that you want people to use X more than Y the state has the power to make Y more expensive than X and economics takes over.

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    K.R. Lohse – “Given the number of times the “settled science” of Climate Change has been successfully challenged That is a monstrous statement for a scientist to make.”

    As we have seen just this week here at Chez Tim:

    An alarming rise has been witnessed in the population of small microscopic organism plankton. Evaluation of data of Continuous Plankton Recorder has led researchers to find a 10-fold increase in single-cell coccolithophores’ population between 1965 and 2010. Many have been linking the rise in the population to the increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the oceans.

    If their models did not take into account this ten-fold growth, they are useless. They are useless anyway, but it shows how little we know. But the facts don’t matter when you have got that Old Time Religion. And the research grants that go with it.

  9. I would say that every human generation (at least for the last 1000 years or so) has “radically change[d] the face of the planet”. This one is changing it for the better (more urbanisation leading to more forests etc) or at least doing less damage than the previous ones

  10. But aren’t we seeing the result of carbon taxes in the current oil price collapse?
    Tax fuels to reduce consumption & you do reduce consumption. So far so good. Which reduces revenues to producers. Producers will try to capture as large a proportion of what what demand there is to restore revenues, by reducing price. Reduced prices result in increased consumption, back to the number you first thought of (Actually higher, because the producer price reduction also has to fund the taxes)

  11. Europe has extremely high taxes on petrol. People still use lots of petrol.

    A carbon tax is just a tax. The climate fetish is a means to get people to accept it, as well as other onerous government actions.

  12. To Eric Wolf, (and Tim).

    Whilst it may be true that we might be altering the climate in some fashion and in some direction, we have not yet proved that proposition. Indeed, it looks increasingly as if our contibution to climate change, if it exists, is so small as to be lost in the natural climate swings that we know to occur.

    What we have proved, unequivocally, via the IPCC, Kyoto, and all the conferences of all the parties since, is that we cannot change the climate deliberately. (See Bjorn Lomberg’s latest.)

    Therefore, the answer to a changing climate, – and it will change – is to adapt.

    When the climate does change, we will be forced to adapt and it will be much easier to effect that adaptation if we maintain our relatively wealthy civilisation and help the poorer nations to develop, than if we hamstring ourselves by destroying our greatest wealth producer – cheap and reliable energy – through adopting useless and destructive policies such as a carbon tax.

  13. “People in Europe use less petrol as a result of taxation. Rather the point really.”

    Well most people in Europe drive Diesels as a result of government “nudging”

    Now Europe has an air quality problem. So diesel owners must be punitively taxed.

    Can we just jump to the end with the obvious conclusion: Politicians are clueless cunts?

  14. Entirely concur with Kevin B. Most definitely on not “adopting useless and destructive policies such as a carbon tax.”

  15. “The past tells me that climate does change, and that when it does so, it is always disruptive”

    Indeed; the little Ice Age was no probably fairly disruptive. Otoh, the gradual warming of the last 200 years has not been at all disruptive.

    His assertion is empty and adds nothing to his argument.

  16. A concerted campaign of investment in the scientists, engineers and companies who can deliver these improvements will give us the best chance of meeting the commitments needed at the negotiations.

    Indeed, and I selflessly volunteer myself to be the largely unsupervised head of any such pilot project being carried out with this aim in mind. My acceptance is dependent on the expenses policy, mind.

  17. “Globalised capitalism with a carbon tax and the rest is details. That is the scientific consensus.”

    Don’t you mean “the economic consensus”? You even named a number of them?

    And whether or not you may be right, or whether the Carbon tax is negligible, I agree with Kevin B. Ie, let’s assume the loons have given up on “C”AGW, then whatever your Pigou taxes do, aren’t we going to have to spend to “adapt” anyway to whatever eventually does take place.

  18. The problem with Eric Wolff is that he is a glaciologist and therrefore unqualified to speak with authority on anything outside that field. So when he says that

    ” …has been drowned out by two contradictory tactics. One is to question facts we are certain about”

    and

    “huge advances are possible in the efficiency of solar cells, in storing intermittent energy, and in methods of capturing carbon from otherwise polluting power stations”

    and

    “The past tells me that climate does change, and that when it does so, it is always disruptive”

    he has no more authority than a retired accountant in Norfolk.

  19. Rising sea levels seem to concern a lot of people. Humans are already on the way to alleviating this by using so much water for industry and irrigation from major rivers ( Darling/Murray , Rio Grande, Colorado, Yellow etc ) that some of the year they don’t reach the sea now.
    Just need to divert some of the Congo ( 10* flow of Nile ) away from the sea, and we can keep rises in check.

  20. ‘People in Europe use less petrol as a result of taxation. Rather the point really.’

    How much less?

    If you are going to use a carbon tax to discourage activity that produces CO2 emissions, then you will need to set it at a level that changes people’s behavior to the desired level. “The social cost of carbon” is an unrelated metric, a non sequitur.

  21. At least try to understand the economic argument here.

    There are damages that come from emissions. There are also benefits that come from emissions. People get to move about, grow crops, make steel and all that. In order to maximise human utility (our goal) we want to have all of the emissions that add more benefit than they do cost and none of the emissions that have more cost then they do benefit.

    Thus, add a tax, revenue neutral, at the social cost of carbon. At which point, people have, in the prices they face, the costs they impose on others by their actions. And so they will only make those actions where their private benefits are greater than those public costs.

    We are thus maximising human utility.

  22. There is no “economic” argument for being mug enough to swallow watermelon bullshit Tim.

    The cunts tried for decades to find a vile cause that they could use to make an eco-grab for power. Look back in time and you can see the pricks trying on one load of bollocks after another trying to get one to fly. Global cooling, mass famine (“Famine 1975!!!) general “pollution”, ozone holes. The warming shite comes along just as leftist scum complete their long march thro the institutions and control cunts like the BBC, papers etc. Now they can make a load of eco-shite fly and the have been doing just that.

    Time for an end of it.

  23. ‘At which point, people have, in the prices they face, the costs they impose on others by their actions.’

    Those imposed on don’t get the money, government does.

  24. Correct, and that’s fine. Because we want prices to reflect those costs: it’s not about compensation.

  25. Without fossil fuels, half the people in the UK will be dead by February 1st.

    A “social cost” on that which keeps you alive is patently decadent.

  26. Carbon tax. Great idea.

    A certain Forbes columnist I follow daily frequently reminds us that if you tax anything you get less of it. Tax industry and wealth creation and you get less of it. Great idea.

    That same columnist frequently tells us that we need less government intervention, not more. Perhaps if we taxed government instead of carbon we would get fewer nonsensical interventions. And that sounds like a great idea innit?

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