Weasels ripped my flesh, again

wrmf Andy Skuce has an SKS article (with which I largely agree) disagreeing with a previous article that Myles Allen wrote for the Mail in May 2013. And now MA has an article in the Graun saying similar things. At Wotts, Rachel has an article approving of MA’s piece; Wotts himself seems rather more dubious, and I’m with him.

MA does say some things with which I agree (e.g. if you suppose that the annual UN climate talks will save us, forget it. I met a delegate at the last talks in Doha in December who told me he had just watched a two-hour debate that culminated in placing square brackets around a semi-colon). But in his frustration with that process, he flails about and settles on something that won’t work. Its almost as though he is using a (non-applicable) process of elimination: we carefully examine X, Y and Z: none of those solve our problem, so lets do W, which we’ll carefully avoid examining.

The current-context for this is the rather confused state of the UK’s “green” policies: a few years ago, the govt of the day decided it would be a wizzard wheeze to dump a pile of costs (for home insulation, solar-panel subsidies, and the like) on fuel bills. But this wasn’t heavily advertised. The thinking (I’m guessing) was that any subsequent rise in process could be blamed on the fuel providers. Alas, now that times are tight and people are whinging about their fuel bills, the energy companies have decided it would be a wizzard wheeze to blame all their price increases on the govt-imposed surcharges. The debate around this is hopelessly muddled and the details are not terribly relevant. But the Key Insight I take from this is that trying to hide taxes – imposed, perhaps, for good reasons – isn’t a good idea. Because people will eventually find them, and there will be little or no support for them. You have to build the support upfront. Which can only be done if they aren’t hidden.

I think MA’s fundamental point (this is from May, but I don’t think its changed) is:

Subsidising wind turbines and cutting down on your own carbon footprint might mean we burn through the vast quantity of carbon contained in the planet’s fossil fuels a little slower. But it won’t make any difference if we burn it in the end… There’s been a lot of talk about ‘unburnable carbon’ – the carbon we shouldn’t burn if we are to keep global temperature rises below 2C. A catchy phrase, but can we really tell the citizens of India of 2080 not to touch their coal?… If you’re using fossil carbon to drive a car or fly a plane, you just have to pay someone else to bury CO2 for you.

Which I parse as: if carbon taxes (etc.) just mean you burn the carbon slower, you have the same problem. Therefore, we need CCS.

We need to distinguish two viewpoints here, which I’ll call “taxing” vs “prohibition”. I was going to call them the more natural names “economic” vs “scientific”, but if I did that you’d naturally assume the “scientific” one was correct, whereas its just a label (like “skeptic”, which in the GW debate actually means “credulous”).

The “taxing” viewpoint is that if a thing is bad (like CO2 emissions) we should discourage it by a tax in order to pay for the bad effects [* sigh. See below]. That doesn’t apply to all bad things – e.g. murder – but it does work for things where the chief problem is uninternalised externalities: or, in plainer words, emitting CO2 is free: someone else will pay the costs. There is very little disagreement that the “standard economic response” to this is taxes, in order to reflect those externalities. There is, of course, plenty of disagreement about what the level of those taxes should be, whether this is really fair, is it politically feasible, and so on.

The “prohibition” viewpoint, which I often see from science-types like MA, is to decide that CO2 is damaging, and some (semi-arbitrary) level like 2 oC should be a limit, and then effectively prohibit exceeding this limit. Coming back to MA’s fundamental point, that fits in as “we’re going to exceed the carbon emissions for 2 oC, so we need to bury the excess carbon”.

The “taxes” reply to that is: “but the costs we’re imposing by taxation are those costs that are calculated as the damage; we’re trading costs against benefits. If we imposed your solution, the overall costs would be higher”. And the prohibition reply (if they reply at all, MA doesn’t) is something like “but you can’t reduce everything to money”.

I’ve argued, before, that we should not try to solve GW as an issue of morality.

MA, in the Graun, frequently talks of solve the problem of climate change as though we’re all agreed what the “problem” is. But we’re not, and writing it in this shorthand disguises a lot. In this case, it disguises MA’s assumption that 2 oC (or something) is a limit. It isn’t. There is no real justification for that rather arbitrary number. MA doesn’t engage with the “taxes” viewpoint at all: all he does is state that it won’t “sovle climate change”. I’m sure that’s what he believes, but he needs to clearly say exactly why; and to do that, he’s going to need to understand what his “neoliberal colleagues” are saying.

[* From above: I “paraphrased” uninternalised externalities, which is correct, into in order to pay for the bad effects which is wrong (or at least, Timmy says so in comment 3, and he’s probably right). This happens often when people talk about things they don’t fully understand.]

Refs

* CCS implies over-regulation as I’ve said before.
* The world will one day adopt a carbon tax—but only after exhausting all the alternatives
* Quick Recap of COP19 from a Geoengineering Perspective from Geoengineering Politics

Comments

  1. #1 verytallguy
    2013/11/27

    You seem to present this as a black and white regulation or tax/pricing issue.

    In reality, probably a combination of regulation, subsidy, tax/pricing and above all, infrastructure, will be needed if we are to get anywhere near the level of reductions necessary.

    I think I’d advocate broadly for

    Regulation – where there is a long term emission built in to decisions eg building regs
    Subsidy – to encourage investment in areas where markets don’t function well eg nuclear
    Tax/pricing – where markets do work. A global tax on aviation fuel for instance, if feasible, would likely be very effective
    Infrastructure – to encourage individual or corporate decisions which delivery low carbon outcomes. eg transport – cycling and rail infrastructure, grid infrastructure for wind.

    It’s worth thinking about how significant changes in resource or impacts have been driven in the past
    – slavery – regulation
    – CFCs – regulation
    – clean air (UK) – regulation
    – land use in national parks – regulation
    – vehicle efficiency (EU) – tax, albeit inadvertently.
    – acid rain – SO2 pricing

    It’s not obvious to me why concentrating on pricing only is the best way forward for carbon reductions.

  2. #2 Paul S
    2013/11/27

    The “prohibition” viewpoint, which I often see from science-types like MA…

    Yes, I think a catchphrase he’s used as a finale to at least a couple of talks reveals his perspective (paraphrasing from memory):

    “We didn’t solve the Ozone Hole problem by putting a price on it, we solved it by banning emissions.”

    [In which he is correct. But what he doesn’t add is “and we could not have solved it by putting a price on it”, which is just as well, because he would have no evidence for that viewpoint. I’ve not seen anyone attempt an analysis of the relative virtues of the two approaches to ozone depletion -W]

  3. #3 Tim Worstall
    Usti nad Labem
    2013/11/27

    “The “taxing” viewpoint is that if a thing is bad (like CO2 emissions) we should discourage it by a tax in order to pay for the bad effects.”

    Ooooh, no. The aim of a tax on an externality is not to raise money. That’s nice of course, for we’ve got to gain our tax revenue from somewhere. And it’s most certainly not to pay for the damages or compensate anyone.

    No, it’s to raise the price so that there is less damage done in the first place.

    My favourite example here is the use of a litre of petrol. Given Stern’s numbers this causes damage in the future of 11 pence. Thus the carbon tax on a litre of petrol should be 11 p. This is not to save the money to repair that future damage at all.

    Our basic aim in this economics thing is to maximise utility over time. Thus we are against damage in the future: but we are also in favour of utility rising now. In fact, we’re just fine with an action that raises utility now more than the damage it will do in the future. Just as we are not fine with an action that lowers current utility more than the damages avoided…and so on through the other two possible positions here about utility and time.

    So, in our 11 p of petrol damage example. It might be that I value being able to drive to get a sandwich, rather than cycling, for my lunch at less than 11 p. Thus the tax moves me over to my bike and that tax has thus avoided, without raising any cash at all, that future 11 p of damage.

    One the other hand, the ambulance taking that pregnant woman with pre-eclampsia for her magnesium injection will, for the price of that 11 p in future damages, save two lives right now.

    The hell with it, drive that sucker!

    That’s what we’re trying to do with a Pigou Tax. It’s nothing at all to do with revenues raised. It’s to stop people doing the things where the damages are greater than the utility gained by doing them. But equally, to allow people to keep on doing things where the utility gained is greater than the damage.

    We’re trying to change the price system so that it reflects those externalities, nothing else.

    [I’ve added a clarification -W]

  4. #4 Fergus Brown
    2013/11/27

    You touch on something but then let it hang. I agree that we cannot ‘solve’ GW as an issue of morality, but it is essential that there is some kind of ethical underpinning to our work to make the world a ‘better’ place. It’s implicit. So, one important thing to do is establish the ethical basis (principles) on which we then hang decisions and actions which will have an impact in the future.

    [I think I’m saying something worse-from-your-viewpoint; that we should try to “solve” GW without reference to make-the-world-a-better-place. We should, of course, work to make the world a better place, but that doesn’t mean its the underpinning of everything. The ethical principle required here is internalise-externalities. Most people would agree on it as a principle for just about everything, even if they disagree on what the actual price is -W]

    What you touch on is that Greenpeace et. al. have a tendency to ‘take the moral high ground’ and become a bit preachy and whiny, which is at the least irritating and at the worst unconstructive.

    [I was trying to say more than that. Its not just the preachiness – that’s irrelevant to my argument. They want GW to not happen, and they take it as axiomatic in their discourse as a fundamental principle. They don’t attempt any cost-benefit analysis. That’s covered in more detail in the post I link to -W]

    Ethics is important, morality less so; it’s good to know why it’s important to change the way the world works in some ways, but having ‘good behaviour’ thrown in our faces produces the predictable response to proselytising – not today, thank you.
    We have made some progress as a result of recognising that we’re making a shit planet for the future – twenty years ago, renewable energy was a mewling and puking infant; now it does something. There has been some constraint (not enough) on land abuse and increasing joining up of the dots when it comes to placing human/planet interaction in context.
    Like you, I’m struggling to incorporate realpolitik (economics) into a broader vision of the ‘world system’, but TBH it is easier to see how a free market makes things worse than it is to see how it could provide solutions.
    Enough for now.

  5. #5 wottsupwiththatblog
    2013/11/27

    I agree with Tim that purpose of a carbon tax is to simply reflect the cost of choosing to emit CO2. Hence, it’s only an incentive to not do so if what one’s doing is not worth that cost or if there’s a more competitive alternative. Hence I have a number of issue with what MA is suggesting in his article (most of which are covered nicely in the post).

    Probably the fundamental one is the logic of what he’s suggesting. Essentially he’s saying carbon taxes haven’t worked so let’s regulate for something that’s likely going to be much more expensive than a carbon tax. There are two issues I have with this basic argument. One is that carbon taxes haven’t really been imposed properly so there’s no real knowledge of whether or not they would work. Secondly, they’re not based on incentivising a change of behaviour. They may do so, but they’re really simply meant to reflect the true cost of emitting carbon. If we wanted to incentivise a change of behaviour, we may want something different to a carbon tax. We may choose to, for example, set it at a level that makes alternatives (including potentially CCS) competitive. This might be partly consistent with what MA is suggesting but avoids the “all eggs in one basket” approach that he seems to be suggesting.

    I’m not sure, however, that I agree entirely with the idea that solving the GW problem should be done only through economics and that morality should not really play a role. What seems to be often ignored when discussing the future economic impact of climate change is that even if there are net benefits for some amount of future warming, it is likely that this is only regional. As far as I’m aware, it’s likely that if there are net benefits this will go preferentially to those regions that contributed most to global warming, while those that contributed least will likely suffer most. If this is indeed the case, it’s hard to see why we shouldn’t at least consider this when deciding how best to tackle the impact of future climate change.

    [The “regional variation” problem is really quite a big problem, and the only reason it doesn’t get discussed more is that we have other huge problems in the way. I can see two solutions. The first is morality: it just isn’t fair to benefit and let others suffer for it. I think that’s a real argument,, and valid in principle, but I don’t think it will work very well in realpolitik. The second is that the distribution of costs in rather badly known: I wouldn’t care to predict them with any accuracy, only that there will be some. So saying “but I’ll be alright” can’t be said with any confidence -W]

  6. #6 Fergus Brown
    2013/11/27

    Points taken. But ethics (if not morality) can’t be avoided, as your response to wotts indicates. Underneath a lot of what happened at COP19 was ethics – it was about who should take responsibility (note; not blame) now and into the future. Responsibility is an ethical position (see Hans Jonas, or Levinas, for example).

    [Nothing happened at COP19. It was so unimportant didn’t even bother mock it, despite the “tee shirts” open goal -W]

    Note you don’t argue that we shouldn’t do something about GW, but your POV seems to be of the pragmatist strain, ie, ‘we know what the problem is, so let’s do something about the problem’ rather than the ‘we should try not to screw up our home’ traditional ‘moral’ position, but the two aren’t incompatible; in fact, I agree with you entirely that solutions matter more than explanations or ‘postures’.
    I’m with Wotts on the economics thing. As I see it, the problem is also about where economics fits in relation to everything else. In the real world, it seems to dominate, but as I argue elsewhere, putting a price on something isn’t all there is to understanding its value.
    I’m not saying that ethics should detrmine the course of debate or action, only that, whether you like it or not, its there, in the background, behind a lot of the arguments about what to do and how to do it. If the only principle driving politics is Economy, we risk dependency on an uncertain ‘science’, and accept that the bean counters know best. Discounting is only one of the problems to be dealt with, but the solution to that also lies in what principles of ‘value’ you use to determine a discount rate.
    The planet and its natural systems is our ‘home’. The value of a home can be understood more viscerally by the homeless, I would argue. If we screw up on the cost assessment, we risk losing out financially, but we can recover. If we make ourselves homeless…well.

  7. #7 Rachel
    2013/11/27

    But in his frustration with that process, he flails about and settles on something that won’t work.

    But why won’t it work? I’m not really sure from your post why you think it won’t work other than it’s more expensive. Is this the reason?

    [Yes -W]

    I’m also not really sure why it will be more expensive either. As CCS technology develops it will become cheaper.

    [Not necessarily. Not, for example, to the degree that solar panels can become indefinitely cheaper. There is an intrinsic energy cost in capturing and compressing the CO2. I’m sure we can make it cost less; I’m not sure we can ever make it cost less than solar panels -W]

    Another benefit which I didn’t really mention in my post is that it’s easier to understand than an ets or a carbon tax and this may help to sway the general public who tend to be suspicious of taxation anyway. Convincing the voting public that action is required is a pretty big hurdle in itself. It also means that people who object to wind farms and nuclear power can still turn on their lights :-) [note: I am not one of these people!]

    [I’m not happy with choosing something just because its easy to explain. Simplicity is a virtue but doesn’t trump practicality -W]

    I also have to say that I think this is an ethical issue – one of intergenerational ethics. If we choose to tackle climate change then our generation will absorb the costs but transfer the benefits to future generations. If we don’t tackle the problem then we absorb all the benefits while transferring the costs to future generations. If we think that future generations matter, and I think they do, then we have no choice but to absorb the costs.

    [We don’t absorb all the benefits. Not all the carbon we burn goes on consumption. We build infrastructure. We discover things. These get passed on.

    If you want to frame this as intergenerational ethics, you should be aware of and have an answer to: the emissions projections that say ‘we’ll emit lots of CO2″ are founded on future society being significantly (factor of 5?) richer than us (rich within the conventional economic measure, of course). So why should we “poor” people take a hit in order to spare those “rich” people?’ I’m not saying I fully believe that: I am saying you need a counterargument -W]

  8. #8 Dan
    2013/11/27

    One obvious place to look for evidence of effectiveness of a carbon tax is fuel duty. Particularly if we’re saying the tax should apply to the end-consumer, this is a perfect example. One could argue Europe already *has* a very high “carbon tax” relative to the US. (Graph of comparative tax via wikipedia fuel tax article.) Here’s Thomas Sterner (and his related article) suggesting that, had Europe has as low fuel tax as the US, emissions for the OECD overall from transport would be 30% higher.

    Problem being that energy demand is (e.g. for petrol) very inelastic: it takes a lot of taxing oomph to have an impact on carbon output, and there are knock-on effects for spending elsewhere in the economy.

    But anyhoo, yes: fuel duty as a reasonable, existing, testbed for a consumer carbon tax? (And maybe a suggestion that it might be more politically palatable dealing with the carbon further upstream – good luck increasing fuel duty in the US.)

  9. #9 metzomagic
    Dublin
    2013/11/27

    Over here in jolly ol’ Ireland, this U.S. ex pat is paying for petrol:

    EUR1.58/lt * 3.79lt/US gal * 1.36USD/EUR = USD8.14/US gal

    That’s, AFAICT, about *2 1/2 times* the current average national U.S. price of USD3.20. It’s getting pretty onerous, and it’s gone up by around .30/1.30 = 24% in just over a year :-\

    I suspect that does push a lot of folks onto the public transport, which at least on the whole is more accessible/functional than in the U.S. Whether it reduces the emissions from transport by 30% relative to the U.S., as Dan mentions above via the Thomas Sterner article… hmm.

    [The whole public / private transport thing is an example of “environment”. If you live in the middle of a city, particularly Amsterdam, its easy to get around by public transport or bicycle, and you’re mad to use a car. If you live in the sticks, not so. Where the boundary is can be influenced by public policy -W]

  10. #10 MMM
    2013/11/27

    “We’re trying to change the price system so that it reflects those externalities, nothing else.”

    Well… maybe. The classic Coase Theorem application says that as long as property rights are allocated properly, the system will reach the optimal level of production. It doesn’t say anything about who reaps the benefits of the property rights allocation (e.g., it could be that companies have a right to pollute, and we pay them not to, or that we have a right to clean air, and the companies pay us to accept some pollution).

    Pigovian taxes are the solution to the fact that assigning property rights to air don’t work for a number of reasons (free riders, transaction costs, etc.). It still doesn’t say who reaps the benefit of the tax.

    The next step is to decide what to do with the money. In the “Polluter Pays Principle”, the theory is that there is a right to clean air, and so the population should be compensated through the tax proceeds. Only this way is the externality fully offset: e.g., if the polluter next door dirties my clean laundry, it isn’t good enough to just tax him so he chooses the “right” level of output, but the proceeds of the tax should come to me to compensate me for whatever remaining dirty sheets I have to deal with.

    So pollution taxes are often allocated to adaptation funds, clean energy subsidies, income tax offsets, or other purposes…

  11. #11 Susan Anderson
    2013/11/27

    In all the years I’ve been hearing about carbon capture and sequestration, I’ve never seen substantive evidence that it can or would be done. I know there are a few pilot projects here and there, and as far as I can remember, they are expensive and industry is resisting them. What are the odds?

    The only substantive thing I remember was this from Michael Tobis, about capacity:

    http://planet3.org/2013/08/07/carbon-sequestration-capacity-is-very-large/

    It sounded like progress, but is anything being done, actually, really?

    Otherwise, this seems like a sop to distract from the untenable path being taken, something for people to talk about that allows more delay.

  12. #12 Dan
    2013/11/27

    “Otherwise, this seems like a sop to distract from the untenable path being taken, something for people to talk about that allows more delay.”

    Zacklee. The only project I knew about that was looking viable recently folded. (Note the IEA quote there on CCS being “critical” that supports your point about everyone relying on something completely unproven.) We have the same in the UK: “speaking at the report’s launch, Professor Jim Skea of the Committee on Climate Change said this made CCS “absolutely critical” to the UK’s efforts to decarbonise its energy sector.”

    I’m not including projects using CO2 to force more gas/oil out…

    Oh, and here we are from Ed Davey in the foreward to the UK’s CCS roadmap: “According to the International Energy Agency, CCS will play a vital role in worldwide efforts to limit global warming, delivering a fifth of the emissions reductions needed by 2050. To keep to that trajectory, more than 3,000 CCS projects must be up and running by 2050″.

    Oh good God.

  13. #13 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2013/11/27

    Sorry Weasel, you are flailing. First of all what differentiates morals and ethics? Let us start there.

    Oh yeah, when you say:Not necessarily. Not, for example, to the degree that solar panels can become indefinitely cheaper. you are just being stupid. There is an energy cost to making solar panels that you cannot escape.

  14. #14 Mark
    2013/11/28

    Why has the debate so shifted to ethical questions? After all, there are emipirical measures for the pure rate of time preference and the elasticity of the marginal utility of consumption, and thus for the discount rate (I am not talking about evil “market data”, before someone comes up with that old strawman), e.g. the kind Chris Hope uses.

    I am not suggesting that these are the perfect parameters from an ethical point of view. But all the talk about an ethical evaluation has led us exactly nowhere, and why would anybody believe that we can base a carbon tax on an evaluation that deviates strongly from how people usually behave (not the Homo œconomicus, mind you, but real people)? I have the impression that we are entangled in sort of a “The Best Is The Enemy Of The Good” debate. And I presuppose here that a progressive point of view (to which I suscribe) is the “best”, which is a highly political statement – exactly the kind that keeps the debate so… political.

    Also, I suscribe to what Tim Worstall points out. This seems like a minor issue, but it gets really to the core of what a Pigou tax is, i.e. an instrument to shift an equilibrium, not some compensation mechanism for damages.

  15. #15 Rachel
    2013/11/28

    That Myles Allen’s proposal won’t work because it’s more expensive than the alternative is not really a reason for it not to work. It’s just a statement about the cost. It can be more expensive than say a carbon tax and still work. The cheapest option is not necessarily the best and I also have my doubts as to whether it is more expensive. Although having said this, I am in favour of a carbon tax.

    Yes, I’ve heard the argument that future people will be richer than us so we should therefore leave the problem for them to solve but I don’t think we can assume that in a climate catastrophe future people will be richer. They might be, but they might not be. I also don’t think they should be obliged to clean up our mess.

    And on the difference between ethics and morals, I tend to use the two words interchangeably.

  16. #16 Dan
    2013/11/28

    Rachel: “I’ve heard the argument that future people will be richer than us so we should therefore leave the problem for them to solve but I don’t think we can assume that in a climate catastrophe future people will be richer.”

    Quite – a particularly bizarre argument given events since 2007. Watching this talk by Stiglitz last night really bought that home (a lot of good stuff in the first 10-20 mins).

    [The arguments about GW don’t make any sense without assumptions of large increases in fossil fuel use, and those come from increased wealth. By all means make up your own scenarios (after all, the denialists do it all the time and dismiss all the careful modelling and science, why shouldn’t you) -W]

  17. […] technology, and appears to be juxtaposing this with carbon taxes. A few global warming blogs I read took issue with the piece. I’m suspicious about the feasibility of carbon capture technology, so […]

  18. #18 Susan Anderson
    2013/11/28

    Off topic but some of you have got my goat with the wealth assumptions:

    I can’t help wondering if any of you know any poor people. They are not getting richer despite working three jobs.

    [This isn’t about individuals.

    I don’t know many Chinese, but there are certainly a large number of Chinese who have got much much richer over the last 20 years. Why are you discounting them? -W]

    Of course, there’s always been a line of thought espoused behind right-leaning closed doors that now we don’t need all those poor people, let ‘em die, we don’t need to think about them, it’s their own fault anyway. That would certainly solve the problem.

  19. #19 Rachel
    2013/11/28

    The arguments about GW don’t make any sense without assumptions of large increases in fossil fuel use, and those come from increased wealth.

    I have some questions about this. Perhaps I don’t understand it properly. I can understand than developing countries are likely to be wealthier in 100 years but how likely are we in the developed world? I also thought that most of the increase in fossil fuel use was coming from developing countries and that for the developed world, things were starting to taper off. So projections of increased fossil fuel use on the basis of being richer than today really just apply to developing countries don’t they? It then seems to me that this excuse – to let the richer future generations pay – only applies to developing countries. We rich folk should pay now and let the developing hoards pay in the future when they are richer. But I can’t imagine anyone buying into that.

    [I don’t think so. You could look at the SRES scenarios if you want to know the details, but I’ve never bothered. GDP in the West grows at ?1-2%? / year; 1.01^90 = 2.44; 1.02^90 = 5.94. You can argue that you don’t believe this will continue, if you like -W]

    The other problem I have is there will come a point at which extreme climatic changes are likely to make us poorer. How likely is it that climate change will deplete all the wealth we have accrued? It won’t be possible to turn off climate change either. Future generations might turn off the fossil fuel tap but the changes we have created will stay with them for hundreds of years. I’m not sure whether I’m making sense here but it could be that each generation passes the buck to the next wealthier generation until one gets hit with the biggest burden of climate disaster at which point they become poor and it’s too late.

    [a point at which extreme climatic changes are likely to make us poorer – quite likely, at least considered-on-their-own. There’s a pile of work on this, of course. For example, the Stern report, which most other economists think is pessimistic. But even that finds that the *net* effect of GHG emission is positive out as far as it goes. I sense a reluctance to look at the cost-benefit analyses -W]

  20. #20 Andrew Dodds
    2013/11/28

    To elaborate more on what Susan is saying..

    How do we get political traction for what is a highly regressive tax – essentially a VAT on essentials – at a time when wages for many in the West have been flatlining or dropping for a decade?

    [Now you’re changing the subject. Certainly, MA’s proposal is the same or worse (because more expensive). But because it isn’t called a tax, it sounds more palatable.

    Political traction isn’t really a question I’m terribly interested in; nor do I consider “regressive” to be a veto -W]

  21. #21 Dan
    2013/11/28

    Andrew: “To elaborate more on what Susan is saying.. How do we get political traction for what is a highly regressive tax – essentially a VAT on essentials – at a time when wages for many in the West have been flatlining or dropping for a decade?”

    Been having a conversation with an office mate today, he bought up rising block tariffs: a structure where you pay more per unit as your consumption increases. This gives you the ability to insulate poorer users – who in the UK face the opposite situation of paying more per unit for lower usage (before even considering the extra costs of meters or direct debit discounting).

    Turns out after a quick Google that rising block tariffs for *water* are/were used by nearly ninety of 184 utilities in OECD countries surveyed in 2007/08. So it’s not like it’s an untested way of managing scarce resources, and clearly in principle allows the system to protect poor users from high prices. I’d like to see the practice.

    Anyone remember Obama talking about exactly this issue during his first campaign? He called for rising block tariffs then, arguing that in the current system, utility companies are incentivised to do exactly the reverse. Not sure what came of that (or so many other things…)

    But that looks like an obvious non-regressive way to approach it that both protects access for poorer users while incentivising lower/more efficient use for everyone else.

  22. #22 Dan
    2013/11/28

    Turns out California has had increasing block pricing for electricity for a good while. Didn’t know that. That article suggests some problems, but doesn’t appear to talk about any effects on decreasing total demand, which I’d be interested in. There’s also this on similar tariffs for all utilities proposed in France, also economists, also critical…

  23. #23 Jon
    2013/11/29

    The arguments about GW don’t make any sense without assumptions of large increases in fossil fuel use, and those come from increased wealth

    Admittedly, if we could instantly stabilise CO2 emissions at current levels we’d be better off than in more realistic scenarios in which they continue to increase for some time to come but could you explain how that changes the situation in a way that affects the validity of arguments about GW? Current and past lower rates of CO2 emission have been sufficient to cause atmospheric CO2 levels to increase continuously as long as we’ve been measuring them and I’m not aware of any mechanism in the CO2 cycle that would stop that so I can’t see how merely avoiding any more increase in our emissions rate does more than postpone the consequences of our folly.

    [Ah, well I didn’t mean it affected, say, the arguments of attribution of current change. What I meant was that the projections of +2 oC are predicated on future CO2 increases; that wouldn’t happen if we stabalised CO2 at current levels. Temperature still rises a bit, in that case, but not a lot -W]

  24. #24 Dan
    2013/11/29

    “that wouldn’t happen if we stabalised CO2 at current levels. Temperature still rises a bit, in that case, but not a lot”

    I’m only getting this from McKibben’s Rolling Stone article but: “even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we’re already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.”

    Since he’s talking about the carbon budget in that para, I presume he means “if all net CO2 output suddenly hit zero tomorrow” we’re still likely committed to 1.6 C.

    If that’s true… urgh, actually, I wish we could all agree on some terms. When someone says “stabilise co2 emissions”, do they mean “co2 output will remain at a constant rate” or “co2 output will cease?” I always presume it means the former since we’re not talking about stabilising co2 in the atmosphere. I’d better wait to see which you mean before carrying on…

    [Stabalise CO2 emissions unambiguously means to keep emissions at their current level, hence to keep raising CO2 levels -W]

  25. #25 Susan Anderson
    2013/11/29

    As a guest, and on the whole a respectful and ignorant one at that, I hesitate to once again go off topic on the wealth thing, but the point is that an increase of wealth at the top is not translating into an increase of wealth for the billions below, not even in China.

    [If you think that the poor in China aren’t getting richer, then I disagree with you. I can’t immeadiately find to hand the stats to prove my point, and I know you don’t have the stats to prove yours, because I know you’re wrong :-). If you lay some of your credibility on the line and insist that you are indeed correct – you insist that the poor in China remain about as poor as they were 30 years ago – then I’ll get off my arse and find the stats that prove you wrong -W]

    I seem to remember having this argument at Planet3.0, where Tom Fuller asserted the thing about future wealth, which I regard as both unproven and unlikely. Rather, people are losing what they have by the multimillions in small and large storms, enhanced by what Trenberth describes as the ongoing baseline of climate change enhancement, regardless of the dismissability of attribution for each individual storm.

    Even more OT for Stoat, my personal efforts are aimed more and more at trying to find and exploit the surprising richness of human generosity which I find everywhere, and see if it can be enhanced rather than diminished.

  26. #26 Susan Anderson
    2013/11/29

    Uncle (re China specifics); thinking on it a bit more, I was mixing my ideas here in my sloppy way. The stat that bugs me is the five times future wealth and the absentee note it’s exploited for. I don’t think China is such a rosy picture either but that’s even farther afield.

  27. #27 Jon
    2013/11/29

    The arguments about GW don’t make any sense without assumptions of large increases in fossil fuel use, and those come from increased wealth…

    What I meant was that the projections of +2 oC are predicated on future CO2 increases; that wouldn’t happen if we stabalised CO2 at current levels.

    For a retraction of the claim that GW is only worth arguing about if the future is assumed to be significantly wealthier/using more fossil fuels than the present,that second quote is pretty mealy-mouthed.

  28. #28 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2013/11/30

    Mark asks the right question: Why has the debate so shifted to ethical questions?

    And there is a simple answer, since climate change is separated from its causes by time, place and species in Stephen Gardiner’s words, and ethics or if you wish morality is the only basis on which the debate can sensibly be held

  29. #29 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2013/11/30

    “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Pope Francis wrote. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

    Something like that anyhow.

    [Not quite. I don’t think the claim is “for great justice”, or even “for great inclusiveness”. But havent we done this before? -W]

  30. #30 Rattus Norvegicus
    United States
    2013/11/30

    Really, you should get the cover illustration correct:

    http://www.amazon.com/Weasels-Ripped-Flesh-Frank-Zappa/dp/B008BDZP26/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1385784023&sr=1-1&keywords=weasels+ripped+my+flesh

    [I rather liked mine, but I’ve added Zappa too -W]

  31. #31 Russell
    2013/11/30

    Someone yet to be ripped should take a look at Watts as well as Wotts, for WUWT has just announced the recruitment of Sir Isaac Newton to its cause :

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/11/29/how-a-lay-climate-skeptics-view-can-count-on-global-warming/#more-98351

    Let’s see how long it takes for comments such as this to dissappear :

    Let us further traduce the Lucasian professor’s view by doing something the man who said “hypotheses non fingo ” would never do.

    From the hypothesis that reasonable minds are forcibly attracted to facts it follows that they ought to stick to the facts, and the facts ought to stick to them.

    We have for some years ben witnessing a great experiment inadvertently designed to test this hypothesis. One in which our host has abundantly demonstrated that facts so repel his mind as to necessitate automatic measures to exclude any that threaten his system of the world and those that bear them.

    An empirical demonstration of this principle will follow when he or his minions read and erase this instead of revising their Bayesian priors.

    [Following the science-is-the-ability-to-make-correct-predictions idea, your credentials are now good, since your comment is gone. The article itself is so wacko I’m surprised its still there -W]

  32. #32 Tim Worstall
    2013/11/30

    Re increasing wealth. The SRES assumes that global GDP rises to between $250 trillion and $550 trillion in 2100. From the level of roughly $60 trillion in 1990.

    That’s the increase in wealth that’s being talked about.

    How much richer this makes each person of course depends on the number of people and also the distribution of that income.

  33. #33 Dan
    2013/11/30

    [The arguments about GW don’t make any sense without assumptions of large increases in fossil fuel use, and those come from increased wealth. By all means make up your own scenarios (after all, the denialists do it all the time and dismiss all the careful modelling and science, why shouldn’t you) -W]

    Only just picked up you’ve accused me of being a denier – nice. What are you saying I’m denying? That the world might get richer in the future? Just in case that’s it, some quotes from the Stiglitz talk: in the US, median household income is now back to where it was in 1996, median income for a full time male worker, back to 1968. So like the small print says, wealth can go down as well as up. OK?

    [I’m not accusing you of being a denier. I’m accusing you of acting like them. Since when has US median income been the only measurement? Who has said that income must be monotonic? You’re inventing strawmen (when I say the SRES only make sense with increasing wealth, and you say but look in one bit of the world by one measure income isn’t monotonic, that reminds me of the denialists saying “oh look, temperatures go down as well as up and sometimes plateau, so the IPCC must be wrong” -W]

    Different argument: one needs to confront “severe climate change requires increased wealth to happen” with “severe climate change will destroy wealth”. Both can theoretically be true and not contradict each other. It’s about the timing. As it happens, the first is manifestly false ->

    [I don’t believe your the first is manifestly false. You must know tht already, so I’m not sure why you’re saying it without some attempt at proof -W]

    Then there’s: “[arguments about GW don’t make any sense without assumptions of large increases in fossil fuel use, and those come from increased wealth]” and “[Ah, well I didn’t mean it affected, say, the arguments of attribution of current change. What I meant was that the projections of +2 oC are predicated on future CO2 increases; that wouldn’t happen if we stabalised CO2 at current levels. Temperature still rises a bit, in that case, but not a lot -W]”

    What?? If we stabilise (with an “i”) yearly co2 emissions (which you’ve clarified for me, thanks) at 2 PPM, co2 continues to accumulate at, oo, I’m guessing something like 2 ppm per year. Which we can do just by doing what we’re doing right now – no need for “large increases in fossil fuel use”, just keeping steady (and cutting enough trees down to grow burgers and soya, which we’re still doing majestically).

    So how do you get from stabilised emissions to “staying below 2 degrees?”

    [Actually, I can’t say I’ve looked carefully; the scenario is sufficiently implausible to be not worth much effort. Stabalised CO2 emissions would certainly delay a 2 oC rise. I recall arguing this with mt a while back and him effectively winning; it might be a P3 somewhere -W]

  34. #34 Fergus Brown
    2013/11/30

    Russell @ 31: Cui bono? In Romuli Face? Errare, mehercule, malo cum Platone quam cum istis vera sentire.
    To paraphrase another: one who has the wit to offer an apt quotation can rapidly win a reputation for wisdom amongst the ignorant.
    Thanks to chum MT Cicero for the initial comments.

  35. #35 Kevin O'Neill
    2013/11/30

    TW says: “Re increasing wealth. The SRES assumes that global GDP rises to between $250 trillion and $550 trillion in 2100. From the level of roughly $60 trillion in 1990.”

    To put this in perspective, $60 triilion in 1990 at 2% annual growth = $500 trillion in 2100.

  36. #36 Mark
    2013/11/30

    @ Eli

    Why do you answer my comment if you didn’t bother to read it? What I was getting at was that the ethical discussion is something happening between a bunch of progressives, and nobody really cares, period. On the other side, the implications of this kind of evaluation (and it’s exactly that) are so diconnected from reality that it is simply self-defeating. That’s all. And so, instead of something, we get exactly nothing. But we have the moral high-ground, that’s all that matters, apparently.

    You don’t have a monoply on the word “sensible”, this (condescending, honestly) statement is a reflection of you own politisation in this debate, not about what is “sensible” or not.

  37. #37 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2013/11/30

    Mark, you appear to think that economic predictions 70 years further on and further have some value

  38. #38 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2013/11/30

    Tim Worstall: What Pope Francis said.

  39. #39 Mark
    2013/11/30

    @ Eli Rabett

    First: no, what “predictions” are you even talking about? Predictions, really? Seriously, get at least the basics right. Nobody forces you to read my comments, but if so, at least read them.

  40. #40 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2013/11/30

    Well, Mark, if you prefer to discuss what to do about our changing climate on the basis of pancakes, have at it.

  41. #41 Mark
    2013/11/30

    @ Eli Rabett

    Well, Eli, if you prefer to discuss what to do about our changing climate on the basis of your functional illiteracy, have at it.

    Don’t project your petty fights with Timmy upon me. If you can read words – and this is not obvious – you’ll see that I was talking about a very specific aspect: the pure rate of time preference, and the elasticity of the marginal utility of consumption. None of these have anything to do with “predictions” (but given how you use that word, I am not sure you know what it means), but there are empirical values.

  42. #42 Susan Anderson
    2013/12/01

    Russell and Fergus, Thank You!

    “From the hypothesis that reasonable minds are forcibly attracted to facts it follows that they ought to stick to the facts, and the facts ought to stick to them.

    “We have for some years ben witnessing a great experiment inadvertently designed to test this hypothesis. One in which our host has abundantly demonstrated that facts so repel his mind as to necessitate automatic measures to exclude any that threaten his system of the world and those that bear them.”

    However, the idea that increasing wealth amongst the wealthy is going to solve anything is ridiculous on its face, especially given that group’s higher incidence of self-regard.

    [The poor in China have become richer. I thought you’d admitted that. Are you going back on that? -W]

  43. #43 Dan
    2013/12/02

    W: (1) “projections of +2 oC are predicated on future CO2 increases; that wouldn’t happen if we stabalised CO2 at current levels.”

    (2) “Actually, I can’t say I’ve looked carefully; the scenario is sufficiently implausible to be not worth much effort. Stabalised CO2 emissions would certainly delay a 2 oC rise.”

    #1. +2C “wouldn’t happen” without increasing CO2. #2. Steady CO2 rates would delay it. These two are at odds. Could you clarify? It would most certainly happen at a steady output – delay it compared to increasing CO2 output, of course, but the climate only cares about the accumulated amount of CO2 (on the timescales we’re talking about), not the rate. Hence arguments for a set carbon budget for given odds of staying below 2 degrees C. ??

    Steady yearly emissions isn’t that implausible if one assumes for a moment we *might* take action to curb our emissions (I admit that seems pretty implausible right now): a steady rate would be pretty much exactly between AR5 RCP2.6 (dropping emission rate to 2070; 0.9 to 2.3C) and RCP6 (increasing rate to 2080 then dropping; 2 to 3.7C).

    So when I say this is manifestly false: “The arguments about GW don’t make any sense without assumptions of large increases in fossil fuel use, and those come from increased wealth” – that’s what I mean. We can get severe climate damage *without* an increase in CO2 rates (thus, if wealth is required for increasing co2 rates, without an increase in wealth). We just have to keep on dumping it into the atmosphere at our current rate. A steady-state GDP rate (presuming an umbilical GDP-Co2 link) would stuff us, just a bit later.

    “I’m not accusing you of being a denier. I’m accusing you of acting like them.”

    Oh, that’s OK then. :) Not sure I’m claiming anything more than “wealth can go down as well as up”. I’ll go out on a limb as well and say that it’s considerably more possible that global wealth will drop (as global GDP did in 2009) than energy will stop accumulating in the climate system. The latter’s physics. The former – I don’t think it’s a physical law, personally. Perhaps you want to suggest I should trust the economic models as much as I do the physical ones. I don’t and I’m not sure that’s what they’re even designed for – future growth projections are much more “what if” scenarios than physical models. (cf. this interesting recent discussion, there are quite divergent views within economics about how much of an analogy physics should be. It’s far from settled.)

    But at any rate, that’s slightly beside the point: I’m taking issue with you claiming there need to be wealth increases to “make arguments about GW make any sense”.

    [I’m not sure why this is so difficult. The standard SRES / RCP scenarios all assume increasing wealth. Without that assumption, you’d get very different – much lower – emissions. Do you doubt that? -W]

  44. #44 Kevin O'Neill
    2013/12/02

    > [I’m not sure why this is so difficult. The standard SRES / RCP scenarios all assume increasing wealth. Without that assumption, you’d get very different – much lower – emissions. Do you doubt that? -W]

    No, it assumes growth in World GDP. This is not – to most people – in any meaningful way the same as wealth.

    Wealth is a subjective measure, World GDP – not so much. I don’t believe ‘wealth’ can be found anywhere in the SRES.

    [Yeah yeah, and if you look back to my comment 7 you’ll notice I’m fully aware of that, I just got bored of putting the caveats into every single sentence. Why is this all so difficult? -W]

  45. #45 Susan Anderson
    2013/12/03

    OK. I’m out of my depth here, but a simple google search “wealth distribution in china” produces about 11 million results, so I’m going to take back my “uncle” if it is going to be used this way. I believe I meant it when I conceded, but worldwide poverty is not something I made up. The first ones includes Forbes, which is hardly radical. I’m not an expert, nor am I an economist, and my favorite reading is The New Yorker. I know that the wealth has tricked down to the middle class, but what about the rest:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2013/01/20/the-china-miracle-a-rising-wealth-gap/

    “The income for grassroots workers in China’s west, and a general unfair wealth distribution — with the eastern cities rich, the rest stable to poor — remain the three major problems for Beijing policy makers. They have not only caused social conflicts, and the potential for even greater ones in the future, but undermine the Chinese belief in their government, and work ethic.”

    What I was willing to acknowledge as (1) I don’t have the numbers at my fingertips, and (2) the middle class has done better, though not as well as the wealthy. But the marginalized, which approaches a majority at the least, is the same pretty much worldwide.

    Here in the US, I work with them, so I know. So I repeat my question posed earlier: do you actually know any people struggling with three jobs that can’t pay for anything but the bare necessities?

    Now I have to face the music. Please do prove to me that the poor in China are no longer poor. I’ll be thrilled. You’ve successfully stiffened my spine on this one. These aren’t statistics, they’re people.

    [No one has claimed that “the poor in China are no longer poor”. The claim is that the poor have got better off recently. Try, for example,

    -W]

  46. #46 Mark
    2013/12/03

    @ Susan Anderson

    What, exactly, is your point here? You seem to protest against a really huge academic literature – on the other side, by you own admission, you do not really know anything about it. Is “those economists don’t know what they are talking about” sort of a default modus? Or is it the idea that economists have never heard anything about income distribution and inequality? What is you working hypothesis? If you are really interested in economic growth literature, there are textbooks. Acemoglu’s, who knows one or two things about it, is available online:

    http://www.ppge.ufrgs.br/giacomo/arquivos/eco02237/acemoglu-2007.pdf

    If not, why do you think the sensible thing to do is to assume that it basically consists of caveats, apart from some trash talk about economics?

  47. #47 Fergus Brown
    2013/12/03

    Mark @ 46: I suspect what Susan is referring to is the relative vulnerability of those who cannot adapt effectively or quickly enough, against those who can. This applies universally, so the point remains valid whether or not the poor in China are less poor than they used to be. Looking at future growth or wealth only serves to offer the carrot that, if fewer people are living around or below subsistence level in the future, then not so many will suffer quite so much. It’s thin gruel.
    I also sense there is something backwards going on here, though can’t quite tease it out. The relationship between FF use and growth is complex. For example, while FFs for energy remain more profitable for utilities than alternatives, the pressure at times of GDP shrinkage results in increased relative use, to preserve profits.
    The capacity to act remains with those with the wealth, whilst the capacity to react to the inertia of others remains beyond the means of those who lack the wealth.

  48. #48 Mark
    2013/12/03

    @ Fergus Brown

    Yes, I got that. And I wanted to know if that is something that came to her mind after a careful study of the field in question (or the literature with regard to climate change, for that matter) or if it’s just some vague idea about how economics is all like a libertarian utopia and we have to register our political worries because they have no idea of what springs to the mind of people how spent a couple of minutes thinking about the problems at hand.

    Again, there is a ltierature on growth and FF use. Whoever is interested in that problem is free to read it. Nobody would think that one can “tease out” problems connected to the physics behind climate change. (Or rather: usually we laugh at people who think they can). Why would anybody think one could do that with regard to this topic?

    Ditto notions like wealth and welfare. A lot has been written about them. It is astonishing that people believe they have spotted a fundamental problem that, surprise, is somehow identical with their political worries without having read any of the literature.

  49. #49 Fergus Brown
    2013/12/03

    @ Mark
    I suppose that Susan has done her background reading, like most of us here, and likewise suppose that she isn’t an economist. The question is whether her point (an assumption of future capacity to adapt is not well-founded) is a good one, regardless of its provenance.

    TBH I don’t think William is referring to this in the same way as Susan, so their interaction is a bit skewed. I also suspect you are making presumptions about others (its hard to avoid, I accept). The ‘hard’ approach works with numbers, economics and science, the ‘human’ approach starts with the people who get the worst of the shit. (Not to say these are incompatible approaches, just other ways of addressing issues.)

    I’m not suggesting an unlikely personal intellectual capability, but surely, if there is something ‘backwards’ about the relationship between GDP and Carbon as it is currently ‘understood’, then it might be considered important to try and work out why it is ‘backwards’.

    Not sure what your last paragraph refers to, it does come across as a bit presumptive, though I get the underlying point that there is a lot of work which goes on addressing such issues and this can be referred to, if required.

    If there is (and I am not sure on this) a ‘fundamental’ being addressed, it is the one which argues that those among us who are likely to be most damaged by future changes in climate will be better placed to deal with it if BAU increases global GDP (while burning carbon). Some people buy it, some (including me) don’t. And it all seems to drag back to the questions of mitigation and adaptation, as well as, (with Eli) questions of responsibility and equity.

  50. #50 Susan Anderson
    2013/12/03

    OK, guys, I’ll be listening, and will look at Mark’s link when I have time. William (Dr. Connolley) I apologize for the intrusion, but still feel my point, so much more ably expressed by Fergus, is valid. He is also correct that you and I are at cross purposes. I respect you enormously, and often learn when I’m lurking. I’m more than willing to concede some improvement in China, though I see it differently – perhaps through a broader lens.

    I carry a torch for the underclass that represents more than half of the world’s population, and is at risk, and can only speak from my own experience, which is quite different from yours. I also don’t think wealth will correlate directly with FF or other energy developments. But do I think rather than emote? Good question. I do a lot of reading and listening, and have come to the conclusion that remaining silent is not always useful or proper.

    It’s not “trash talk” but I am the first to concede that I’m way out of my depth in the technical and academic fields represented.

    [I’m out of my depth in economics too. So you don’t have to believe me. But I have posted a nice graph, up above.

    My own feeling is that a lot of this “feeling for the poor” is mixed up with the fate of the American middle class. As the graph shows, vast swathes of truely-poor have got richer. One of the few classes that haven’t, and may even have got poorer, over the last 20 years, is something like the American (/generic Western?) middle class. I’m not going to shed tears for them, though, because on a global scale they’re waaay up on the rich end of things -W]

  51. #51 Fergus Brown
    2013/12/03

    Susan @50:
    China is a special case. William is right in that very many people are very much better off than they were say, 20 years ago. India appears to be moving in a similar direction, but much more slowly. But the underclass is still plenty big and vulnerable enough to matter.
    You shouldn’t feel the need to apologise. It’s a public forum and you say what you want, and take the flak for it. William will decide if it’s not appropriate. Mark comes across as a bit assertive but that’s his right, too. We’re all trying to make sense of something very complicated and dialogue matters, as do truth, fact and speculation. I suggest that your original point is valid, even if you were wrong about China.

  52. #52 Mark
    2013/12/03

    @ Fergus Brown

    First, no: each and every IAM has it that we do exactly NOT proceed with BAU. This is close to a strawman, and if you believe that anybody is arguing about BAU vs. mitigation, you must have lived under a stone for the last two decades (actually, a bit longer, when Cline’s “The Economics of Global Warming” was published). What do you think all the talk about carbon taxes is about? No economist working on the problem suggests BAU, but to reduce it along a benefit-cost tradeoff.

    No presumption here. Susan Anderson’s did, by her own admission, not do background reading, but a google search based on some kitchen sink reasoning about inequality. Nevertheless, she formulates all this as questioning the economic approach, which is odd given the lacking background. There are various parameters accounting for inequality e.g. in IAMs, I mentioned the elasitcity of the marginal utility of consumption (inter alia accounting for “inequity aversion”). There are also “equity weights”, though these, too, are compounded by said elasticity of blah blah. How these influence SCC is not clear ex ante (vulnerability, if understood in the non-standard way that the poor are more affected by a certain loss than the rich, may suggest both mitigation to avoid impacts, or growth to become less vulnerable in this sense – not completely free of vulnerability, but less vulnerable). Thus, FUND’s SCC grow with equity weights, PAGE’s SCC go down (I am not sure about DICE). So, what, in exact terms, is the criticism? To put it bluntly, measures of inequality might suggest both a bigger, or a lesser problem in terms of mitigation. Again, there is a literature out there, and questioning an approach before even noticing what it has to say about one’s very ideas is either lazy or a ramp for trash talk about economics as it is very popular among environmentalists (and don’t tell me this is not true). This whole ‘hard’ economic vs. ‘human’ approach smells of the latter, which is shown by the fact that the ‘hard’ approach accounts for “people who get the worst of the shit” by inequity measures. (Btw. I do not exactly remember people complain when Stern set inequity aversion 1 – that is very low – to achieve an overall low discount rate, so there…). I do not think that you did any background reading, at all.

    I have no idea what you are talking about with that ‘backward’ relationship. More importantly, and for the last time, it is not interesting to read tea leaves based on some idea one has: if you spot a problem in the literature, point it out, already. If you can’t, why do you think you are in a position to question it (compare that to Watts going after physical climate sciences: such an approach is usually seen as utterly laughable)?

  53. #53 Susan Anderson
    2013/12/03

    Yes, I looked at the graph, and yes, I’m interested.

    No, I’m not talking about the American middle class. I’m talking about the invisible underclass. I just happen by circumstance to work with some of the more successful amongst them. I’ve got to go see one of them now (she cares for my mother, and I am in a position to make a difference in her single case), so will be absent, but as noted, I am reading, interested, and willing to learn.

    http://www.statisticbrain.com/world-poverty-statistics/

    Total Percentage of World Population that lives on less than $2.50 a day: 50%
    Total number of people that live on less than $2.50 a day:
    3 Billion
    Total Percentage of People that live on less than $10 a day: 80%
    Total percent of World Populations that live where income differentials are widening: 80%

    Now I realize these may be rough thanks to a random search, but even assuming there is some exaggeration or things have changed in the last year, but they convey quite a different picture from the one being discussed here.

  54. #54 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2013/12/04

    Mark darling, dial it back. Fergus, Eli and Susan know a lot more about climate change than you do and have experienced any number of clowns claiming to know it all. You don’t. Some of it you don’t even suspect

    [Mark is welcome to post here -W]

  55. #55 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2013/12/04

    Most people are optimists. In #33 Dan put that point well “What are you saying I’m denying? That the world might get richer in the future? ”

    Part of the problem with climate change is that it is equally possible to imagine a situation where the world gets substantially poorer on a global level. And lest you forget, that has indeed happened in the past at least on a continental basis (as in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall)

    [Its possible to. I don’t think its equally possible; though without specifying a scenario its hard to tell. Stern doesn’t agree with you -W]

  56. #56 Mark
    2013/12/04

    @ Eli Rabett

    Eli, your life consists of making lame puns in comment sections, you are the last to call others clowns. I made specific claims, but you didn’t get them because you cannot read words and you don’t know what a prediction is. If you have anything to say beyond thing you can “imagine”, you know, have at it.

  57. #57 Susan Anderson
    2013/12/04

    Staying with what I know, oddly, I remember a woman to whom I loaned my backpack who went on an Accompaniment program for Central American Indians some time ago (Central American military repression of indigenous people being wiped out by American industry (bananas, pineapples, and the like); the accompaniment program provided visible victims and prevented the slaughter) and was struck by how money means different things in different places. Sorry about the digression, but the personal part is interesting, and provides a snapshot of what is going on everywhere. The little people who get in the way were ruthlessly destroyed unless people like Carol were there. (Even more OT, I am and was dumbfounded by her courage.)

    Anyway, this is meant to be relevant, only just, as it reminds me that I noticed at the time that money means different things in different places; $2.50 a day is not by any stretch enough to avoid death and is thus a skewed measure.

    [You quoted, above, that billions live on less than $2.50 a day. Now you say its not enough to avoid death. Since they aren’t dead, you must be wrong -W]

    Meanwhile, finally having time, I’m trying to go back through the original article and all the comments, because while I believe it’s important to speak out, there’s a lot more. I don’t think we can necessarily address what is actually a planetary emergency solely by academic thought or talk, but I admire Stoat for his brave and admirable attempt to do what he can. It is so complicated, and so many people are fighting to prevent or avoid the truth being known, or find pie-in-the-sky solutions, which temporizing is truly dangerous.

    My emotional response, not having the skills to address policy, is to say, “by god (or whatever makes you serious), it’s time to get weaving”. I cannot believe we are not humans in common and that we are not capable of caring enough to save ourselves and each other by acting for the common weal.

    [Unfortunately, the emotional response of the Watties and their ilk is “lets do nothing about global warming, it will all be great”. If you try and pit your emotions against theirs, nothing happens: both your emotions are equally valid, since they are simply how you feel. There’s no way you can convince them, or they you, at that level. So framing this in emotional terms simply won’t work -W]

    The only thing I believe I am qualified to contribute is to remind people to have a heart, a lot of heart.

    footnote: I am emerging from a number of years at DotEarth where I believe I have been arguing with Marc Morano, or his twin, enabled by our doubting thomas AR. Now as we castigate each other, consider evil in it’s purer form. nota bene: I lost … who is surprised! But with this kind of thing abroad, common sense is handicapped. And today Bjorn Lomborg asserts: “The Poor Need Fossil Fuels” (which they do, but not quite like that):

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/04/opinion/the-poor-need-cheap-fossil-fuels.html

  58. #58 Fergus Brown
    2013/12/04

    Mark:
    We probably won’t agree on this, but anyway: No, I don’t believe anyone is arguing BAU vs Mitigation; I do believe that behind the rhetoric what we are getting from politics still is closer to BAU than other scenarios, and I’m in cynical mode at the moment, so there’s little confidence that this will change in the near future. Too soon to say exactly which emissions levels we are heading towards, but it looks more likely to be a higher than a lower one.
    The ‘problem’ with the ‘economic approach’ is twofold: First, the underlying presumptions, such as that benefit & harm, or utility, is best understood by reference to the numbers, is by no means a certainty. With this approach also comes the ‘hard’ recognition that it would be in the better interest of the population as a whole and the environment to effectively write off hundreds of millions of people’s lives – it’s where the logic takes us, eventually. Second, whilst it is clearly important to use economic analysis and the tools of economics to help us make good policy, this doesn’t mean that economy should dominate the argument. This isn’t trashing economics, it’s trying to understand its limitations.
    You appear eager to ‘defend’ economics and to demonstrate your superior understanding by referring to a number of relevant concepts and following this up by suggesting that, since you ‘evidently’ know more about economics than you claim I do, my suggestions must therefore be incorrect. I am certain that you know more about economics than I do; I have done some work on it, but it is one among many lines, so not a speciality. And no; I have done my homework, to a level. That in itself does not make my suggestions wrong.
    I can’t help you yet on the backwardness – I’ve already admitted that I don’t get it. But I disagree about the tea leaves. You might not see value in speculation and experimental thought-lines, but others do. I won’t critique the literature as such for two reasons: I lack the qualifications and I lack the inclination. And why, otherwise, would I believe I am in a position to question all this? Because I have an enquiring and active brain, so please, don’t attack me/defend yourself, instead, tell me why I am wrong –show me the path to true understanding of the primacy of Economics.
    I am not concerned with your derision, but don’t see where it gets the conversation. Educate me.
    Sincerely … 

  59. #59 Dan
    2013/12/04

    This all feels like several of my previous failed relationships: I’m exhausted and no longer know what we’re arguing about.

  60. #60 Mark
    2013/12/04

    @ Fergus Brown

    I didn’t lose a single word on politics, but no disagreement here. My personal political views are progressive. A lot of people’s political stances are not. It is not the task of economics to model a progressive utopia. The (implicit) insistence of many progressives that it should be is not helpful to get anything done.

    Discussions about the limitations of economics are welcome. To do so, one has to read what economics in general, and the economics of climate change in particular, is actually about. I also do not think economics should dominate our decisions. Again, to know how much weight to give to economic thought requires at least a basic understanding of what it is all about. Assertions like “growth cannot be everything”, “we should worry more about the poor” etc. and variations thereof are so vague to be useless on the one hand, and political in content, on the other. Levelled against economics they are a dead give-away that no economics has ever been studied. Most nominal “criticisms” of economics are nothing more than a complaint that an economic analysis does not support one’s political views (don’t look farther than Eli for somebody who typifies this stance katexochen and lacks even a smidgeon of self-awareness in this regard).

    As concerns your claims about FF and growth, you never referred to any actual literature on the topic, and I do not understand your thoughts that seem to be based on your personal introspections. Also, I am not in a position to “educate” you. What I am saying since my first comment and ever since is that one should read the literature if one wants to know what the literature is saying. Otherwise, it’s a discussion about hearsay ot things made up, and one runs a risk to disagree with non-existing ideas.

  61. #61 Fergus Brown
    2013/12/04

    Mark, Dan,
    Sorry to remind you of unpleasant things. Also, thank you for explaining yourself; your effort to be polite in the face of frustration is noted and appreciated.
    No argument with any of the first two paragraphs, apart from the comment about Eli, which is more properly something for you two to sort out than me.
    I agree with much of your final paragraph, too, and can only claim to have read Stern, Lomborg, Pielke Jr, Tol, Ridley and a couple of other odds and ends directly, beside the various commentaries on these on the ‘net. To understand these, I had to educate myself a bit on economics, beyond the knowledge I have from 30 odd years in business. Am I an expert? Definitely not. Do I understand what it is all about? I think I do, reasonably well.
    I don’t know of any literature which reverses the causal chain between FF use and growth in the way I suggest. This is because it is a recent phenomenon (if it exists), and comes from knowledge attained from within the Renewables Industry (where I work), through dialogue with colleagues, government departments and other ‘players’.
    My suggestion is that, since the 2009 ‘crash’, someone in Policy has come up with the notion that growth is derived from access to cheap energy, so cheap energy is necessary to secure growth. Hence the direction of policy towards fracking, shales, coal, and away from ‘clean’ sources; it’s an attempt to make growth appear to happen by cutting cost rather than creating product.
    Hopefully, this represents an idea with sufficient substance to discuss, rather than a fart in the wind. What it seems to imply is that emissions trajectories are subject to pressures on economies, probably more than pressures on usage.

  62. #62 Susan Anderson
    2013/12/04

    [You quoted, above, that billions live on less than $2.50 a day. Now you say its not enough to avoid death. Since they aren’t dead, you must be wrong -W]

    I should have been more careful. Carol talked with me about how much a dollar would buy in the third world. The point was those figures are misleading, and I was making the point against myself.
    .
    My base point about poverty remains.

    I also felt (and Dan notes) that we had gotten rather far from some excellent discussion above and in the original article. My passions about our misguided refusal to acknowledge and work together notwithstanding, that is not the subject of this article.

    And the idea that we can put off resolution due to some hypothetical future wealth is imnhso dangerous, emotional or not. I put my passions to better use in the Lomborg article.

    William, thanks for taking the trouble to respond.

  63. #63 Susan Anderson
    2013/12/04

    “since the 2009 ‘crash’, someone in Policy has come up with the notion that growth is derived from access to cheap energy, so cheap energy is necessary to secure growth. Hence the direction of policy towards fracking, shales, coal, and away from ‘clean’ sources; it’s an attempt to make growth appear to happen by cutting cost rather than creating product.

    “Hopefully, this represents an idea with sufficient substance to discuss, rather than a fart in the wind. What it seems to imply is that emissions trajectories are subject to pressures on economies, probably more than pressures on usage.”

    Indeed. This is the issue with the Lomborgians et al. Our New York Times has embraced it. It’s not good that very little energy is going into developing or discussing clean energy these days, at least in the US, except in the alternative universe.

  64. #64 Dan
    2013/12/04

    Just gonna throw this article out there to show some people working on a whole bunch of forecasting approaches and attempting to synthesise them. We’re dealing with massively complex issues in this thread – I’m not really sure comment threads are a manageable way to do it. Or the internet generally: it’s starting to feel a bit like another form of God’s post-Babel curse. Such promise of open communication / vigorous debate…

    W, it would have been nice if you could have acknowledged the contradiction in your two 2C statements and clarified for me. I don’t really care if assumptions of wealth growth are built into particular scenarios – the only reason I joined in that discussion was to say “hang on – you can cook the planet without wealth increases.” That doesn’t seem that controversial to me.

    [I’m not sure its true. I’m not fully confident its untrue either (assuming we’re calling +2 oC “cooked”). Where are you getting your values from? -W]

  65. #65 Dan
    2013/12/04

    “Where are you getting your values from?”

    Just assuming (a) GDP and CO2 output are linked (and putting aside that we need to “decouple” them in the future); (b) sticking to current CO2 output of ~2ppm/31 gigatons yr^-1 and (c) having a ‘carbon budget’ of only about ~550 gigatons now for a 4/5 chance of less than 2C. (Made famous by McKibben of course.)

    We’d exceed that budget in 18 years, given those assumptions.

    [Ah, but we can make different assumptions: To have a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees, humans would have to stick to a carbon budget that allowed the release of no more than 1,437 gigatons of carbon dioxide from 2000 to 2050. 1437 / 31 = 46, which is just about 50 -W]

  66. #66 Fergus Brown
    2013/12/05

    For Dan, William, Susan, Eli, and anyone else for that matter, this might be useful (if you have the time to spare): http://whogoeswithfergus.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/valuable-free-resource-pool-on-climate.html

  67. #67 Dan
    2013/12/05

    “Ah, but we can make different assumptions: To have a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees, humans would have to stick to a carbon budget that allowed the release of no more than 1,437 gigatons of carbon dioxide from 2000 to 2050. 1437 / 31 = 46, which is just about 50 -W.”

    Yeeees, we can. But the point I keep on trying to get at: we *will* exceed 2C at some point in the not very distant future, just assuming steady CO2 output. Pick any “x budget plus y odds” combo you like.

    [Not based on your source. Your source says that (to 50-50 odds) ~31 Gt/y 2000 to 2050 keeps you inside +2 0C. I must admit I don’t fully understand what it thinks it means, though -W]

    AFAIK that’s not a controversial point. However, you said “projections of +2 oC are predicated on future CO2 increases; that wouldn’t happen if we stabalised [sic] CO2 at current levels.” And that’s wrong. It will happen. I don’t really feel comfortable carrying on trying to argue about anything more complex if we can’t clear up this basic point of fact.

  68. #68 Dan
    2013/12/05

    “Not based on your source. Your source says that (to 50-50 odds) ~31 Gt/y 2000 to 2050 keeps you inside +2 0C. I must admit I don’t fully understand what it thinks it means, though.”

    Oh sweet baby Jesus. Output doesn’t stop at that point: we’re just discussing “budget plus odds” combos for illustrative purposes. If we keep up that steady rate until 2080 or 2100, the odds continue to get vanishingly worse until 2 degrees is exceeded.

    If you want to argue “2080 or 2100 is too far ahead to consider”, fine – do that. But that *is not* what you’ve actually said. I am repeating myself, but here, look, it’s you, your words! “projections of +2 oC are predicated on future CO2 increases; that wouldn’t happen if we stabalised [sic] CO2 at current levels.”

    [No, I’m not trying to argue that. I was only reading your source. Which said, and I paraphrase, all is well if we keep emissions to X within timeframe Y. Now that did seem odd to me – and I said so – but it was your source, not mine. You pulled some stuff out of it that worked for you, without (as it seems to me) considering what would happen with somewhat different assumptions -W]

    It could. It’s just a matter of time – and not that much time either. I’m starting to wonder if you know this and are just trying to wind me up.

  69. #69 Dan
    2013/12/05

    Having copy/pasted the single simple statement you made repeatedly, which is factually wrong, and asked for you to address that directly, you haven’t.

    I picked one example for 4/5 odds. 50/50 odds, whatever – neither number “works for me” more than any other. The point is only that 2C gets exceeded at some point soon enough to be a present problem, even assuming steady CO2 output. For some reason that I can’t fathom, you won’t actually address the thing I’ve now asked about approximately five times. Bored now.

    [We certainly seem to be talking past each other. Before I go on, “bored now” is impolite, and essentially rhetorical trickery. If you’re really bored, you’d just not comment. As to the substance: I asked you to provide a source for something, and you did, and when I pointed out that it only constrained emissions between 2000 and 2050 you became unhappy. But you didn’t replace it with a better source -W]

  70. #70 Dan
    2013/12/06

    “If we put 30gt of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (as we are now), by 2100 we will almost certainly have exceeded average global temperature of 2 degrees centrigrade or be locked into it.” True or false?

  71. #71 Fergus Brown
    2013/12/06

    Dan; very brief review of Hansen and links on my blog address your argument with William…

  72. #72 crandles
    2013/12/06

    Re:

    “We didn’t solve the Ozone Hole problem by putting a price on it, we solved it by banning emissions.”

    [In which he is correct. But what he doesn’t add is “and we could not have solved it by putting a price on it”, which is just as well, because he would have no evidence for that viewpoint. I’ve not seen anyone attempt an analysis of the relative virtues of the two approaches to ozone depletion -W]”

    I would suggest that there is very little difference between the two approaches when the aim is to eliminate it very quickly. I would even suggest it is easier to write a regulation saying ‘CFCs are banned from a date of X’ than it is to write a regulation saying CFCs are to be taxed at a rate of Y from date X’ because you then have to work out how much Y has to be to achieve the objective of pricing it out of production. Furthermore governments probably wanted/needed co-operation with industry to see what was possible and that is more likely to be achieved by being transparent about what is going to happen. Any talk of taxation that amounts to a ban would not help give the impression of transparency.

    Therefore I think regulation is rather inevitable rather than a tax out of existence approach.

    With fossil fuels we are obviously not going to ban nor tax dumping CO2 to the atmosphere out of existence within the next 10 years. So it is just a different category of problem.

  73. #73 Dan
    2013/12/08

    Simple true or false there W, yes or no?

    [Oh, you’re still here. I thought you were bored with me. But that was just rhetorical trickery: yes or no? -W]

  74. #74 Dan
    2013/12/08

    Oh for actual proper massive frack’s sake, just answer the fracking question. I was bored, am now more frustrated than bored – still bored, but it’s trumped by this frustration driving me on. Not a rhetorical trick – no. There’s you’re answer. Yes/no = easy, see? Rather, a genuine emotion. Being bored doesn’t mean not commenting. I’m carrying on (as, actually, I have done with people like Omnologos) in an attempt to figure out if you’re just messing me about (as Omnologos surely does, though I’m not sure he knows it himself).

    I’ve asked a trivially simple question. What’s the problem in answering it?

    [Oh, because your question is more interesting than you think. I’ll have to think about it -W]

  75. #75 crandles
    2013/12/08

    Dan:
    1. “that wouldn’t happen if we stabalised CO2 at current levels. Temperature still rises a bit, in that case, but not a lot”

    2. [Stabalise CO2 emissions unambiguously means to keep emissions at their current level, hence to keep raising CO2 levels -W]

    The first quote says “stabalised CO2″ not “Stabalise CO2 emissions”

    What others have quoted from William is
    “The arguments about GW don’t make any sense without assumptions of large increases in fossil fuel use, and those come from increased wealth.”

    If I create scenarios that assume an increase in wealth and population at fairly low levels and that there will be efficiency gains in use of fossil fuels and substitution to other activities that don’t need as much ff use, at a higher rate, then I can assert there is declining ff use and, apparently according to William, no GW problem. But the efficiency and substitution won’t happen unless we act to reduce the GW problem.

    So do we need to act to reduce the GW problem in this scenario or not?

    Thus I suggest it is easy to create a scenario of declining ff use (CO2 levels do go higher) where GW is still a problem.

    Of course William can reply that it is standard for scenarios not to take account of GW action. When you do that, my scenario above becomes one of increased wealth and accelerating ff use just as he claims. Even though the reality might be declining ff use and still a GW problem.

    Therefore I suggest great care to distinguish what you think will happen from what scenarios say will happen. Of course scenarios assume increased fossil fuel use – they assume no action on GW.

  76. #76 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2013/12/09

    “We didn’t solve the Ozone Hole problem by putting a price on it”

    Well sort of. What was banned was manufacture of CFCs in the industrialized world, later everywhere but sales of existing and imported stocks were heavily taxed. More than you want to know here

  77. #77 Dan
    2013/12/09

    Crandles: “The first quote says “stabalised CO2″ not “Stabalise CO2 emissions” ”

    Cheers – but I’d already clarified that with W. He’s talking about stabilised per-year emissions (which at current levels would be ~30gt per year). See above.

  78. #78 crandles
    2013/12/09

    Dan, sorry if I got lost reading the thread but I thought he clarified with the second quote in my post 75 that

    “[Stabalise CO2 emissions unambiguously means to keep emissions at their current level, hence to keep raising CO2 levels -W]”

    and didn’t clarify whether stabilise CO2 meant stabilise CO2 levels or stabilise CO2 emissions. I think my first quote in post 75 hints that ‘if we stabalised CO2 at current levels’ means stabilise CO2 levels, after all it does have the word ‘levels’ just 3 words later. Sorry if this leaves you needing to read the whole thread again, but you don’t seem to be getting anywhere with William.

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