A Few Things Ill Considered

Krugman and Climate

Aside from the climate blogosphere, Paul Krugman’s “Conscience of a Liberal” is my most regular blog visit.  He does not usually have a lot to say on climate change (which is mildly disappointing) and I have seen only very shallow and casual dismissals of the, to me compelling, notion that perpetual growth as a requirement for economic prosperity is problematic (which is very disappointing).  It is however, usually very interesting and I have learned a lot about economics, something very apropos given the ongoing global crisis.  I do enjoy the political snark as well, as long as it is reality based!

Uncharacteristically, he has made quite a few posts and op-ed columns over the last few months centering on climate issues and I have been keeping tabs on that (literal sense here, I have 10 tabs perpetually open meaning to post about!).  So that I can finally close these down, here is a quick rundown of all that content:

Salvation Gets Cheap - A discussion of some economic optimism regarding the costs of climate change mitigation, specifically good news about the solar energy industry.  This column has an example of the casual dismissal of perpetual growth skepticism I mentioned above.  After the caveat “(I hate it when pundits try to make every issue into a case of “both sides are wrong,” but, in this case, it happens to be true.)” he says “On the left, you sometimes find environmentalists asserting that to save the planet we must give up on the idea of an ever-growing economy; on the right, you often find assertions that any attempt to limit pollution will have devastating impacts on growth. But there’s no reason we can’t become richer while reducing our impact on the environment.”  That “but” only really addresses the concern from the right.  This is not to say the “left” position he has presented is necessarily correct, but it certainly is not dealt with in his column.

Crazy Climate Economics – a discussion of the anticipated Republican response to the (at the time) coming new EPA regulations.  The headline captures well the flavor of that discussion!

Cutting Back on Carbon – this is a good one on how a Chamber of Commerce search for bad economic news regarding carbon regulations is really an “own-goal”.  Their as-pessimistic-as-possible prediction is for a cost to the US economy of $50 billion per year.  This may be many month’s income for a guy like me (hello blogging fees!) but it is just 0.3% of a $17 trillion economy.  This is a tiny price tag given the existential threat climate change poses to society.

Energy Choices – Here Krugman turns his attention to a letter to the Financial Times from Roger Pielke Jr and finds him sadly lacking in intellectual honesty (…or competence, Roger really likes to keep us all guessing on that one).  Money quote: “This is actually kind of wonderful, in a bang-your-head-on-the-table sort of way.”  Welcome to our kitchen, Paul!

The Climate Domino – another op-ed column on the (then proposed) EPA regulations of coal fired power plants and specifically how it relates to the “But China!” objection to any US climate policy.

Interests, Ideology and Climate – Dr. Krugman thinks that ideology is more important than the Koch factor in the climate denial machinations.  Here’s an excerpt:

So why is the opposition to climate policy so intense?

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

Incentives and Technology – just addresses a little blow-back from his take-down of RPJr above (Energy Choices).

Yes He Could – An op-ed giving praise to Obama’s accomplishments in the passage of ACA (Obamacare) and his actions around climate change.  I don’t know how much praise Obama merits with respect to action on climate change, but the accomplishment falls short of what is needed regardless of whether it is the best that could be done or not.

The Big Green Test – a discussion of long-time republican Henry Paulson’s op-ed calling for republican action on climate change and more generally how this fits with conservative approaches to economics.

Depression Economics and Climate Policy – a debunking of the “reform conservative’s” answer to calls for climate mitigation action, i.e. “not while the economy is hurting”.  (I’m sure some years down the track it will be “not while the economy is booming”).  Krugman says economically that this is exactly the time for agressive government intervention, while stimulus spending is sorely needed.  This point was actually the cause of my initial Obama disappointment.  I thought that the moment of crisis when he took office was exactly the moment for fundamental changes, economic, political, social.  Kind of a “disaster progressivism” approach ala Naomi Klein’s disaster capitalism, substituting change because we need it to solve the problem for change because that’s what we wanted to do anyway.

And that does it.  It is a relief to close those tabs

…discuss if you wish!



  1. #1 Hank Roberts
    July 16, 2014

    > “… while reducing our impact on the environment.”

    He should have said “reversing” rather than “reducing” there.

    I’d like to see someone like him give us a hypothetical for discovering another ‘New World’ — in the sense Columbus et al. did — and deciding what if any level of ‘impact’ would be sustainable.

    Then move the clock back to where there were still giant sloths and mastodons as the top grazers and do the same exercise.

    Nobody remembers that bison were a poor replacement for the original big grazers, and few admit that cattle fail as a replacement for bison.

    Look at the whale pump story. What if we’d not screwed _that_ trophic system up by taking the top predator off? How much more CO2 would the ocean ecosystem be managing now if it were in good shape?

    Paging Dr. Krugman. An economist is just a partially educated ecologist with a sideline in imaginary ecosystems like banking.

  2. #2 coby
    July 16, 2014

    I agree, now it is essential to reverse our environmental impacts to some substantial degree, and then any new regime must be a net 0 impact. I really fail to understand how this is compatible with any meaningful definition of growth.

  3. #3 GregH
    July 17, 2014

    An economist is just a partially educated ecologist with a sideline in imaginary ecosystems like banking.

    Good one!