No, wait. This isn’t yet another tedious post bashing Pruitt’s dumb ideas. It’s a post bashing mt2, which is far more interesting. I have two3 wildly exciting points to make about mt’s post at ATTP.

You people do need a red team

If you stick to science, you generally get it right1. Oddly enough; you are, after all, pretty well self-defined as “the side that gets the GW science right”. But you need to get out more. So when mt says Economic, social and environmental losses climb rapidly and nonlinearly with temperature change, and may already overwhelm the short-term benefits of fossil fuels, and will very likely do so in the near future, no-one blinks an eye. At best this is ambiguous and at worst it is wrong, so why is it only me that notices? Because, of course, you’re not actually looking for flaws in mt’s arguments. You’re just blipping along, la la la, damage from GW, yeah, we know that bit, eyes glaze over, words go straight out the other ear.

What is mt trying to say?

I don’t know. When I pointed out the problem, I got a reply-to-comment saying

My point is that the marginal cost of each additional unit of carbon emitted, which takes a very long time to accrue, may already exceed the marginal benefit of that unit, which is immediate. An economist might therefore conclude that I advocate an immediate abrupt cessation of all emissions. I readily stipulate that this is infeasible. I note that the aggregate cost of any action isn’t just determined by the marginal cost; and that cost of a given emission target is actually very trajectory dependent. But in terms of the long term aggregate well-being of the world, it’s quite plausible that we are already going backwards when we consume fossil fuels, and it’s almost certain that we eventually will be, and not in the too distant future.

I failed to parse that correctly in my reply there, since when correctly parsed it seems so wrong, but mt makes himself clear in a clarification on the psot:

UPDATE for clarification: Costs of a unit of emission aggregated over time may already overwhelm the benefits, which appear immediately. This balance shifts further against the value of emissions as geologically rapid climate change proceeds.

So he isn’t talking about “marginal” in terms of increases-in-emissions-over-present-emission-levels. He really does mean that each unit of CO2 emitted now may be doing more harm than good4. Pause to think about that. Suppose it is true. In which case, we should stop emitting it. Now; immeadiately. This would cause our civilisation to collapse, and billions would die. mt knows that isn’t possible; see, he even writes “I readily stipulate that this is infeasible”. But that means the other half of his assertion must be wrong: the marginal benefits, now, are greater than the future costs.

Is it possible that future damage from present-day emissions is so large that it dwarfs billions of deaths and the collapse of civilisation? That seems rather unlikely to me. Certainly, mt makes no attempt to provide evidence for his assertion. In evidence against, I’d put forward “typical” damage estimates of ~6% (of something; I forget what) by ~2100. That is a large number of billion dollars, of course.

Can we just stick to the science then please?

Sure. Providing you promise to say nothing about cost-benefit. But that does severely reduce your real-world relevance. You could try to argue “GW is obviously so bad that we should prevent it, rather than trying to assess the costs of preventing it against the benefits of preventing it”. And amongst nice people who agree that GW is bad, that’s a fine argument; everyone will take your word for it. But what about Bad People like Pruitt who don’t accept your argument?

ant

Notes

1. Not if you’re Hawking, of course.

2. Not really, of course. Call it a vigorous test of his ideas. If ATTP’s moderation were faster, we could have the discussion over there, but it isn’t, so we can’t.

3. Sigh. Three.

4. Current thinking (see comment by MMM and my reply) is that mt does mean marginal changes to current emissions levels. And so the question to answer is the cost of one more or one less unit of CO2 emitted now, versus it’s future damage costs.

Comments

  1. #1 Tom Fuller
    United States
    2017/07/08

    I actually thought Tobis was clearer than usual in his first post at ATTP. His second reverted to the mean.

    https://cliscep.com/2017/07/07/is-it-read-teamblue-team-or-red-stateblue-state/

    Any such exercise will come down to the initial SOW.

    [Hmm. Still somewhat off. square the circle of the interactions of the carbon sinks, the effects of clouds and aerosols and other messy details of the Earth systems in play isn’t I think your strong point; those if pushed are merely uncertainty, and uncertainty doesn’t help you. And nominate Judith Curry, Nic Lewis…: disappointing. You’re sticking to the science; it is clear that a red team can’t say anything interesting there.

    Freeman Dyson… have one of the smartest humans on the planet be at our side. Or Hawking, perhaps? He’s pretty smart, too. Do you see the problem? -W]

  2. #2 Russell
    2017/07/08

    Doesnt Tom recall what happend the last time, when after listened with great respect, but some puzzlement to their old Professor Richard Lindzen’s cogent expression of his views on global warming, two public-spirited and authentically skeptical Kansans opted a few years ago to fund a Red Team exercise of their own.

    They called in a Berkeley professor, skeptical as themselves as to the climate record, and as astute and scientifically accomplished as Lindzen himself, and asked him to dissect the issue anew. So he delved into the temperature record , including Watts contention that badly sited thermometer stations were behind the apparent rise, and did a goodly amount of research, and gigabytes of analysis, statistical and dimensional.

    Whereupon Professor Richard Muller announced that the BEST Red Team exercise had changed his mind, and ccmpelled him to conclude that the meteorological common wisdom was indeed true- There was no decline for erstwhile ‘Climate Skeptics’ to hide behind.

    As that was good enough for the sponsors of the exercise, the fossil fuel rich and worldly-wise MIT educated brothers Koch, why should us taxpayers pay for an instant replay ?

    https://goo.gl/1SRb8i

  3. #3 mt
    Ottawa, Ontario
    2017/07/08

    Your proposal is that if you take as given that the marginal cost of a unit of emission exceeds the marginal benefit, then we should stop all emissions immediately?

    I think that’s trivially false. That may have something to do with the reason that nobody but you notices.

    [I think the problem is that you said that your words implied that an economist would deduce from your premises that all emissions should cease. I (now) think that you are wrong: you simply misunderstood what an economist would deduce. But at the time, not knowing quite what you were trying to say, I took as read that your deduction was correct, as an aide to parsing your words -W]

    Suppose I accept your proposition, that we should continue to emit CO2 until the instant that its net benefit goes below zero. On this logic the abandonment of CO2 should not begin before that instant nor proceed after that instant.

    This can’t be right. I think the main reason it would work out to be wrong is that there are costs associated with the switch, and those costs increase with the abruptness of the switch.

    That being the case, if the moment where the net cost/benefit switches over to the cost side is behind us, it is still terribly non-optimal to make the switch instantly.

    Economists, in my experience, aren’t strong with response functions that are spread over time. But surely they must have some way for accounting for this…?

    [I find this a somewhat baffling statement; I don’t really know what you mean by it -W]

    Otherwise it’s jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today. The argument you present seems to me to make it impossible to argue for reduced emissions at all. Please enlighten me as to what I’m missing.

    [See answer to MMM, below -W]

  4. #4 Tom Fuller
    United States
    2017/07/08

    Hi Russell,

    There are several elements missing from your account of the BEST story. I’ll glide over the alarmists hurling names at him in advance of his published results for having the temerity to question the established temperature series.

    Perhaps more of interest, Professor Muller, despite his pointed criticism of Michael Mann (which was well-deserved), was not really a skeptic at heart. His daughter is a committed environmentalist and strong supporter of the consensus view of global warming and it was after long conversations with her that Professor Muller undertook the project. I’ve met them both and they’re both very intelligent and very… culturally aware.

    The other thing your narrative neglects is that many skeptics (and lukewarmers such as myself and Mosher, who worked on BEST), were telling the world before work even started that the results would confirm findings of other efforts to chart temperature trends. The surprise exhibited when Muller came forth with his version was in large part just relief that he didn’t go off on a tangent, coupled with disappointment from many on the skeptic side.

  5. #5 Tom Fuller
    United States
    2017/07/08

    Dr. Tobis, your interest in economics should be matched by more study.

    I for one fail to understand why you do not employ energy consumptiion as a proxy for CO2. There are a variety of reasons to do so, many of them economic.

    Energy consumption tracks CO2 now, something you wish to change. Monitoring it would be a better measure of success with your proposed polices, as CO2 concentrations will continue to increase even with decreased emissions, something you point out in your post at ATTP.

    A focus on energy consumption would also allow you to experiment with different mixes in the portfolio of fuels used by different regions and countries, something that would again allow you to shape events to meet your goals.

    Of course you want to reduce CO2 emissions as quickly as possible. But given the uncertainties associated with measurement (the Keeling curve being the only agreed upon metric in all of climate science, or near enough as to make no difference), switching your attention to what causes those emissions, something that is an order of magnitude easier to measure and monitor, would benefit your cause greatly.

  6. #6 MMM
    2017/07/09

    I think that the key sentence in the post is:

    “But that means the other half of his assertion must be wrong: the marginal benefits, now, are greater than the future costs.”

    In my opinion, MT is right if he limits himself to talking about marginal changes in emissions, and Stoat is right if he limits himself to talking about emissions in aggregate, and the key issue is that the costs to society of reductions in GHG production are very non-linear: we could easily absorb a 10% reduction in emissions tomorrow

    [Ah, I’ll interrupt you here, because I think you are right. This is probably what mt meant. At least, I can agree that the marginal cost of reducing emissions from present isn’t large -W]

    without much lifestyle impact besides a few high flyers curbing their conspicuous consumption, if done right

    [That, too sounds like what mt is thinking of. But isn’t it rather heavily idealised? We have no benign dictator capable of picking and choosing which emissions to suppress. You don’t get to say that Gore flying off to the Arctic wasn’t really necessary, so we can save a few tons there with no loss. Instead, you get rather blunter policies (I’d favour a carbon tax, as I’ve said before) and it is the cost of those you have to consider.

    That may also explain why mt is so ready to believe that future costs may already overwhelm the benefits, because he regards the benefits of marginal emissions as frippery. Again, I don’t think that will survive out in the real world -W]

    (in fact, I’d argue there are probably some reductions that you can get at negative cost, ala the canonical McKinsey CO2 reduction MAC curve which may over-egg the pudding a bit, but I do believe there is something there), but eventually, if you reduce fast enough and hard enough, you start destabilizing food transport and air conditioning necessary for health during heat waves and other necessities. And in between, there are more complex costs that may not be life/basic infrastructure threatening, but are still costs that are relevant (e.g., visiting family when they live in different countries).

    So the question is not “is the net present value of the damage of a marginal ton of CO2 greater than the net present benefit of a marginal ton of CO2 emissions” (or rather, that is the initial question, but in my opinion, the answer is clearly yes), but “after how much CO2 reduction, will the net cost of an additional ton of reductions be more than the damage of that ton of emissions” (along with follow-on questions regarding next year’s emissions, and next decade’s emissions, and what investments we should make today to make the marginal cost of reduction tomorrow lower).

    One way to think about this is, if we set a global carbon tax equal to the social cost of carbon (let’s call it $100/ton), how much reductions would we get next year? More than zero, less than 100%, clearly. I’d guesstimate around 10%, maybe more (especially if we get rid of fossil fuel subsidies at the same time)? But if we maintained the tax (increasing with inflation) it would also spur more investment in low and non-CO2 options, and the percent reduction would increase. If the tax increased at the Hotelling rate (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotelling%27s_rule) the tax would increase more quickly and emissions would fall faster.

    (hmm. now I’m wondering if anyone has though rigorously about the implication of “declining discount rates”, which is the Weitzman realization about Ramsey discount rates in an uncertain future, and the Hotelling Rule… my guess is that while the SCC should be calculated with a declining discount rate, the increase in the SCC year-over-year would be the short-term discount rate every year)

  7. #7 Tom Fuller
    United States
    2017/07/09

    I was with you, MMM, until you introduced the Social Cost of Carbon. It’s a nebulous concept at best and even if done well explicitly ignores the social cost of reducing carbon.

  8. #8 MMM
    2017/07/09

    Tom: The “social cost of carbon” is just another term for the “net present damages resulting from emissions of a marginal ton of carbon”, so I don’t see it as a “nebulous concept”. Now, I’ll agree that determining a good dollar value to use for the SCC is a difficult task. The National Academies recently released recommendations for one approach (http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=24651), but there are others who argue for a “top down” estimate rather than the “bottom up” type approach advocated by the National Academies (and generally used in the most widely cited numbers to date).

    “The social cost of reducing carbon” is a term that I’ve seen thrown around occasionally, but I have never seen a rigorous attempt to define it. I would imagine most of the “cost” of reducing a marginal ton of carbon is not an externality, and therefore shouldn’t be called a “social cost”. (again, there’s a difference between talking the impacts of marginal tons of abatement, versus, say, 30+ percent reductions from BAU: the latter type of policy could start having non-linear effects on the economy beyond just higher prices & additional taxes).

  9. #9 Tim Worstall
    2017/07/09

    Well, this is rather sorta true:

    “My point is that the marginal cost of each additional unit of carbon emitted, which takes a very long time to accrue, may already exceed the marginal benefit of that unit, which is immediate.”

    That’s why discount rates. Because we humans – whether we should or not but we do – value things now more than we do in the far future.

    In fact, isn’t that what the Stern Review found? That the future problems of emissions are larger than the current benefits? Isn’t that in fact the entire problem there in its entirety?

    If emissions didn’t cost more in the future than the current benefits then we wouldn’t actually have any problem with climate change nor emissions in the first place.

    But we must then bring discount rates into it to find out by how much this is true.

  10. #10 Fergus Brown
    Somewhere over the rainbow
    2017/07/09

    I think there is a layer missing in both mt’s analysis and your observations.

    Why do we think that GW is a bad thing? Because it hurts people. Now, in the near future and further out – it’s a progressive malaise. Eventually, everyone is going to be affected some.

    We tend to assume that other people broadly share our moral compass and would also acknowledge that avoidable suffering is bad, and that causing it, and not preventing it, is not nice.

    Unfortunately, the people who advocate for CO2 inaction do not share this view. (Use whichever label you see as best) The Post-Randian modern era fascists who seem intent on pursuing their ongoing manifest destiny don’t give a shit for anyone else, and don’t care about suffering, if it isn’t them doing it.

    [That’s an extreme version, but isn’t untrue -W]

    Bluntly, millions of poor black people dying somewhere else is, to them, not a bad thing, but a good thing – it means there’s more exploitable stuff left for whoever survives. The assumption that human mortality is to be be avoided does not exist for many of the Red Team.

    My feeling? I’m with John Brunner (The Sheep Look Up) – the best solution to the vast waste, pollution, exploitation and injustice is not to dispose of the poorest, but to cull the richest. He pointed out in the early seventies that much of the injustice of the world could be levelled out by nuking California.

    That’s a bit extreme as a solution, but the point is there – the problem is not the 99%, it’s the 1%, and those who aspire to be amongst them.

    Just a thought.

    [The problem you have is turning your thought into a universal morality. You might, like all the nice people you know, agree that caring about other people is good and a duty, and that forming policy that doesn’t care about other people is bad. But what if people disagree with you? One solution is to label them bad and burn them at the stake, but it’s hard to call that moral, either -W]

  11. #11 mt
    the thawing tundra
    2017/07/09

    I don’t think you’ve answered my objection to your objection.

    If negative net benefit implies that an immediate cessation of emissions is optimum. doesn’t positive net benefit equally imply no restraint on emission? Consequently doesn’t that imply either no restraint or an abrupt termination as the only optimal possibilities?

    Your reductio ad absurdum bounces back to you – if it applies, it applies to your claim as well as to mine. You haven’t responded to that.

    [I “ducked” your objection because I think it became irrelevant. Did you read my reply to MMM? I think he has explicated the difficulty and clarified your meaning -W]

    [For convenience, and in case you missed it, I’ll repeat part of my reply to you: I think the problem is that you said that your words implied that an economist would deduce from your premises that all emissions should cease. I (now) think that you are wrong: you simply misunderstood what an economist would deduce. But at the time, not knowing quite what you were trying to say, I took as read that your deduction was correct, as an aide to parsing your words -W]

  12. #12 ...and Then There's Physics
    2017/07/09

    As Tim has already essentially said, we do estimate the social cost of carbon, which is essentially the future damage/costs discounted to today. The ideal economic pathway would – as I understand it – be to then impose this as carbon tax which should (theoretically) lead to the optimal future pathway.

    There are, however, a couple of things that I think are worth bearing in mind. If we pay a carbon tax, we’re not paying to avoid some future damage, we are paying for damage that will actually occur (assuming that we can actually determine this, but let’s take that as given). Also, climate change is global – the damage is not guaranteed to occur in the same region where the emissions occur. In other words, those who pay the costs may not be those who have benefitted from the emissions (or be the descendent of those who benefitted).

    So, unless I’m missing something (which is always possible) an economically optimal pathway could be one in which the developed/wealthy world continues to emit CO2 into the atmosphere (while paying a carbon tax for doing so) while the developing world (or poorer regions) suffer the damages and pay the costs.

    It may well be that there is no other viable pathway that would produce an objectively better outcome. However, this doesn’t seem to be a good argument for ignoring that the wealthy could essentially be choosing to benefit at the expense of the poor.

    [Yes, I think this is a genuine problem, as I’ve acknowledged before. Most discussions of carbon tax avoid it, because it’s all a bit messy. When I say I’ve acked it, I don’t mean I’ve proposed any solution; just that I think it is comparatively less important so should be ignored for the moment -W]

    Okay, I’ve stepped into an economic argument and may well have blundered. If I have, feel free to point out where.

    [I think there’s another thing to say about the carbon tax, which is that it is economically meaningful even if the future costs are less than present benefits. The (as I understand it) economic point of the tax is to internalise externalities (echoing Timmy, though last time I said this Tol disagreed with me). So, for example, if process X produces widgets that cost $A and B tonnes of CO2, you want to be able to “compare” (that is to say, you want the market to compare, by examining the relative prices) that against process Y that produces the widgets for cost $C and D tonnes of CO2 -W]

  13. #13 ...and Then There's Physics
    2017/07/09

    I agree with you about internalising externalities and about being able to properly compare the total costs of various alternative processes, but I’m not sure that this is correct.

    I think there’s another thing to say about the carbon tax, which is that it is economically meaningful even if the future costs are less than present benefits.

    As I understand it, the current price is largely set by the immediate/current benefits.

    [Yeeees…, well the price is set by what people are prepared to pay for it, of course. And what they are prepared to pay bears a relation to the benefits they get -W]

    Therefore, any future cost

    [No, that’s where you’ve lost me. How can you imply *anything* about the cost, from the benefit? They’re just disconnected -W]

    has to be an extra cost and hence – by definition, I think – means that the total costs exceed the benefits (I think this is what Timmy was suggesting). I think that the only way that the future costs could be less than the present benefits is if the currents costs already exceed the present benefits by an amount greater than the future, discounted costs. That would, however, then (I think) suggest that the market has already failed (given that we haven’t yet properly tried to internalise the externalities).

    [I’m not sure that I understand your point at all. Maybe we could try another version of it: imagine a product that can be produced in different ways, some of which involve an externality, but the cost of that externality is immeadiate, not future (acid rain from sulphates is close to this; not quite immeadiate, but near-term). All the complicated stuff about “future costs” then goes away. The price of the thing is then either the raw price, or it is the price plus externalities. Why would either of these have to be greater, or less, than the costs? Why isn’t it possble, in theory, for the externality costs to be really very small? -W]

  14. #14 willard (@nevaudit)
    On the Intertubes
    2017/07/09

    > But we must then bring discount rates into it to find out by how much this is true.

    Economists still open their cans by positing can openers.

    There’s no discount rate to “find out.” In part because like climate sensitivity we only can establish a very rough ballpark, and in part because, like interest rates, it’s a human decision.

    Moreover, MT’s point has very little to do with “finding out” any discount rate. Take whatever you want and it’s still correct. Being infinitely richer on the brink of collapse won’t help much.

    This should be enough to hammer in that risks matter more than costs, but let’s add this other point.

    MT’s argument doesn’t imply we absolutely should get to a zero-carbon economy RIGHT NOW. The solutions should carry less risks than BAU, since that’s what they try to reduce. ASAP ought to be enough for anyone with a mosicum of good faith.

    Getting a specific day and time won’t prevent Freedom Fighters to join contrarians in raising endless concerns.

  15. #15 ...and Then There's Physics
    2017/07/09

    WMC,
    Ahh, actually, maybe I’m wrong about this
    Therefore, any future cost has to be an extra cost and hence – by definition, I think – means that the total costs exceed the benefits (I think this is what Timmy was suggesting).
    It is possible, I guess, that the current plus future costs could be less than the current benefits. However, you would still want to include the future costs in order to properly compare alternative processes – this may be what you were originally saying.

    [Ah, yes, to both points. In that case, we’ve overlapped and you can ignore my convoluted attempt to understand your previous -W]

  16. #16 ...and Then There's Physics
    2017/07/09

    WMC,
    Since we’ve clarified my confusion, maybe you can clarify what you mean by this
    When I say I’ve acked it, I don’t mean I’ve proposed any solution; just that I think it is comparatively less important so should be ignored for the moment -W
    This would seem to be brushing a potentially very important moral issue under the carpet. How acceptable is it that we could have a scenario in which the wealthy regions of the world simply pay now for damages that will not only occur in the poorer parts of the world and that these poorer regions will pay for. Unless I’m mistaken, the revenue from a carbon tax will not actually be used to cover the cost of the damages, it will simply be used to properly compare the costs of different alternative processes.

    [I think this is a whole other can of worms. My feeling – and no more than this – is that ultimately it isn’t a big problem, though I could easily see it being a big issue. The reason is that the poor world also gains a lot from rich world emissions. See-also http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2017/05/05/4698/ -W]

  17. #17 Tom Fuller
    United States
    2017/07/09

    Dr. Tobis writes, “If negative net benefit implies that an immediate cessation of emissions is optimum. doesn’t positive net benefit equally imply no restraint on emission? ‘

    Big if. A negative net benefit doesn’t necessarily imply immediate cessation because the cessation part is not free, not equally implied and imposes social costs as well as physical.

    [See other comments. I think this is all a confusion between *total* (present) emissions and *marginal* (present) emissions -W]

  18. #18 Tom Fuller
    United States
    2017/07/09

    sorry. ‘cessation part is not free, not equally implied ‘ s/b applied

  19. #19 Tom Fuller
    United States
    2017/07/09

    Sorry wc, your comment in parens, do you mean total and marginal emissions or benefits? Or costs? ….

    [Not sure exactly which one you mean, but I think this is all a confusion between total and marginal. As explained by MMM. See above: mt (I think) really meant that present marginal benefits of emitting extra CO2 were greater than the future marginal costs of same. He erred in thinking that this meant economists would think *all* emissions should suddenly cease, what he meant was that those marginal emissions should cease. This, of course, is easily seen if we have a carbon tax set at the level of the future costs; then those marginal emissions that exceeded their present benefits, plus the added tax costs, would cease; whereas those more valuable “baseload (maintaining our civilisation)” emissions would continue -W]

  20. #20 angech
    2017/07/09

    what does a carbon tax do?

    [It makes things that cause CO2 emissions to reflect their “true” price – with inevitable imperfections – thus allowing the market to sort out the solution, without anyone having to interfere -W]

    It reduces spending on heating, cooling, transport, food production, food transport, and communication.
    All things that make life slightly bearable as it is.
    Not only do I get less internet, less avocado smash with my coffee bu the poor people who grow the coffee beans and the truck drivers who transport them will be out of work.
    While this is perfectly fine for the 65 year old superannuants among us, a lot of them I note, it is of no consolation to the majority of the everyday workers [millions and millions] in a thousand big cities around the globe who toil all day in cafes, who have horrible 2 hour transports to and from work and for whom a drop in wages and living conditions would be catastrophic.
    Which is what any tax encourages.
    Why not speak up for population growth control and use our one off fossil fueled science spike to develop both sustainable populations in a humanistic way and develop energy sources better?

  21. #21 Steve Bloom
    SF Bay ARrhea
    2017/07/09

    The discount rate concept has the fundamental problem of implying a point in the not-far-off future when the value of humanity and all its works goes to zero.

    I’m happy to use carbon pricing as a form of regulation to efficiently raise funds for getting off carbon while somewhat discouraging its use, but that’s the extent of it.

    Attempts to calculate a social cost of carbon based are at root immoral.

    [I think that’s a badly misguided way of thinking. Not just wrong, but also politically inept -W]

    We need to get off the black stuff as fast as our collective little legs will carry us.

    See here for the correct approach.

    Economics can still very useful in terms of charting out the fastest feasible path to getting off fossil fuels.

  22. #22 Steve Bloom
    SF Bay ARrhea
    2017/07/09

    insert “on discounting*

    Yes, it may be more accurate to refer to the damage function, but whatever.

    I don’t even like Stern’s more recent SCC, but regardless note the lack of a rush to utilize it.

  23. #23 Hank Roberts
    essential reference material
    2017/07/09

    > See here for the correct approach.

    Please, if you’re in contact with those folks, convince them that their description of their work fails: “laser-focused” is not a thing. Because physics.

    That sort of description of their work makes me wonder how much of the rest of the project thinking is incoherent*.
    ____________
    *Yes, that was a physics joke.

  24. #24 Mal Adapted
    Not at either pole
    2017/07/10

    angech:

    what does a carbon tax do?

    It reduces spending on heating, cooling, transport, food production, food transport, and communication.
    All things that make life slightly bearable as it is.

    Sorry to hear your life is almost unbearable, but you’re making a strawman argument. You’re assuming that ‘a’ carbon tax removes the revenue from the economy, and that the price of carbon-neutral energy remains constant.

    Any carbon tax would reduce fossil fuel producer profit margins and make carbon-neutral sources more competitive at their current prices. A revenue-neutral carbon tax like CF&D, however, leaves the revenue in private hands, available for re-investment in carbon-neutral energy sources and infrastructure, bringing energy prices down over time.

    Meanwhile, the periodic dividend checks coming out of CF&D allow the reduction in spending on fossil energy to be matched by an increase in spending on carbon-neutral energy. If you aren’t using more fossil fuel than the national average, your sad life should be no less bearable.

    If OTOH you are using more fuel than the national average, maybe your life is a little too bearable.

  25. #25 mt
    Somewhere near Canoe Lake, channeling Tom Thomson
    2017/07/10

    “See above: mt (I think) really meant that present marginal benefits of emitting extra CO2 were greater than the future marginal costs of same.”

    That’s backwards at best. I certainly think present marginal benefits of extra CO2 emissions are *less* than future marginal costs of the same.

    “He erred in thinking that this meant economists would think *all* emissions should suddenly cease, ”

    I never dreamed of such a thing until you brought it up as a refutation not only of what I’m saying but also as cause to mock it.

    I’m finding we are drifting further and further from clarity.

    Let me reiterate that my claim is not on the margin but at the aggregate. You suggest:

    “So he isn’t talking about “marginal” in terms of increases-in-emissions-over-present-emission-levels. He really does mean that each unit of CO2 emitted now may be doing more harm than good.”

    That’s a bit too strong. I do think the aggregate of all CO2 emissions may already have a net negative benefit, and will surely soon do so.

    But even if I had claimed that EVERY BIT of CO2 had a net negative benefit (which I didn;t and don’t claim) I don’t see how this follows:

    “Suppose it is true. In which case, we should stop emitting it. Now; immeadiately [sic].”

    I do not see why this follows. We agree that this absurd counterfactual would be catastrophic if it were somehow implemented. So we should not stop emitting immediately, because the act of cessation itself has costs, costs which rise rapidly with the abruptness of the cessation. Duh.

    [For the obvious reason: we should only do things that have net positive benefits. Why would you do a thing that has net negative? (Note: for these purposes, you need to either assume complete rationality or an economic system that does internalise future costs; but this is a thought experiment, so we can) -W]

    If I’m driving down a limited access highway and suddenly realize I have passed my exit, I must turn around. But the costs of my turning around instantly outweigh the costs of my continuing in the wrong direction to the next suitable exit. I don’t see what is difficult about this.

    If we have passed the exit, we should turn around and go the other way, in a way that is not so reckless as to be worse than going the wrong way in the first place. How you express this in economic terms perhaps escapes me. But it’s obvious, isn’t it?

    [Yes, that is true; but is it a good analogy? -W]

  26. #26 Tom Fuller
    United States
    2017/07/10

    Dr. Tobis, you don’t need economic jargon to express your thoughts. Your last paragraph did so quite well. It is clear.

  27. #27 Hank Roberts
    ah, here's the problem
    2017/07/10
  28. #28 Steve Bloom
    SF Bay ARrhea
    2017/07/10

    Ooh, la. Pretty much everything but an explicit hyperthermal. Read it and weep, kids.

    I see wmc’s inept and raise him a wealthy and cloistered. It probably hasn’t even occurred to him that there’s an alternative non-monetary means of costing emissions, i.e. via its impact on human health. IOW, priority goes to eliminating the emissions having the greatest deleterious effects on the most vulnerable populations. Think of it as cutting out the economic poppycock middleman.

    Indeed, the cap/trade system instituted in CA some time ago is even now in the process of being reformed to to reflect this alternative principle (which note has the further advantage of being integratable with air quality concerns). But we’re all inept here.

    (BTW, I see in the linked article a mention that Hansen has abandoned carbon tax advocacy in favor of CCS. Interesting if so.)

  29. #29 Fergus Brown
    Back again
    2017/07/10

    I’m with you that extreme partisanship in any direction is not much use. Crusades generally do not end well.

    The Universal Morality more or less already exists, in the form of matter such as the treaty of Rome and the UNDHR. Then there’s religion (not for me, but for many around the world). We tend (as have you and mt) to assume some kind of rational utilitarian model around the ideas that harm should be avoided and/or benefit encouraged.

    If some people exhibit sociopathic, xenophobic or narcissistic tendencies (kind of hard to avoid completely) the reminder needs to be flagged up that in the slowpocalyptic scenarios everyone loses, including them and their offspring.

    Of course burning at the stake is one solution, but so what? There are other kinds of naughty step. The purpose of the exercise is neither vindictiveness nor malice, but sidelining – making sure that these people aren’t setting the rules.

  30. #30 Phil Hays
    Americanistan
    2017/07/10

    Sail power for ships was the standard in 1827 when the first steamship crossed the Atlantic. By 1900 the majority of cargo was carried by steam ships. The last commercial cargo sailing ship might have been by the Passat, last profitable commercial cargo in 1946 or so. There are lots of other examples of major changes, they all seem to have taken on the order of 50 years or more to complete.

    Change isn’t instant. If the total cost (including indirect and delayed damages) of burning fossil fuels was twice that of alternatives such as solar, wind and nuclear power, it would still take on the order of 50 years to transition with a reasonable cost. And note that not all burning of fossil fuels has the same cost/benefit ratio.

    Consider one example. Currently much private transport is oil powered. A potential replacement is solar powered electric cars. Currently electric cars are less than 1% of all cars on the road, and about 1% of cars sold, and are doubling sales about every 4 years. Cars last about 12 years. Assuming that the current subsidies stay in place, or a replaced by a meaningful carbon tax, this growth rate might continue until most cars are electric. Majority of sales in 5 doublings, or about 20 years. Majority of cars on the road about 12 years later. Reality is more complex, but optimistic assumptions gives 32 years to the half way point. The last oil burning car (excluding collector’s and such) might well be a century from now.

    Once we decide that carbon fuels are a net loss, expect the change to non-carbon energy to take many decades.

  31. #31 mt
    a well-insulated condo in a pedestrian neighbourood
    2017/07/10

    WMC “(Note: for these purposes, you need to either assume complete rationality or an economic system that does internalise future costs; but this is a thought experiment, so we can)”

    Note back: I assume no such thing. I was discussing the actual situation. I’m sure there’s an idealization under which no such mistake is possible, but that is not a useful model of our circumstances, is it? I mean, that’s exactly my claim.

    Your argument that we could not make such a mistake because it would be a mistake isn’t one I find compelling. I certainly don’t think it justifies mocking my position!

    [You still don’t understand what I’m saying. And I’m not mocking your position. I’m trying to understand it. Which, as I’ve said several times already, I now think I do, and agree -W]

  32. #32 Bob Loblaw
    2017/07/11

    Late to the show:
    WC asks [For the obvious reason: we should only do things that have net positive benefits. Why would you do a thing that has net negative?

    Why do a net negative? Well, if all the realistic, feasible alternatives are worse, it might still be a good idea.

    Economics 101: why would a large company with several factories, some turning a profit, continue to run an old factory that is losing money? Answer: because shutting it down loses even more money.

    [In that case, shutting it down [keeping it running] isn’t a net negative, considered as a delta from your current position -W]

    Fixed costs don’t go away when you shut it down, but all the revenue it generates will. If revenue exceeds non-fixed costs of running the place, you’re better off with it running, until you can find a way to decommission it or sell it and make the fixed costs go away, too.

  33. #33 Phil Hays
    Americanistan
    2017/07/11

    And again, if the science is to be challenged by a Red team trying to show that the threat is overstated, why no challenge by a White team trying to show that aspects of the threat are understated? Seems unbiased, and all-American.

    [:-) -W]

  34. #34 Julian Frost
    2017/07/11

    I’m going to have to comment here.

    Currently electric cars are less than 1% of all cars on the road, and about 1% of cars sold, and are doubling sales about every 4 years. Cars last about 12 years.

    Electric cars last far longer.

  35. #35 Paul Kelly
    2017/07/11

    Have no fear. The energy revolution is under way. It can’t be stopped. https://qz.com/1024520/renewable-energy-is-becoming-so-cheap-the-us-will-meet-paris-commitments-even-if-trump-withdraws/

    [This is a good thing. But it is not, of course, a call for govt subsidies -W]

  36. #36 Andrew Dodds
    2017/07/11

    Julian – Electric cars have the same (or similar) bodywork, suspension, running gear, interior electronics, chassis, brakes, etc as ICE cars. Although the actual powertrain may last longer, that’s not the only factor in the life of a car.

  37. #37 Phil Hays
    Americanistan
    2017/07/11

    > This is a good thing. But it is not, of course, a call for govt subsidies -W

    No, it is the result of government subsidies.

    [It is a result of many things, some of which were govt subsidies. In particular, asserting that govt subsidies for renewables have been overall a successful policy is, I think, dubious -W]

  38. #38 Phil Hays
    Americanistan
    2017/07/11

    #34 Electric cars might last longer, but when looking at a rapidly growing fraction of cars being electric that is a small factor in the phaseout. If sales double every four years, then half of the electric cars are less than 4 years old, a quarter are less than 8 years old, a eighth are less than 12 years old. Only a tiny fraction might be impacted by longer (or shorter) lives.

    #37 Powertrain is indeed a small part of a car’s useful life.

    BTW: Brakes last far longer in an electric as much braking is done with regeneration.

  39. #39 Hank Roberts
    ah, here's the problem
    2017/07/11

    The gas company where my mother lived is now offering free installation (trench and pipe from the street to the house) if you’ll just change the house over to gas from electric or fuel oil home heating. Or coal, I suppose.

  40. #40 angech
    2017/07/12

    Phil, it is not just cars, it is trucks planes and ships, All needing power input day and night. You would need to cover so much of the planet with solar panels we would not be able to grow crops.
    OK, only hyperbole.
    Electricity is not free, plugging in does not mean you will only get it from renewables and their is a cost in transport. The bigger the load the bigger and heavier the battery.
    The same problem as with carbon capture.
    You have to waste more of your precious energy and resources on the methods trying to reduce your energy and resources.
    Health impacts.
    7 billion people alive even because of the benefits of coal. Who would have thought that more lives and living longer means less life and living shorter?
    Not to knock the damage to brains ( lead in the past) and lungs or the simple road death statistics, 20000 RUssians killed last year and 40000 permanently injured and suffering extend to world situation.
    Seems you wish to convert a good win lose ratio into a bad one.

  41. #41 Bob Loblaw
    2017/07/12

    WC:[In that case, shutting it down isn’t a net negative, considered as a delta from your current position -W]

    I don’t follow your logic. Let me put some numbers on (made up) to clarify my position:

    Acme Ltd. has 10 factories. When they built number 7, it was making a $200K profit, based on $1M/year in fixed costs (capital investment, etc), $400K/year in non-fixed costs (labour, materials, etc.), and $1.6M/year in revenue from selling the product. Building the factory was a rational decision.

    Today, prices have dropped, and factory 7 only generates $1.2M revenue, but costs have not changed. Each year, Acme loses $200K to run the factory. Compared to the original position, the factory is a poorer deal. For the accountants, factory 7 is “net negative” to Acme’s bottom line. Is it rational to keep it running?

    A bean-counter wants to shut the factory down. Someone points out that if money is the purpose, then shutting it down avoids $400K in non-fixed costs (fire everyone), but leaves $0 revenue because there is no product to sell. The $1M fixed cost remains, so now factory 7 bleeds $1M/year from Acme’s accounts. This is an even worse “net negative” than running the factory.

    Keeping the “net negative” factory running at a loss of $200K/year is a rational decision compared to shutting it down and losing 5x as much money.

    [Sorry, my comment was the wrong way round; I’ve corrected it. Keeping it running isn’t a net negative, as a delta on current. Shutting it down, in your hypothetical example, would be -W]

  42. #42 schnablo
    2017/07/12

    “He really does mean that each unit of CO2 emitted now may be doing more harm than good4. Pause to think about that. Suppose it is true. In which case, we should stop emitting it. Now; immeadiately.”
    Sure, but with each non-emitted unit the benefit per unit of the remaining ones will increase. Just like to a thirsty man ten bottles of water are not ten times as valuable as one bottle. Hypothetically, one could cancel units until a balance of cost and benefit is reached.

  43. #43 David B. Benson
    2017/07/12

    schnablo @ #42 — However, cost equals benefit when substantial net negative carbon dioxide emissions is reached.

  44. #44 Tim Worstall
    2017/07/13

    “There are, however, a couple of things that I think are worth bearing in mind. If we pay a carbon tax, we’re not paying to avoid some future damage, we are paying for damage that will actually occur (assuming that we can actually determine this, but let’s take that as given). Also, climate change is global – the damage is not guaranteed to occur in the same region where the emissions occur. In other words, those who pay the costs may not be those who have benefitted from the emissions (or be the descendent of those who benefitted).

    So, unless I’m missing something (which is always possible) an economically optimal pathway could be one in which the developed/wealthy world continues to emit CO2 into the atmosphere (while paying a carbon tax for doing so) while the developing world (or poorer regions) suffer the damages and pay the costs.”

    Umm, no.

    Our aim is to maximise the aggregate utility of people over time. so, we wish people to stop doing things today which cause more costs in the future than they bring benefits today. Discount rates yadda yadda. But we also want people to *continue* doing things which bring more benefits than they will produce problems in the future.

    As an example, using Stern’s numbers (you can change the numbers as you like, the logic remains) the future damage from one litre of petrol is 11 pence. Is it worth 11 pence for me to drive for fresh bread? Quite possibly not, I’ll cycle if I am charged the 11 pence. Is it worth the ambulance driving around to save the pregnant woman with pre-eclampsia, thus saving two lives at the cost of 11 p worth of future damage? Hey, pollute away my man.
    How do we select between the two? We charge everyone the future damage they will cause. And, given that humans are often at least reasonably logical and respond to incentives, the behaviours with more damage than benefit will stop, those with more benefit will continue.

    We’re not trying to make people “pay” for anything. We’re trying to get the costs into prices so that people will consider those costs in their decision making.

    [Our aim is to maximise the aggregate utility of people over time: but, in the real world, it is not unreasonable to object to that. Because of the obvious inhomogeneities under discussion. If maximising aggregate utility enriches the West at the expense of Africa, say, why should they agree? If it enriches the present at the expense of the future, ditto -W]

  45. #45 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2017/07/13

    If, as Tom Fuller asserts, Steve Mosher remains a luckwarmer, then, as others point out luckwarmer has lost its meaning. The evolution of Steve’s take on climate change has been an interesting one.

  46. #46 Tom Fuller
    United States
    2017/07/13

    Mosh hasn’t changed–he’ll still take the under on the ECS 3C bet.

    Two things have changed: First, the administration. Now that skeptics have more power, it makes sense to go after them. They’ve always been just as wrong as you,Eli–but they didn’t matter at the time.

    I’ll let you figure out what the second thing was.

  47. #47 Bob Loblaw
    2017/07/14

    “Keeping it running isn’t a net negative, as a delta on current. Shutting it down, in your hypothetical example, would be -W]”

    Well, if you define negative and positive on just what is happening now and how it changes in the short term future, then I suppose.

    I think a good deal of the problem is deciding over what time scale to calculate the +/- effects, and how to estimate/weight the future ones.

    In the (full) example I gave, a decision that was clearly net positive in the early days became a relative net negative in the second stage. At some point, the future usually becomes the present.

  48. #48 Raymond Arritt
    2017/07/14

    The most interesting thing about this “red team, blue team” nonsense will be to see who the team members are. The only way to win a game like this is not to play, but unfortunately people keep taking the bait. A recent example is the Bill Nye – Ken Ham “debate.”

    Does anyone know how the teams will be decided? Will they ask for volunteers, or will they assign govt employees to each “team”? It would be great if no one agreed to serve on the blue team. (Following the red/blue state template I’m assuming the good guys will be the blue team.)

    [I agree that’s the most exciting aspect. I wasn’t expecting an explicit “blue team” – I think that’s just the IPCC and all the “normal” scientists. I was expecting the “red team” to be the likes of Curry, Michaels, Lindzen if they can drag him out of retirement, Christy, and so on. And maybe a few folk like Dyson?

    TBH, I was expecting the fun to be watching various not-really-respectable folk trying to get onto the “red team” -W

  49. #49 Hank Roberts
    https://hankroberts.wordpress.com
    2017/07/14

    “If you make losing a sin, you make cheating a sacrament.”

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.