Who Should Pay for Solar Geoengineering Liability?

A question raised by the normally sensible Geoengineering Politics. They come to an odd conclusion:

any damages caused by SRM [Solar Radiation Management, I believe - W] would essentially be the negative side effects of a response measure intended to remediate harms caused by excessive fossil fuel use, and fossil fuel companies have been the primary direct beneficiaries of this activity, it stands to reason that they should be the ones to pay for its cleanup

and offer an analogy:

This is precisely how the international oil spill liability regime works--the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds, financed exclusively by oil companies, have paid out more than $700 million in compensation since 1978

Now there is a problem with this analogy, or rather two. The first and most obvious is that oil spills are caused directly by the oil companies, and dealing with them is a cost of their operation (or they could tighten up their procedures and spill less, which would also cost, but differently). You could argue that paying for SRM is analogous to paying for oil spills, but paying for getting it wrong is stretching things a bit. If some (company, or govt) puts up mirror-satellites to reduce incoming solar, and accidentally fries Australia, is that really the fault of those who put the CO2 in the atmosphere? This is perhaps part of the fun that things like geoengineering will inevitably lead to. After all, GW will have benefits as well as costs, so sorting out whether those who would have benefited are allowed to sue those who prevented that benefit would be fun.

The second problem is that spilling fuel is a consequence of extracting or transporting oil, but not a necessary consequence. Thus its reasonable to expect the companies to minimise it, and to fine (or otherwise force them to pay up to clear up the mess) if they do spill. Whereas emitting CO2 (most fossil fuel is inevitably going to get burned at some point in its use cycle) is essentially a necessary consequence of extracting and selling fuels.

I'm also dubious about the assertion that in regard to excessive fossil fuel use, ... fossil fuel companies have been the primary direct beneficiaries of this activity. As I said before, I think the primary beneficiary has been the consumer of the fossil fuels, not the companies.

In other news

* The Free Speech Brigade Suppresses Free Speech - Barry Bickmore tries to pin down the jelly that is people who feel "unease" about the Mann-vs-Steyn lawsuit, and finds that even Professor Stephen L. Carter, of the Yale Law School is quite wibbly-wobbly and finds great trouble in saying what he really means. Which isn't very surprising, because he's trying to defend the indefensible.
* ATTP offers A quick science lesson for Lord Lawson who is (as you'd expect of anyone associated with the GWPF) in desperate need of education. Which brings us neatly on to
* Tamino, who finds "skeptics" who are Making up stuff. There's a common thread to all this, no?

Speaking of utter drivel, I found Derek CAVEMAN SCIENTIST desperately trying to understand the GHE. Well, not even that really: he's trying to understand the simplified 1-layer atmosphere model. But he can't do maths, and doesn't appear to understand what all the squiggly symbols are, so he's doomed. Its more sad than anything else.

Update: another view

So, my conclusion was that we're unlikely to try geoengineering any tmie soon: even if we could get the physical problems out of the way, there are massive legal ones too. However, DA points out another side of the issue: if we do once start geoengineering, are we likely to just stop at just fixing up problems?

More like this

I generally agree with you.

As for who should pay if geoengineering goes wrong? I vote Nathan Myhrvold

By carrot eater (not verified) on 13 Feb 2014 #permalink

I think I find this whole "who to blame" or "who should pay" issue complex. I think I agree with your general point that blaming the oil companies is way too simplistic. We're consumers and we have some power to make decisions as to how we consume. I appreciate that it's not that trivial but arguing that the fossil fuel companies are the main beneficiaries is - I would argue - even more simplistic.

I think if I ever do consider who to blame it will be our policy makers who seem quite willing to listen to non-experts when it comes to climate science rather than the experts themselves. I have this sense that sometime in the future we'll look back on this era and think "what the devil were they doing?"

To be honest, I haven't really come to grips with the various policy options, or the various options about what we should do and how we should pay for it. I would be quite pleased if we (our policy makers, at least) stopped giving undue credence to those who seem to be arguing that things are very uncertain (i.e., can't do anything yet) or that climate sensitivity - for example - is more low than high. If we could get that far, I'd have more confidence that policy makers were at least starting to consider the significance of climate science and that they might start at least making decisions based on credible evidence rather than the evidence that seems more convenient.

I guess, after all that, at the end of the day it's a global, societal problem and looking at who to blame or who should pay is somewhat missing the point - in my opinion at least.

[I really think the "who is to blame" formulation is doomed and should be avoided. People and/or companies and/or nations just aren't going to pay "reparations" for CO2, and anyway look how well reparations worked last time. But it is interesting, I think, that the risk of being sued for the consequences of geoengineering exists, and this is bound to affect people's attitudes to being the one to actually try it.

Oh, but as I've said elsewhere, I'm not really happy with blaming policymakers either. I know this too is hard to disentangle - what policymakers say does affect what people think - but on balance I go for "you (the people as a whole) get the politicians you vote for" -W]

By And Then There… (not verified) on 13 Feb 2014 #permalink

Solar geoengineering strikes me as a potential weapon of mass destruction, accidental or intentional. The truth is that we know very little about the chaotic forces that shape the Earth's climate.

Someday in the distant future we may face the need to skillfully use solar geoengineering to manage Earth's climate, but not now. There is no looming climate crisis. There is serious scientific question about the significance of the role of man-made CO2 in global warming. This needs to be resolved before we commit to multi-trillion dollar long range policies.

I'm not saying there is no place for research. I'm saying it would be very wise to put this genie back in the bottle.

By Gerald Wilhite (not verified) on 13 Feb 2014 #permalink

Perhaps the caveman scientist needs Phil Hartman, caveman lawyer.

By Garhighway (not verified) on 13 Feb 2014 #permalink

Let me try my best to totally piss WMC off!

Of all the blogs, exhibiting a greenshirt bias, Stoat is the one most intellectually engaging and most free from the hive's group-think, trough-obsessed, carbon-piggie-hypocrite, party-line compliant, iron-fist, PC-gotcha eco-orthodoxy. Totally unlike wotts' passive-aggressive, I'm-the-boss-show-off!! (what's with you lefty, teeny-tiny-peepee-weenies and your pathetic need to play at being the assertive, macho-nerd bad-ass, anyway?) , dorks-on-a-roll blog-refuge ("And Then There's Physics") for lefty-loser, hive-bozo mutant-assholes who can't make it on "Climate etc." or, even, Deltoid, if you can believe such a thing!

Judging by the limited number of comments this Stoat blog receives, it is an undeservedly neglected "voice" in the "climate wars". Best to respect , preserve, and patronize a worthy opponent, however crabby, ill-tempered, and prickly the gadfly disputant (somehow I don't think you'll take exception with that description of you, WMC--but I could be wrong) might be--especially when of WMC's superb quality.

The blog rates four and 1/2 stars. I "gig" this blog 1/2 star for not taking wotts to task for being such a wishy-washy, school-marmish, old-biddy nag.

[How kind of you. I'd also point you at James Annan, who is often quite outspoken about the sci estab. But alas he posts infrequently. Re that parvenu Wotts: I'm very impressed by what he's managed to achieve. I think there's a whole post in what I think re comment numbers, so I won't expand here just yet -W]

The Caveman Scientist is a hoot. A finer example of the "All those crazy scientists are wrong and I'm right!" crackpot you will seldom see.

>"Whereas emitting CO2 (most fossil fuel is inevitably going to get burned at some point in its use cycle) is essentially a necessary consequence of extracting and selling fuels."

Doesn't this make it essentially like selling cigarettes or products with major faults that can do serious harm?

[Well, in a sense, yes. But that analogy doesn't really help those who dislike the oil companies. The fag companies are liable because they strongly pushed fags even when their own internal testing showed strong evidence of harm which they suppressed from the public sphere (I simplify). Once that evidence was public, they aren't liable any more. In contrast, the harm from CO2 is widely known and widely discussed. Oil companies have in the past played a role in FUD (Exxon was bad in the old days) but never (AFAIK) in suppression (how could they? Except indirectly, as in suppression-by-confusion) -W]

We expect car companies to recall and fix cars that might have faulty brakes. Why not tobacco and oil companies?

[Because the product isn't "faulty" in that sense -W]

>"but paying for getting it wrong is stretching things a bit"
So liability for getting it wrong stays with the geoengineer but what if getting it right involves a lot of benefit and some adverse effects? It does include large-scale testing so maybe they are thinking of both.

Yes there is a bit of a difference between faulty car and selling fossil fuels. The legal questions seem to be whether the damage is reasonably foreseeable and perhaps also sufficiently proximate. There is also the problem that while most of the CO2 is emitted before say 1990 then the damage is not mainly caused when the damage is reasonably foreseeable, let alone mainly caused by a particular company.

With tobacco, the government has set licencing standards. Does this get tobacco companies off the hook because govt has said it is ok to sell this product? With oil whatever standards have been set, 'most fossil fuel is inevitably going to get burned at some point in its use cycle' is likely to remain true.

[See above, ish. Once the knowledge-of-harm-from-fags is public, then you can't sue them for giving you lung cancer, because you knew. No-one ever sued the companies for the intrinsic harm of the product, they sued for lying about them. Oil companies by contrast are mostly silent -W]

Don't you think that there is an argument that tobacco and oil companies ought to be liable even if they can actually slither their way out of it? On this grounds I think it reasonable for govt to legislate to make oil companies liable for adverse effects of SRM. I would expect them to amend any price controls to allow them to increase their prices by the required amounts so it would be consumers who would pay for it. So I am not expecting a free ride just because I see reason to blame the oil companies.

[No, I really don't think so. Your "argument" far too readily lets Joe Public slither off the hook. There is a fairly obvious way for govts to handle the problem: a carbon tax -W]

What is clear is that if geoengineering is tried it will be by the Chinese and they have nuclear weapons. Good luck collecting

[Mmmm, certainly at the moment they have the central govt and casual attitude to Rule of Law that is required. They also, at the moment, have mind-boggling levels of smog which they really can't allow to get much worse or people will start dropping like flies in the street. So they're going to get some experience in dealing with this stuff -W]

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 13 Feb 2014 #permalink

@ no. 5

An apology, if I may wotts. I've re-visited your blog and find my characterization of it, above, was unfair and uncalled for. Your moderation style makes for a refreshingly well-mannered climate blog (a rarity). Please accept my sincere regrets.

Again, though, I would like to re-emphasize that the Stoat blog seems to me to be one of the most interesting of the climate blogs and I wish it got a better volume of commentary. That my more-or-less cartoonish, even clownish, comments survive moderation attest to WMC's tolerance for a variety of views.

But Mike, all the bunnies know that the Weasel trashes the real comments and writes his own.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 13 Feb 2014 #permalink



Thanks, I guess. I won't argue with you about Stoat's being one of the more interesting - I agree.

By And Then There… (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

Any talk of Climate Engineering (called Geoengineering by some) makes me nervous. Sounds costly and risky. And you are still stick with high levels of greenhouse gases, an acidic ocean and an altered plant-ecology.

Just as long as any Climate Engineering solution they come up with is able to be switched off if it all goes pear-shaped...

Well the one layer gray body is a rather poor model so no wonder caveman scientist is confused. A much better explanation is a convective-radiation model. Which at its simplest says that radiation escapes to space somewhere up in the atmosphere. Lapse rate sets the surface temperature. Even works for Venus...

[Why hello! Good to hear from you after all these years... -W]

By Simon Tett (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

>"[Because the product isn't "faulty" in that sense -W]"

Yep, it is worse! because it is a feature not a bug so not likely to be fixed. It could however be counterbalanced by some carbon sequestration.

[Indeed it could be. But its a product being legally sold and regulated. No-one can complain that govts are unaware of the consequences. I think the legal situation is quite clear: that if govts make no move to ban it, then the companies have no liabilities for selling it. Any more than you, personally, have any liability for burning it -W]

Do you have a sense where it is less or not faulty rather than worse? (Other than works as intended because that doesn't help when the works as intended causes the harm.)

Solar geoengineering is just a potential technical response to our unintentional greenhouse gas geoengineering that we have been carrying on for the last century.

If we do solar engineering, it will have to be of the same scale as global fossil fuel burning--no matter how one does it, there will be areas with major climate disruption.

You have the issue slightly wrong--right now we know that whatever mitigation measure we do will have bad consequences for someone. Using solar geo-engineering to mitigate CO2 is more like the situation where Exxon Valdez leaves port with a drunk captain and an inexperienced mate and a full load of oil--bad things will happen.

>"I think the legal situation is quite clear: that if govts make no move to ban it, then the companies have no liabilities for selling it. Any more than you, personally, have any liability for burning it"


don't seem to take that view. Do you think that is a obvious mistake that has got passed peer review?

[I'm pretty sure I said at the time that I thought Allen's piece was junk (here?). Note that its a commentary; if that was PR at all, it was done lightly, and I bet not by a lawyer. Its no more than the musings of one bloke, and has clearly never been tested against anyone who disagrees.

The second piece is a bit better, and does include my "but you know all about it point". It also mentions a lawsuit, which was going to demonstrate Allen's principles. Given that was back in 2004, and the suit wasn't won, I assume that's evidence that I'm correct.

On the legal points, though, I forgot inter-government liabilties. That could matter: arguably, the UK govt could declare that emitting CO2 is dangerous and hence illegal, and then could try to sue the Chinks for their emissions. Then you'd be under international, not national, law. International law is very weak -W]

> Your "argument" far too readily lets Joe Public slither off the hook.

"Any more than you, personally, have any liability for burning it -W]"

Now who is letting joe public off the hook? I think I made clear that I wasn't letting Joe public ff consumer off the hook but holding them accountable as well as ff companies as I was proposing that joe public ff consumer should pay for it.

You might be right that US companies have no liability for selling US regulated products. However given that the case took place, your 'quite clear' seems dubious. Also the paper indicates that English Law takes a more flexible approach.

So I am inclined to assume the case may well provide evidence of US law situation being as you indicate (maybe not so 'quite clear'ly) but that English law may be different.

I'm sorry to see no mention of the other half of geoengineering - Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). SRM ignores the issue of ocean acidification - so is subject to severe ethical criticism. SRM's claims of lower costs are not including the huge losses if we lose much ocean life. Some forms of CDR might want liability protection, but most should not need it.

By Ronal Larson (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

Pissing is a perfectly legal activity, pissing in the soup however exposes one to civil liability.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

I read the part about Mann's case. It helps to understand the issues if you have some legal background.

Prof. Carter's main point is if Mann wins what does that sort of precedent mean for the future of public discourse. In common law systems, i.e. US, once a court decision is made, it will have a ripple effect quite possibly reaching other free-speech areas.

For example the US enviro group NRDC sued the EPA for implementing a cap-and-trade system for conventional air pollutants. This case set the standards for how people can sue government agencies across the board, not just environmental agencies, but all government agencies. Carter's fear is public discourse could be limited in areas beyond just the facts of Mann's decision by a court decision in Mann's favor.

Carter also makes a valid point about the case probably settling and never going to trial. It's very rare for a case to go to trial. That's first year law student stuff.

It's not that I agree with what Carter was saying, it's more that I just understand what he is saying. I personally like to see a victory by Mann in the case books.

By Joseph O'Sullivan (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

I'm thinking of argument #7:
"... the defendant's cigarettes may have been a factor in the plaintiff's illness/death, but the plaintiff knew of the health risks and exercised free will in choosing to smoke and declining to quit." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2563590/

Similarly, everyone for decades, at least, has access to sufficient information to know that fossil fuel burning incurs deferred costs that will have to be paid later -- so obviously the seller has made a fair bargain and the caveat um how do you say "let the grandchildren beware"?

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

While a strong case can be made that the public (governments, producers, & consumers) should be aware of the cumulative effects of FF use, the liability could well be affected by the industry's attempts create a perception that there is scientific disagreement and or through PR efforts to downplay or deny those effects.

That said, the only entities likely to attempt geo-engineering are governments and, as has been pointed out, good luck suing a state. When things reach that status the typical result is not a courtroom battle, but war.

I doubt that any scheme could be devised where everyone is treated equally (climate consequences-wise). Who makes the decision that to mitigate damage for billions we must sentence millions (tens of millions, hundreds of millions???) to catastrophe?

Given the uncertainties involved I'm not even confident we can discriminate what appears to be a 'Sophie's Choice' from a 'Morton's Fork.'

By Kevin O'Neill (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

In his book, David Keith points out that any "damage" from geoengineering is relative -- a failure of the Indian monsoon (say) from SRM geoengineering needs to be viewed in the context of the heat stress, etc., that Indian agriculture would have suffered in a warmer, non-geoengineered world.

Sounds tricky. It's sure to be good work for lots of lawyers.

By David Appell (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

I really want to see calculations on what restoration would do for CO2 capture; how much iron fertilization from whales, for example, if they recovered quickly. Unless the numbers show there aren't enough fish and krill left in the world to support both a restored whale population and the anthropoid population, in which case restoring those first ... hmmm.

Un-undoing is hard.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

Since natural oil seeps are ubiquitous, and many species have evolved to fill the biogeochemical niches they create, doing justice to the perpetrtors of anthropgenic oil spills entails getting a handle on the impacts natural ones create.

There are a few issues with making fossil fuel companies pay for damages caused by geoengineering.

The analogy with oil spills is off point. The damages caused by oil spills are relatively understood and an oil company can't say "we didn't know a spill would be damaging". When these things happen the oil companies fight on multiple fronts to reduce their liability, saying the damages are not that bad, but not saying they didn't know it would be harmful.

This requirement to bring a case, in US courts at least, is called foreseeability. A defending party must reasonably know that the action they took would cause harm. With geoengineering at the current state of knowledge, a fossil fuel company could say they did not know the geoengineering would be harmful.

The another issue is causation. A fossil fuel company, again in the US legal system, may under extreme duress admit that it has some responsibility for AGW, but deny responsibility for damages caused by geoengineering. The defense is that because the geoengineering damages are not the direct result of their actions the chain of causation is too remote and they are not liable.

I have seen the analogies with fossil fuel companies and tobacco companies come up frequently. As a former smoker I think the best analogy is the addictive nature of both fossil fuel use and smoking. Once you are on them it is difficult to quit.

By Joseph O'Sullivan (not verified) on 14 Feb 2014 #permalink

JO"Prof. Carter’s main point is if Mann wins what does that sort of precedent mean for the future of public discourse. In common law systems, "

Yes, the usual think of the little bunnies concern troll.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 15 Feb 2014 #permalink

Here's this Philip Mirowski video where he talks about Global Warming in the context of Neoliberal economics. In a nutshell it goes something like, "Neoliberals want us to believe climate change is good because it creates wealth; we don't need to fix anything (and in fact we shouldn't) because the market will do it eventually; and geoengineering is just another opportunity for entrepreneurs". It's a bit of a rant, but he makes some good points. The paper version is a little more polemical...

[We think most people on the Left don’t fully realise that the phenomena of science denialism, emissions trading and geoengineering are not in fact unrelated or rival panaceas but rather constitute together the full neoliberal response to global warming. - sorry guv, he's a nutter. Emissions trading isn't a neoliberal response at all: carbon taxes would be. Geoengineering has a wide provinence well outside neolib. And denialism spreads widely beyond neolib too.

The Left has traditionally thought science was on its side. Oh come on. Everyone likes to think they have science on their side, though sometimes you have to pick the right area. GMOs? Nukes?

That article looks like a reasonable guide to the caricature that The Left has of neolib stuff, but I can't see any other use for it -W]

sorry guv, he's a nutter.

To be honest that was my first impression as well. But having read some of his other writings I think there's more to it than that, but he certainly can be a sloppy presenter. (I admit I share some of his paranoia about the power of organized Neoliberal institutions in North America.) Ironically, he's a professor of Economics funded by one of the Koch brothers, which might explain the paranoia.

Anyway, this excerpt about The Thirteen Commandments of Neoliberalism (if you can stomach "The Utopian"!) is better written and less polemical. And probably has nothing to do with climate change denial or paying for geoengineering.

[There are some very odd profs of Econ. And I find his habit of beginning articles with a whole list of things the neolib *isn't* rather annoying. I'm also really wary of labels, as applied and used by people that dislike the group they're labelling. Am I allowed to use wiki's defn or must I accept Mirowski's? They seem to be talking about different groups. Mirowski wraps up GW denial with neolib; wiki doesn't. And he seems to hate neolib so much I really wouldn't want to try to learn about it from his negative portrayal; maybe if I knew lots already I'd be happy to read his critique.

Also, other than "I hate neolibs", I not really sure what he is trying to say -W]

Umm, what? Neoliberals belive in the market, so carbon trading is precisely their thing.
Here's a random link to some academic saying that and preferring a tax instead.

In this presentation, Heiman will examine how "the cumbersome cap-and-trade approach toward emissions reduction could be replaced by an upstream tax based on the carbon content of the extracted fossil fuel." He said that he believes through "bypassing neo-liberal carbon markets that turn the atmosphere into a tradable commodity, a carbon tax is the most effective, efficient, and equitable way to secure global emissions reduction." - See more at: http://environmentalstudies.vassar.edu/news/2009-2010/090921-earthsci-g…

Concur with GregH, I've read Mirowski for years.

I suspect he's at a Kock-funded institution because they keep their enemies closer, and that the irony of being so captured informs his public writing.

He's in the passenger seat telling the driver, yes, we are headed for that cliff, and you are accelerating. Comfy seats, though, I like the walnut burl trim and the surround-sound ....

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 15 Feb 2014 #permalink

"Blame" is an irrational emotionalism. _Causality_ is the real physical issue.

We are presently engaged in geoengineering on a vast scale by pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. This we do quite deliberately though with different "intent." But "intent" is also irrelevant to causality.

The only question is _how_ to reduce CO2 outputs. Atmospheric carbon is an _externality_ and the answer is to _re-internalize it_ by charging the full cost back to those who are producing it.

Thus, a steep carbon tax on fossil fuel producers, that they in turn will pass through to fossil fuel consumers. The tax will have to be sufficient to cover _all_ of the costs involved, including the cost of building non-carbon energy sources (chiefly nuclear fission and renewables) to replace fossil fuels to the degree needed to reduce carbon emissions to a sustainable level (if any) or in their entirety.

Money brought in from a carbon tax can be used to fund the building of non-carbon energy sources such as through zero-interest loans to utilities switching to nuclear & renewables, buyers of electric vehicles, etc.

When costs are fully and properly accounted (externalities are internalized), fossil fuels are an economic loser and conversion to non-carbon energy sources will proceed at a rapid pace.

> natural oil seeps
Rate of change

> neoliberal
Are these? "the Mont Pelerin Society, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and other neoliberal ..."
('oogled the term)

If so, it's hard to caricature them; it's also hard to take what they say literally. Satire is, as previously noted, dead.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 15 Feb 2014 #permalink


When costs are fully and properly accounted (externalities are internalized), fossil fuels are an economic loser

Excellent comment, and I'm all for internalizing externalities, but the devil is in the details. How are the continued existence of species like polar bears or pikas (or the bugs and slugs that we haven't even catalogued yet) to be accounted? What about horizons uncluttered by wind generators, or desert solitude? Heck, depending on who's doing the counting, when all costs are counted human society has been a net loser since the invention of agriculture.

Of course, to some extent I'm playing advocatus diaboli. Perfect is the enemy of good, for values of good up to keeping human dislocation, deprivation and death at their current rates of occurrence. I'm absolutely in favor of a tax on fossil fuels based on carbon content, charged at the mine, well or port-of-entry, and the steeper the better. I just don't expect a truly "full and proper" accounting.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 16 Feb 2014 #permalink

Aside: seems to me what gets called "neoliberal" in the US is apt to be a homegrown version of something taking the label -- and to look like a caricature to Europeans who have the original neoliberals handy for reference.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 16 Feb 2014 #permalink

> depending on who’s doing the counting

Yup. That's why I asked above if anyone can tell me -- could we still afford whales, if their populations recovered to pre-anthro levels? They'd do a lot of iron fertilization. But would the ocean recover to support them?

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 16 Feb 2014 #permalink

G and Mal Adapted, I liked your comments on internalisation of costs. I have heard people argue that any attempt to put a price on a species or a habitat is immoral and therefore attempts to internalise costs are not worth pursuing. I've always thought that it's easier to put a price on carbon than to get the whole of our society to change its values and start caring about other species, future generations etc as much as I would like society to value them. I think it's impossible to do a "full and proper accounting" as there is no satisfactory objective way of saying how much something should be valued; anything less than infinite cost for the loss of another species would not be full and proper in my opinion, although a) I don't live as if this is the case, and b) I suspect most people would disagree with me. However, any attempt to add a price to carbon to internalise externalities has got to be better than nothing (but people shouldn't start fooling themselves into thinking that some measley extra price on GHG emissions has somehow completely internalised the cost and therefore solved the problem).

[The "any attempt to put a price on a species or a habitat is immoral" is the "incommensurable gambit". In a sense its valid: I see that in my first carbon tax post I deliberately avoided discussing that point. I don't think its realistic, though -W]

By Rob Nicholls (not verified) on 16 Feb 2014 #permalink

Countries that deploy solar radiation management could perhaps be liable to solar panel owners for loss of income. That ought to be a fairly easily calculable, since it's a direct cause-effect relationship.

By Andy Skuce (not verified) on 16 Feb 2014 #permalink

Re #41 Values of habitats and species

I have been involved on the legal side of determining what a offending party should pay after an accident. There is a metric to find money values, for example after a spill a fisherman can't fish for 10 days and determining how much money he would have made those days. This is known as Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA).

The idea that people should not put a price on a species is in the US is put into law in the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and to a lesser degree internationally by the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

NRDA uses money as a metric. The ESA and CITES put a intrinsic value on species if it is endangered or threatened with extinction. Not everyone puts this value on a species, and so the ESA is a favorite target for people who don't like environmental regulation. These often are the same people who cast doubt on climate science.

By Joseph O'Sullivan (not verified) on 17 Feb 2014 #permalink

Some product categories like explosives are subject to strict liability - you're responsible for harm no matter how careful you were in using them. The thought is that this will minimize the harm and maybe encourage alternative.

IOW, abnormally hazardous. Fossil fuels are unlikely to be considered abnormally hazardous for the next two generations, but I think the reasoning for why they should bear all relevant costs is applicable.

Also there's the Coase Theorem - doesn't matter who is liable as long as it's clearly understood and handled efficiently. In practice that encourages assigning liability to a small number of big producers rather than large numbers of small consumers.

By Brian Schmidt (not verified) on 17 Feb 2014 #permalink

And just to continue the Mirowski theme, one of his theses is that geoengineering will be enthusiastically taken up by all manner of entrepreneurs, and that GHG emissions will continue unabated.

I was just looking for some other information at the ould American Enterprise Institute website, and came across this:

The incentives for using SRM appear to be stronger than those for GHG control. Much analysis has used this valid point to conjecture that SRM would be easy to deploy—indeed, that it would be too easy. This fear is largely misguided. Global power politics militate against any state bidding for sole control of an SRM system. In short, SRM remains a speculative option; nonetheless, a workable SRM system could offer a highly useful backup and supplement to current policy options.

--Solar radiation management: An evolving climate policy option

[I think he's missing the problem of getting someone to pay for it -W]

> he's missing the problem

Mirowski? AEI? both of them?

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 18 Feb 2014 #permalink