One More on the Kochs (or, Why I Just Can’t Gin Up the Outrage)

The objection to the Koch brothers seems to generally be that they are rigging the political process to pursue their own interests and thereby subverting the public interest.

In other words, they’ve got the gall to get involved in politics and actually be effective.

A bedrock principle of public choice theory is that there is no such thing as the public interest. The public does not have a mind or a transitive ordering of preferences, hence it cannot have “an” interest, but only a multitude of competing interests. Condorcet’s Paradox and Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem are persuasive demonstrations of this.

That means those who are claiming to be pursuing the public interest, whether it is lower taxes or preventing global warming, are in fact pursuing their own interests. Granted, some interests are much more widely shared than others, but that doesn’t mean they incorporate the whole public, nor does it mean that those who don’t share the interest are somehow deluded about their own interests–while humans are undoubtedly not as smart about their own interests as we rational choice theorists would prefer, they are even more ignorant about anyone else’s interests, and not well-suited to judge them (setting aside cases of people who with certainty have some kind of cognitive impairment). Take global warming for instance, and assume the worst case scenarios. While the largest proportion of humanity may suffer, some will in fact benefit–a warmer earth would not be uniformly disadvantageous to all regions, occupations, and pleasures–so their self-interest in a warmer earth is not delusion. It may be selfish and ungenerous, but if that’s the complaint, then we need to ditch humanity altogether and start anew with a new species–perhaps eusocial insects. And before complaining that someone is selfish and ungenerous a person should pause to consider whether they are in compliance with 1 John 3: 17-18.

Referring back to the NYT Magazine article on the Koch brothers, it struck me that one of the explicit criticisms of them was that they were using their non-profit organizations to pursue their own interests, by which the critic meant their commercial interests. Now that can, depending on how it is done, be a violation of the law, so perhaps they’re criminals. Fair enough. But what struck me in it is the assumption behind the law–that pursuing one’s commercial interests is less legitimate than pursuing one’s economic interests. Think that one through–it means Pol Pot’s interests were more legitimate than those of the owner of your local hardware store. It means the advocates of teaching creationism in public schools, or banning the building of mosques, are acting more legitimately than the businessperson who wants to reduce regulations that constrain his business.

If we don’t want to go that direction, we can argue that only some ideological interests are legitimate, but that has two problems. One is that some economic interests are surely legitimate, too. If my municipality has granted a monopoly on ice cream trucks to one corporation (which, of course, used their monopoly pricing power to double the price of their Tweety Bird treat), and I want to break into that market to provide more competition, lower prices to consumers, and make a few bucks for myself, is that not a legitimate economic interest? (It’s not a public interest: The owners of the monopoly corporation will not benefit, citizens who want fewer vehicles driving down their streets playing annoying jingles may not benefit, and health advocates may object that lower prices will encourage more ice cream consumption and consequently more cavities, obesity, and diabetes.)

The second problem is that we have no truly legitimate standard by which to balance those interests. What it comes down to is that I judge my valuations of interests to be superior to yours, and vice versa. We normally use majority rule as our rough major, but we don’t really believe in it as anything more than a functional standard. We all have issues where we would find majority rule unacceptable, and for some of those issues we have built supermajority rule into our laws as a specific standard. And as J.S. Mill argued,

If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. (On Liberty, Ch.2)

So anything less than unanimity is at least at risk of being unjust, but unanimity is, if not an empty a null class, a very sparsely populated one. And that really is just another way of saying there is no such thing as the public interest.

Setting aside the problem of silencing someone like the Kochs without running afoul of the very concept of citizen engagement in government (there are arguments that doing so increases citizen voice, although I don’t find them persuasive), let’s focus on the alternatives to individuals effectively pursuing their own interests through the political process. One is to pursue them through the market process, which of course I find preferable. But as long as politics a) affects the market pursuit of interests, and b) offers a more lucrative way of satisfying one’s interests, pure market pursuits can never be a dominating strategy (at best only a mixed one, and we hope to god never a dominated one). The other alternative is to allow government to act without regard for citizens’ interests–that is, to allow government actors to solely pursue their own interests. Granted, their interests will frequently overlap with some portion (of varying size) of the citizenry’s interests, but it will be no more a pursuit of the public interest–because you can’t pursue that which doesn’t exist–and it may result in a pursuit of interests that create greater harm to a larger portion of the citizenry (we are, after all, effectively talking about a government that is less constrained, and hence trending in the direction of authoritarianism).

So let’s assume for the sake of argument that I’m deeply opposed to what the Kochs stand for. Let’s also suppose that it galls me that they are able to pursue their interests so effectively because of their wealth. There is in fact some degree of truth in both those statements. But I still can’t get outraged, because if it’s not them pursuing their own interest effectively, it just means someone else will be pursuing their own interests effectively, and not only aren’t the Kochs’ interests provably less legitimate than my on, I have no surety that those who replace them in effectiveness will share my interests to any considerably greater degree (seriously, better the Kochs than Rick Perry).

But finally, and this is the point that always seems to stump people, I am ultimately more of a political analyst than a political advocate. That doesn’t mean I never engage in political advocacy, but a) it’s a rare issue that really really motivates me (same-sex marriage, the continuing growth in executive power, um…well…my municipality’s rule that I can’t shovel the snow from my driveway into the street…uh… oh, yeah, deficits!*), and b) I just find analyzing the issues (they empirical validity of specific arguments, how an issue develops to become a recognized “problem” worthy of political consideration, etc.) and the processes more interesting than lobbying, voting, etc. Both my undergrad and grad mentors drilled into me the distinction between analysis and advocacy (and undoubtedly they both adopted me as a mentee because I readily grasped the distinction and found it natural to apply it), and I hammer that distinction into my own students, beginning in American Government, intensifying it in Research Methods, and referring back to it frequently in my policy, political behavior, and political economy courses.**

I know that some of my acquaintances find that appalling, or at least distressing. But from my perspective they just don’t get it. Criticizing me for not being more politically active or effective is like criticizing Michael Jordan for not being a better baseball player. He’s got nothing to apologize for, and if I have anything to apologize for, it’s for not being a better analyst, not for not being a better advocate.

_______________________________________________________________________
*What most people probably can’t intuitively grasp about me is that while I write a lot about economic issues, and do indeed have my own beliefs about what is good or bad economic policy, I have very little interest in really fighting for the implementation of my beliefs. As I look around the world, I can see that Sweden’s extensive regulatory and social welfare approach to economics produces far less human misery than was found in Robert Mugabe’s Kenya. Analytically, economic issues interest me more, because they are more complex and less simplistic than social issues, but in terms of how deeply each affects my interests, social issues dominate. (Add usual caveats about the two categories not being entirely separate, etc., etc.)
**In political behavior, which is about strategic behavior, and political economy, I startle the students on the first day by pointing out that ethics and morality have no place in the topic. That’s an overstatement, but it helps set the tone that we’re trying to analyze how structures and systems work, not just focus on “what is right.”

Advertisements

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to One More on the Kochs (or, Why I Just Can’t Gin Up the Outrage)

  1. Pinky says:

    .
    I guess I could have read the entire long winded argument in favor of the private interests of an oligarchy; but, I figured it was all against the idea of “public interest”.

    If the Koch’s have the right to their private interest, then, so does everyone else.

    And, it is to my interest is to see them taxed to to the level they would have been in the 1940s.

    Maybe you could state, in simple terms, the premise of your argument to defend the Koch brothers?
    .

    .

  2. James Hanley says:

    Pinky,

    If the Koch’s have the right to their private interest, then, so does everyone else.

    Absolutely.

    And, it is to my interest is to see them taxed to to the level they would have been in the 1940s.

    I don’t doubt that, because I have no business disagreeing with your interpretation of your own interests. For my part, I’m not interested in punitive taxation, and I worry it would put us over the hump on the Laffer curve. But I wouldn’t leave my couch to march in protest against it. (I’d just turn on the TV and make snarky comments about those who were marching in protest against it, as well as those who supported it.)

    Maybe you could state, in simple terms, the premise of your argument to defend the Koch brothers?

    I’m fairly sure I could.

  3. Matty says:

    As I look around the world, I can see that Sweden’s extensive regulatory and social welfare approach to economics produces far less human misery than was found in Robert Mugabe’s Kenya.

    I’m sure I read somewhere that Sweden actually has relatively little business regulation despite the high taxes and social welfare spending.

  4. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    The objection to the Koch brothers seems to generally be that they are rigging the political process to pursue their own interests and thereby subverting the public interest.

    Since I’ve been pretty in your face about the Koch brothers I naturally wonder whether this characterization is your impression of my statements regarding the Koch’s. My perspective is that the only criticism of them I’ve delivered has been about their policy positions, when they break the law, or act unethically. You’ll be hard-pressed to find me criticizing their participating in the political process. So before I go further James, do you include me in this characterization? Because from my perspective this blog post is starting out as an enormous strawman if you are responding in light of my challenges.

  5. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    No, I was referring specifically to what was in the article.

  6. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    That [definition of public choice theory] means those who are claiming to be pursuing the public interest, whether it is lower taxes or preventing global warming, are in fact pursuing their own interests.

    I’m fairly certain that the only people who would use “preventing global warming” as an analogy to argue for the veracity of public choice theory and its utility in this analysis have little idea what scientists are predicting will occur if we do nothing to mitigate against further global warming. Certainly the theory arguably applies if one advocacy group was vociferously arguing we should primarily conserve and claimed this was the public interest while another argued we should innovate to effective mitigation. But this is not the state of the debate.

    Instead the distinguishing issue with the Koch Brothers and their political operations, including The Cato Institute, is not a policy debate about optimal policies given the fact of the human-caused global warming and its attendant predictions held with confidence. Instead the Kochs’ are effectively and fraudulently clouding the veracity of this observed fact in order to minimize concern regarding the validity of predictions by scientists and economists based on inaction, which is varying degrees of catastrophe, from a 20% decline in GDP in spite of the cost of mitigation being no more than 1% or 2% of GDP to even modest growth in GDP, to the Venus Syndrome.

    The Kochs’ fraud is what we should be concerned about when it comes to the them and global warming. Focusing on quoted aspect would be equivalent to the U.S. Congress arguing in the abstract in the 1930s about the legitimacy of the Japanese and German as just governments rather than debating the actions the U.S. needed to take based on the actions by the Japanese and Germans at that time.

  7. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    Reference to “a policy debate about optimal policies” assumes a lot. Optimal for whom?

    Are you denying that some regions/peoples of the earth would actually benefit from global warming? That all humans will be, on net, negatively affected?

    I’m sorry, but there is no public interest, only the conglomeration of private interests. I don’t care if we’re talking about food prices, oil prices, building a local sports arena, setting rules on how high I can let my grass grow, or global warming.

    More and more you give the impression of accepting the most extreme global warming predictions, while continuing to claim that you are only following the science. But most scientists don’t make the most extreme predictions (obviously, and by definition), so your argument becomes less and less persuasive at the margins.

  8. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    Reference to “a policy debate about optimal policies” assumes a lot. Optimal for whom?

    Again, the issue in regards to the Kochs and AGW is not a policy debate, it is instead that they’re lying about reality in order to avoid that debate from happening – where they’ve been successful.

    James:

    Are you denying that some regions/peoples of the earth would actually benefit from global warming? That all humans will be, on net, negatively affected?

    Humanity will not benefit from mass extinctions, I do not encounter any scientific or economic group making that argument – only dire to even more dire warnings. Yes there are some geographic areas that will be able to grow agricultural products they can’t now, but the overall impact will not allow that small benefit to be a net benefit. Especially given predictions regarding the extinction risk to oceanic life due to ocean acidification, which has already started.

    James:

    I’m sorry, but there is no public interest, only the conglomeration of private interests. I don’t care if we’re talking about food prices, oil prices, building a local sports arena, setting rules on how high I can let my grass grow, or global warming.

    James – it’s vividly clear you’ve yet to actually study up on the subject of AGW. Otherwise you wouldn’t continue to make these absurd analogies.

    James:

    More and more you give the impression of accepting the most extreme global warming predictions, while continuing to claim that you are only following the science. But most scientists don’t make the most extreme predictions (obviously, and by definition), so your argument becomes less and less persuasive at the margins.

    No, my position is that of the IPCC except for those predictions which have since been modified or observations now validated, which mostly pull in certain dates. I also promote more alarming claims if I see credible scientists making them and see continued work published validating those claims. James – given I am very up to speed on the predictions (I read at least the PR releases of all climate change articles), it’s quite clear this is not about my taking the most alarmist position which extends beyond the evidence but instead you’re not being up to speed on the science and economics.

  9. AMW says:

    Michael –

    Where are you getting the 20% of GDP statistic?

  10. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    Where are you getting the 20% of GDP statistic?

    From the David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf book, The Climate Crisis: An Introductory Guide to Climate Change. Both authors are highly respected climate scientists, especially Dr. Rahmstorf. The objective of the book is to explain to general readers what is is in the IPCC reports beyond the summaries for policy makers. It is therefore a report on the consensus view though it’s now dated since the last IPCC report was in 2007. The authors do provide some updates to their book.

    You can search inside the paperback at Amazon, which is the book I have and use to understand the synthesis view (the IPCC is not solely the peer consensus, it also contains some contra hypotheses). Search the book by the term GDP and then read pages 218 – 220 for a brief report on the costs of mitigation relative to the risk. Their source is the 2006 Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change. Here’s a link to the long version of this report’s executive summary: http://goo.gl/JZHB8

    From all that I’ve read since this report was published, I assume the Stern results underestimates the cost of inadequate mitigation in this century. That’s because the assumptions regarding the expected rate of climate change understood at that time this report was being worked was far less than what is now predicted. This isn’t a surprise because we know the models don’t contain all the factors that drive warming since some components are not well enough understood to be incorporated into them, e.g., Greenland ice melt which will have an enormous impact on climate and ocean levels if that ice melts yet it’s not incorporated into the models because of the complexity of understanding this melting (where Greenland is melting). One example of the underestimates is MIT’s model now increasing their expected century-end temp. anomaly by 71% to 113%. Here’s the MIT abstract noting their revision:

    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Integrated Global System Model is used to make probabilistic projections of climate change from 1861 to 2100. Since the model’s first projections were published in 2003, substantial improvements have been made to the model, and improved estimates of the probability distributions of uncertain input parameters have become available. The new projections are considerably warmer than the 2003 projections; for example, the median surface warming in 2091–2100 is 5.1°C compared to 2.4°C in the earlier study. Many changes contribute to the stronger warming; among the more important ones are taking into account the cooling in the second half of the twentieth century due to volcanic eruptions for input parameter estimation and a more sophisticated method for projecting gross domestic product (GDP) growth, which eliminated many low-emission scenarios.

    However, if recently published data, suggesting stronger twentieth-century ocean warming, are used to determine the input climate parameters, the median projected warming at the end of the twenty-first century is only 4.1°C. Nevertheless, all ensembles of the simulations discussed here produce a much smaller probability of warming less than 2.4°C than implied by the lower bound of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) projected likely range for the A1FI scenario, which has forcing very similar to the median projection in this study. The probability distribution for the surface warming produced by this analysis is more symmetric than the distribution assumed by the IPCC because of a different feedback between the climate and the carbon cycle, resulting from the inclusion in this model of the carbon–nitrogen interaction in the terrestrial ecosystem. Cite: http://goo.gl/PI8jR

    There are many other examples assumptions made in the middle of the last decade were made using overly modest predictions, one report just came out claiming it’s possible we’ve already surpassed the forewarned climate tipping point which will “exceed dangerous levels”. Cite: Climate commitment in an uncertain world, GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 38, L01707, 5 PP., 2011
    doi:10.1029/2010GL045850. Here’s their abstract:

    Climate commitment—the warming that would still occur given no further human influence—is a fundamental metric for both science and policy. It informs us of the minimum climate change we face and, moreover, depends only on our knowledge of the natural climate system. Studies of the climate commitment due to CO2 find that global temperature would remain near current levels, or even decrease slightly, in the millennium following the cessation of emissions. However, this result overlooks the important role of the non-CO2 greenhouse gases and aerosols. This paper shows that global energetics require an immediate and significant warming following the cessation of emissions as aerosols are quickly washed from the atmosphere, and the large uncertainty in current aerosol radiative forcing implies a large uncertainty in the climate commitment. Fundamental constraints preclude Earth returning to pre-industrial temperatures for the indefinite future. These same constraints mean that observations are currently unable to eliminate the possibility that we are already beyond the point where the ultimate warming will exceed dangerous levels. Models produce a narrower range of climate commitment, but undersample observed forcing constraints.

  11. AMW says:

    Michael –

    First this caveat: I only perused the executive summary of the Stern Review and did some searches in the main body of the Review, and I only looked at pages 218 – 220 in The Climate Crisis (TCC). I make no claim to have mastery over climate science or its intersection with economics.

    Having said that, the Stern Review does not say that climate change will cost 20% of GDP. The maximum GDP loss I could find in the Executive Summary was: “… an average 5-10% loss in global GDP, with poor countries suffering costs in excess of 10% of GDP.” (p. ix.) That was for the more extreme scenario of 5-6 degree warming by the end of the century. For milder warming of 2-3 degrees, it says: “In this temperature range, the cost of climate change could be equivalent to a permanent loss of around 0-3% in global world output compared with what could have been achieved in a world without climate change.” (p. ix)

    The 20% figure in TCC comes with this justification: “They [the authors of the Stern Review] conclude that the economic impacts of unfettered climate change could be comparable to that of the Great Depression or the World Wars of the last century. In economic terms these are expressed as decreases in GDP of around 20%.” But that’s not what the Stern Review reports, in its Executive Summary at least. (And one would expect such a claim to show up in the Executive Summary.)

    In fact, the words “Great Depression” or “World War” do not appear in the Executive Summary. The entire report is 700 pages, so you can be sure I wasn’t going to go slogging through the whole thing. But I did do a search on those terms in the online PDF of Part II, which addresses the impacts of climate change on growth and development. The term “World War” doesn’t show up in that part of the Review, but the term “Great Depression” does, once. The Review uses the term to describe one study method that has been implemented:

    “The Nordhaus method is based on polling a number of experts on the probability that a very large loss of 25% of global GDP, roughly equivalent to the effect of the Great Depression, will result from increases in global mean temperature of 3°C by 2090, 6°C by 2175 and 6°C by 2090. Taking account of estimated differences in regional vulnerability to catastrophic climate change, the model uses survey data to estimate people’s willingness to pay to avoid the resulting risk.” (p. 151)

    So the Great Depression reference isn’t to what will actually happen due to climate change, but is rather in a questionnaire in one of the studies discussed in the Review. And that study doesn’t (apparently) say that climate change will result in the equivalent of a Great Depression either. Later on the Stern Review gives some estimates from the Nordhaus & Boyer paper using the questionnaire method (I don’t know if these are the most extreme in the paper): “Nordhaus and Boyer estimate that the global cost increases from 6% to 8% of GDP for 5°C warming, one quarter higher.” (p. 156)*

    So, at least from the links you’ve provided, the claim that AGW will result in a 20% reduction in Global GDP seems untenable to me. It also seems that the authors of TCC aren’t being very careful in the way they cite their sources. (Admittedly, I’m working with a sample size of one here. They may be more careful in the rest of the book.)

    One other thing. On page 219 of TCC, the authors seem to imply that the Stern Review was unusual in that it incorporated costs from well into the future to find the total loss of GDP. They also imply that the Review uses a discount rate to calculate that loss. They don’t approve of this discounting, because it treats the costs on future generations as if they weren’t very important. This seems odd to me for two reasons. 1) They apparently don’t mind discounting to calculate the cost of mitigation (figure 9.17) and 2) those future generations will be much wealthier than the current one, in part because of the economic growth that’s been driving AGW. I could add 3) why shouldn’t one discount costs that occur to other people, but I’m actually not that cynical.

    *The Review does go on to say that another scholar (Tol) finds an amount “almost double” this estimate if one adds welfare weighting for poor countries, so that will get you to maybe 16%. But at this point we’re not actually talking about “Global GDP” anymore.

  12. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    I view the world from the perspective of a political scientist, and that may be the source of the disconnect between us on some points. In other points, you seem interested in misrepresenting my words.

    AGW is not a policy debate

    Of course it is. You say the Kochs’ are trying to keep the debate from happening, but that is part of the policy press. It’s the agenda-setting part, and it’s a crucial aspect of determining on what issues we move forward to make policy. You want to say the policy debate is only when we’re deciding how to respond, but a part of the debate is deciding if we respond, and whether there’s an issue to respond to. So the Kochs are lying–that’s normal politics. As it turns out, Hansen has lied, too, or at least been so careless with his predictions that it’s fundamentally indistinguishable from base dishonesty. Is he as bad as the Kochs? That’s irrelevant–a good defense one dishonesty is not “but they’re more dishonest.”

    Humanity will not benefit from mass extinctions,

    In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, “there you go again.” To say “humanity will/will not” is to talk about a “public interest.” I don’t do that, and I never made claims about whether humanity as a whole would benefit–I explicitly said some people would benefit.

    Yes there are some geographic areas that will be able to grow agricultural products they can’t now,

    Yes. See, you admit some people will benefit.

    but the overall impact will not allow that small benefit to be a net benefit.

    I never said there would be a net benefit. All I said was that the Kochs’ advocacy was not surprising to me, nor even particularly disturbing, because I expect people to follow their self-interest.

    t’s vividly clear you’ve yet to actually study up on the subject of AGW. Otherwise you wouldn’t continue to make these absurd analogies.

    I notice that each time you shift to this point you rely only on assertions of absurdity, not any well-developed argument. Since even you have admitted that some people will benefit, your own specific argument undermines your claim that the analogy is absurd. (And, of course, I’m not actually making an analogy, but stating a fundamental similarity between the issues that makes them part of a common class.) You keep resorting to the tactics of political advocates on each side of the debate–emotion-laden terms that express contempt for the other side. I’m far too familiar with such tactics to take them seriously.

    I read at least the PR releases of all climate change articles

    Reading press releases does not make one up on the science. Reading the scientific articles themselves does. Nobody can really be up on the science of something by reading press releases or news stories. How much of the actual journal articles are you accessing and reading.

    You do a whole lot of boasting about how tremendously knowledgeable about this you are. Yet you do more boasting about how much you know than you do actual referencing of peer-reviewed publications. I know what scientists sound like when they discuss scientific issues, and you don’t sound like a scientist. I also know what pure political advocates sound like when they discuss issues, and you sound like a pure political advocate.

    In other words, while I remain wholly open to the AGW hypothesis and the potential for serious net costs on a globally collective measure (and am certainly not about to make any statements denying AGW is happening or is a serious issues), you don’t come across sounding like a credible witness. Your whole tone and approach is self-defeating. You sound more religious than scientific about the issue. It seems clear that for you this is a moral crusade. However much it frustrates you that I’m not willing to follow you there, I’m just not going to follow you there.

  13. Michael Heath says:

    AMW:

    In fact, the words “Great Depression” or “World War” do not appear in the Executive Summary.

    The penultimate paragraph of page ii of Stern’s Executive Summary states:

    The evidence shows that ignoring climate change will eventually damage economic growth. Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major
    disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a
    scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of
    the first half of the 20th century [which in Stern’s full report notes as aprox. 25% loss – pg. 151]. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes. Tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy for the longer term, and it can be done in a way that does not cap the aspirations for growth of rich or poor countries. The earlier effective action is taken, the less costly it will be.

    AMW:

    For milder warming of 2-3 degrees, it says: “In this temperature range, the cost of climate change could be equivalent to a permanent loss of around 0-3% in global world output compared with what could have been achieved in a world without climate change.” (p. ix)

    Well I’m not sure anyone is currently publishing an expected increase of 2 – 3 degrees except as a lower-bound, see my MIT report above as a more recent example. Secondly in 2001 there were assumptions about the rate of ocean acidification and extinction rates which have been supplanted with far more dire predictions given the increasing rate of global warming, current observations such as the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice volume which creates amplifying feedbacks from a handful of perspectives, a better understanding of climate physics (especially the impact of clouds), and a better understanding of paleoclimate results at far slower warming rates, and most importantly – we’ve since discovered the climate is more sensitive than previously understood. Enough that the long-term limitation promoted by the climate science community has been dropped from 450 ppm of CO2 to 350 ppm and the radiative forcing limit from 2 watts per sq. meter to 1.5 watts (where we’ve already surpassed both). So I would be extremely skeptical that particular prediction still holds. In fact the Guardian reports some statements by Stern in 2008:

    Stern said this week that new scientific findings showed greenhouse gas emissions were causing more damage than was understood in 2006, when he prepared his study for the government. […] “Emissions are growing much faster than we’d thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we’d thought, the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates and the speed of climate change seems to be faster.” […] The Stern Review was credited with shifting the debate about climate change from an environmental focus to the economic impacts. It said the expected increase in extreme weather, with the associated and expensive problems of agricultural failure, water scarcity, disease and mass migration, meant that global warming could swallow up to 20% of the world’s GDP, with the poorest countries the worst affected. The cost of addressing the problem, it said, could be limited to about 1% of GDP, provided it started on a serious scale within 10 to 20 years. […] Stern’s study was largely based on the previous IPCC report that appeared in 2001. [I assumed he was using more relevant data for his 2006 publication, this is concerning and possibly suggests all his predictions are significantly too low given the predictions now are far more than dire than they were in the 2001 IPCC report. – Michael Heath]. Cite: http://goo.gl/pN9zu

    Re – note that the book I cited and the Guardian article both use the 20% GDP number (“up to 20%” in the Guardian’s case) when discussing Stern’s findings.

    AMW:

    So, at least from the links you’ve provided, the claim that AGW will result in a 20% reduction in Global GDP seems untenable to me. It also seems that the authors of TCC aren’t being very careful in the way they cite their sources. (Admittedly, I’m working with a sample size of one here. They may be more careful in the rest of the book.)

    Besides Archer, Rahmstorf, and the Guardian, I found a plethora of sources quoting Stern and a 20% drop in GDP. One possible explanation is that Stern writes on page x:

    Putting these additional factors together would increase the total cost of BAU [“business as usual”] climate change to the equivalent of around a 20% reduction in consumption per head, now and into the future.

    In summary, analyses that take into account the full ranges of both impacts and
    possible outcomes – that is, that employ the basic economics of risk – suggest that
    BAU climate change will reduce welfare by an amount equivalent to a reduction in
    consumption per head of between 5 and 20%. Taking account of the increasing
    scientific evidence of greater risks, of aversion to the possibilities of catastrophe, and
    of a broader approach to the consequences than implied by narrow output measures,
    the appropriate estimate is likely to be in the upper part of this range.

    Coupled to the following:

    In the full report, page 144, which is in Chapter 6 states:

    Our estimate of the total cost of ‘business as usual’ (BAU) climate change over the next two centuries
    equates to an average welfare loss equivalent to at least 5% of the value of global per-capita consumption, now and forever. That is a minimum in the context of this model, and there are a number of omitted features that would add substantially to this estimate. Thus the cost is shown to be higher if recent scientific findings about the responsiveness of the climate system to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions turn out to be correct and if direct impacts on the environment and human health are taken
    into account. Were the model also to reflect the importance of the disproportionate burden of climate-change impacts on poor regions of the world, the cost would be higher still. Putting all these together, the cost could be equivalent to up to around 20%, now and forever. Cite: http://goo.gl/VRGNj (page 2 of this link).

    I’m cognizant that GDP ≠ consumption, especially in the short run. However in the long-run doesn’t it since GDP is measuring the total amount of final goods and services produced by while consumption, which has several meanings in economics, in this framing appears to represent the use of final goods and services? Footnote 23 on page 155 in the above linked chapter (page 11 of the linked report) also notes the following:

    We follow PAGE2002 in referring to ‘GDP’ but, as remarked above, it is preferable to think of a broader income concept in interpreting some of the results.

    Page 3 discusses the problem with using GDP:

    Income in the ‘no climate change’ scenario is conventionally measured in terms of GDP – the value of
    economic output. The difficulty is that some of the negative effects of climate change will actually lead to increases in expenditure, which increase economic output. Examples are increasing expenditure on air conditioning and flood defences. But it is correct to subtract these from GDP in the ‘no climate change’ scenario, because such expenditures are a cost of climate change. As a result, the measure of the monetary cost of climate change that we derive is really a measure of income loss, rather than
    output loss as conventionally measured by GDP.

    Chapter 6’s various scenarios and comparison to other economists estimates also puts the 95% percentile at a cost of 35.2%; this chapter concludes with the following:

    What have we learned from this exercise? Notwithstanding the limitations inherent in formal integrated models, there can be no doubt that the economic risks of a ‘business as usual’ approach are very severe – and probably more severe than suggested by past models. Relying on the scientific knowledge that informed the IPCC’s TAR, the cost of BAU climate change over the next two centuries
    is equivalent to a loss of at least 5% of global per-capita consumption, now and forever. More worrying still, when the model incorporates non-market impacts and more recent scientific findings on natural feedbacks, this total average cost is pushed to 14.4%.

    Cost estimates would increase still further if the model incorporated other important omitted effects. First, the welfare calculations fail to take into account distributional impacts, even though these impacts are potentially very important: poorer countries are likely to suffer the largest impacts. Second, there may be greater risks to the climate from dynamic feedbacks and from heightened climate sensitivity beyond those included here. If these are included, the total cost would be likely to be around 20% of current per-capita consumption, now and forever.

    My conclusion from this exercise. It’s safe to argue a cost of 20% loss of per-capita consumption using the current estimate for temp. increases but an outdated and too modest understanding of climate sensitivity. Sterns full-text report is confusing with how it interchanges GDP (in his Chapter 6 graphs), consumption, and income, partly because he’s considering his own analysis relative to others who used GDP which he believes is a flawed metric to use.

    I think it would be helpful to discover an economic report that uses more relevant findings and the current explanatory models for climate since Sterns’ is outdated. From this perspective we can conclude, as Stern does himself, that his estimates are under-estimated.

  14. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    Some more critiques of your approach to presenting the evidence.

    First, AMW satisfactorily points out that your reported 20% of GDP figure is not in fact supported by the source you give. The other points I’ll address using the traditional blockquote/response method.

    Both authors are highly respected climate scientists, especially Dr. Rahmstorf.

    Appeal to authority. It’s legitimate to list their actual qualification. To skip the credentials and just say “highly respected climate scientists” is to engage in “high ground” claiming.

    The objective of the book is to explain to general readers what is is in the IPCC reports beyond the summaries for policy makers. It is therefore a report on the consensus view

    That’s incorrect. The IPCC reports are a series of reports on specific issues–they are not “the consensus view,” but specific reports that have passed peer-review muster. That’s not the same thing as “consensus,” and the frequent repetition of “consensus” is no more than an effort to marginalize opposing scientists by belittling their positioning on the issue, rather than addressing the specifics of their research. Take, for example, the “the most testable concept in biology,” evolution. Biologists don’t repeat “there’s consensus” ad nauseum. I cannot help but suspect that the frequent references to consensus by so many people is really a sign of uncertainty and insecurity. Don’t worry, I know what the response will be–“but some people don’t understand that scientists really do know this stuff.” But of course that response is equally valid when discussing evolutionary theory, and biologists still don’t feel the need to constantly refer to their consensus, as opposed to their findings.

    I assume the Stern results underestimates the cost of inadequate mitigation in this century. That’s because the assumptions regarding the expected rate of climate change understood at that time this report was being worked was far less than what is now predicted. This isn’t a surprise because we know the models don’t contain all the factors that drive warming since some components are not well enough understood to be incorporated into them,

    So are the factors now well enough understood to be incorporated into them? No, as you immediately admit in reference to Greenland ice. So if they still can’t incorporate those factors, then we can’t place much reliance on their revised predictions. Now perhaps the predictions have been revised because they’ve been able to improve their incorporation of such factors into the models, even if such incorporation is still imperfect. But that’s not what your claim says.

    reenland ice melt which will have an enormous impact on climate and ocean levels if that ice melts yet it’s not incorporated into the models because of the complexity of understanding this melting (where Greenland is melting).

    “If” that ice melts. How certain is this melting? You say it’s not incorporated yet because the complexity is too great to understand, but you also admit, with that “if” that it’s not certain whether it’s going to melt. Uncertainty about whether it’s going to melt is in itself a damn good reason for either not incorporating it into the model, or incorporating it but not taking the model as definitively predicting the future. It represents a possible outcome if the incorporate conditions hold, but the incorporated conditions, if you are correct, are uncertain.

    Now I find the abstracts you cite substantially more persuasive than anything you write, as they are devoid of the emotive language you use on the issue. I will limit my comments on them to noting that each focuses on temperature, and not effects. Ultimately it is effects that matter, not the temperature itself. But of course to the extent the claims of net negative effects from warming are well-supported, these abstracts matter to the focus on effects. I remain dubious about some of the effects claims as well. I’ll have some future comments on that.

  15. James Hanley says:

    Examples are increasing expenditure on air conditioning and flood defences. But it is correct to subtract these from GDP in the ‘no climate change’ scenario, because such expenditures are a cost of climate change.

    Does he also then add in the savings from reduced heating costs? If he doesn’t, then he’s manipulating the data.

    Sterns full-text report is confusing with how it interchanges GDP (in his Chapter 6 graphs), consumption, and income, partly because he’s considering his own analysis relative to others who used GDP which he believes is a flawed metric to use.

    I think it would be helpful to discover an economic report that uses more relevant findings and the current explanatory models for climate since Sterns’ is outdated. From this perspective we can conclude, as Stern does himself, that his estimates are under-estimated.

    His report is confusing as hell, and he has a metric that’s distinct from what others use, but we can be certain that it underestimates things? OK. That’s entirely persuasive.

  16. Michael Heath says:

    I stated:

    Again, the issue in regards to the Kochs and AGW is not a policy debate, it is instead that they’re lying about reality in order to avoid that debate from happening – where they’ve been successful.

    James quotes me:

    AGW is not a policy debate.

    James’ rebuttal to the portion of my quote noted above:

    Of course it is. You say the Kochs’ are trying to keep the debate from happening, but that is part of the policy press. It’s the agenda-setting part, and it’s a crucial aspect of determining on what issues we move forward to make policy. You want to say the policy debate is only when we’re deciding how to respond, but a part of the debate is deciding if we respond, and whether there’s an issue to respond to. So the Kochs are lying–that’s normal politics. As it turns out, Hansen has lied, too, or at least been so careless with his predictions that it’s fundamentally indistinguishable from base dishonesty. Is he as bad as the Kochs? That’s irrelevant–a good defense one dishonesty is not “but they’re more dishonest.”

    The Koch Brothers are aggressively and systemically involved in lying about the state of climate science. We’re talking an incredible amount of money and energy. Instead of comparing their systemic dishonesty to what the climate science community finds, you instead find one scientist who supposedly overstated a prediction to another person twenty years ago as told to another person ten years later as reported by the fraud Anthony Watts. Regardless of whether Dr. Hansen dishonestly used hyperbole or not, this comparison borders is at best an enormous fallacy of balance error.

    Here’s Dr. Hansen’s response when confronted with Cato’s Patrick Michaels spreading this rumor:

    Michaels also has the facts wrong about a 1988 interview of me by Bob Reiss, in which Reiss asked me to speculate on changes that might happen in New York City in 40 years assuming CO2 doubled in amount. Michaels has it as 20 years, not 40 years, with no mention of doubled CO2. Reiss verified this fact to me, but he later sent the message: “I went back to my book and re-read the interview I had with you. I am embarrassed to say that although the book text is correct, in remembering our original conversation, during a casual phone interview with a Salon magazine reporter in 2001 I was off in years. What I asked you originally at your office window was for a prediction of what Broadway would look like in 40 years, not 20. But when I spoke to the Salon reporter 10 years later – probably because I’d been watching the predictions come true, I remembered it as a 20 year question.” Cite: http://goo.gl/GLAvg, which I found through the NYTs here: http://goo.gl/TKRMZ

    James, the doubling of CO2 is key which of course your denialist fraud source Anthony Watts cares not a whit about since he’s in the business of lying about the state of science. This is who you associate yourself with and depend upon as a source? A denialist fraud quoting a reporter’s quote from twenty years ago as it was quoted to another reporter ten years later; as opposed to a primary source validating what Dr. Hansen actually said? Mr. Watts is no better than Kent Hovind and Ken Hamm.

    And again James, my position is that of the scientific community which is who you should be comparing the Koch brothers positions to, not one mere scientist’s unpublished statements. They and Congressional Republicans are lying so badly they do not engage in policy debates in Congressional hearings, but instead present denialists paid to lie on behalf of people like the Koch brothers with a handful of scientists providing technical rebuttals attempting to clean-up the mess – which allows the GOP to avoid a policy debate given the reality of AGW. The committee hearings are a farce, not a single Congressman is qualified to determine whether the science community is correct if they weigh those testimonies equally to denialist liars nor should they have to be. Congress should be basing policy debates on reality, especially when its confidently held. Less confidently held understandings should of course lead to debates about the cost/benefit of certain policy positions as they relate to an unknown or not confidently held premise. But this also is not happening.

    James earlier:

    Are you denying that some regions/peoples of the earth would actually benefit from global warming? That all humans will be, on net, negatively affected?

    I stated:

    Humanity will not benefit from mass extinctions, I do not encounter any scientific or economic group making that argument – only dire to even more dire warnings. Yes there are some geographic areas that will be able to grow agricultural products they can’t now, but the overall impact will not allow that small benefit to be a net benefit. Especially given predictions regarding the extinction risk to oceanic life due to ocean acidification, which has already started.

    James:

    In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, “there you go again.” To say “humanity will/will not” is to talk about a “public interest.” I don’t do that, and I never made claims about whether humanity as a whole would benefit–I explicitly said some people would benefit.

    I realized what your point was and responded within a more accurate framework than your question. I was attempting to teach you that considering these issues too narrowly framed is to miss the entire point regarding the threat of global warming. James – you really need to bone-up on a matter that is clearly one of the top public policy debates of this century. You can’t merely apply abstract principles to an issue without first understanding an issue this complex.

    I never claimed nor would I ever that we shouldn’t honestly debate policies that create winners and losers. My point here is that you personally are unable to consider these debates and properly frame them and the legitimacy of their arguments without at least an elementary understanding of the scientific and economic understandings of climate change.

    Me earlier:

    Yes there are some geographic areas that will be able to grow agricultural products they can’t now,</blockquote

    James:

    Yes. See, you admit some people will benefit.

    James – I stated earlier in full:

    Yes there are some geographic areas that will be able to grow agricultural products they can’t now, but the overall impact will not allow that small benefit to be a net benefit. Especially given predictions regarding the extinction risk to oceanic life due to ocean acidification, which has already started.

    My small point that some areas will benefit in the short-term was to help you understand how denialists and greenwashers are using strawmen, red herrings, and glancing blows to avoid and divert people from considering and using the overall impact which threatens all of humanity as their framework. For example, if global warming helps Canada’s agricultural industry for a couple of decades but causes the mass extinction of oceanic life and eventually shuts down 50% of that country’s river basins, than those more dire predictions needed to be understood and considered when debating the handful of decades of better potentially better growing seasons. When one goes through the predicted impact to the globe its imperative to also note these benefits are incredibly small in number and trivial in marginal output relative to the predicted net harm. So honesty, framing, and understanding are imperative.

    Me earlier:

    It’s vividly clear you’ve yet to actually study up on the subject of AGW. Otherwise you wouldn’t continue to make these absurd analogies.

    James:

    I notice that each time you shift to this point you rely only on assertions of absurdity, not any well-developed argument. Since even you have admitted that some people will benefit, your own specific argument undermines your claim that the analogy is absurd. (And, of course, I’m not actually making an analogy, but stating a fundamental similarity between the issues that makes them part of a common class.) You keep resorting to the tactics of political advocates on each side of the debate–emotion-laden terms that express contempt for the other side. I’m far too familiar with such tactics to take them seriously.

    It would take a book, which is why I suggest you read one. I’d start with the book I mentioned earlier, Archer and Rahmstorf’s The Climate Crisis or at least read the executive summaries of the IPCC 2007 report. You’ve created a strawman of my point regarding that some people would benefit, I think inadvertently based on your not being informed on the science. As I noted previously, there’s very little good news for anyone, that good news is short-lived, and all of humanity risks harm given the peer-consensus view.

    But lets look at where I made the claim you need to bone-up. Here was the analogy by you I claimed was absurd:

    I’m sorry, but there is no public interest, only the conglomeration of private interests. I don’t care if we’re talking about food prices, oil prices, building a local sports arena, setting rules on how high I can let my grass grow, or global warming.

    Let’s assume one premise for arguments sake to test your point and my ridicule of this analogy. Let’s assume the scientific community confidently argues there’s a 50% chance of the Venus Syndrome – that’s the extinction of all life on this planet as we know it if we wait too long to start significant mitigation efforts. From a citizens’ perspective, that’d be mine, is there a public interest or not in eradicating this threat or not where this is a private interest analogous to sports stadiums and how long I cut my grass? [There is no peer-consensus on the Venus Syndrome nor does anyone make a claim regarding its probability. However there are a number of respected scientists in the relevant fields who believe it could be a possibility, that the physics appear to work though we need more studies on how the oceans move water around, there’s a sufficient quantity of carbon sunk in reserves to set off such an event, and subsequent findings don’t falsify this hypothesis, and finally recent findings continue to legitimize the hypothesis. I could have just as easily used the claim that is a peer-consensus one. That global warming at more modest rates in the past directly caused mass extinction events where we’ve already observed that the climate is moving poleward much faster than land-based flora and fauna are moving while the food chain in the ocean is also at risk.]

    I do not understand your supposed observation of my tactics and its use by less credible political advocates. I would give the same advice I give to you to a YEC because I’ve never met a YEC who was well-informed regarding the theory of evolution. And just like evolution is too complex to efficiently use comment posts to educate someone, neither is climate science. I also find it disingenuous to call this out prior to being able to falsify any claims I’ve made.

    And let’s take this back to the beginning. You complained that people were being unfairly critical of the Koch brothers to the point and I quote you, [Koch brothers] got the gall to get involved in politics and actually be effective.

    No James. Our collective ire is not because they’re engaged, but because they’re lying about what science confidently predicts is one the gravest threats ever faced by humanity. Your avoidance of this central point is disheartening.

    Me earlier:

    I read at least the PR releases of all climate change articles

    James:

    Reading press releases does not make one up on the science. Reading the scientific articles themselves does. Nobody can really be up on the science of something by reading press releases or news stories. How much of the actual journal articles are you accessing and reading.

    Note the operative phrase is “at least”. I just finished another book on climate science, the second in the past year. In addition I read all the blog posts by RealClimate which is written by climate scientists who expand provide perspective to new findings and debates. I also read Climate Progress where Joe Romm provides an incredible volume of cites to properly frame new findings and debates. My introduction to the climate was in 1986 when I took a class in environmental science in 1986. Reading the PR reports and abstracts of all reports does keep me up to date as a generalist, which is all I’ve ever claimed to be. I reject that going through all them at a surface level is trivial, I learn an enormous amount by keeping up on all these findings. Especially when it comes to validating or discarding what I learn through the books I read or the elaborations of findings like those at RealClimate.org.

    James:

    You do a whole lot of boasting about how tremendously knowledgeable about this you are. Yet you do more boasting about how much you know than you do actual referencing of peer-reviewed publications. I know what scientists sound like when they discuss scientific issues, and you don’t sound like a scientist. I also know what pure political advocates sound like when they discuss issues, and you sound like a pure political advocate.

    I understand the science at an elementary level and never claimed otherwise. I instead point out that I’m as up to speed as possible given that I keep track all newly published articles. I call bullshit on your claim about me here as well. In my long debates with Lance, cites available, my arguments were solely dependent only on peer-reviewed articles and mostly leveraged findings incorporated into the synthesis reports. Given your attack on my character here, please point to a thread where the argument was about the science where I was arguing like a non-science politico so I can at least determine the veracity of your claim. I’m skeptical you can find such a thread where the subject was science which I avoided and instead focused on politics.

    Instead I think you’re showing some pretty fierce projection since I find you’re avoiding the science and making abstract debates about political science principles which avoids the major controversy going on in this debate in the public square.

    James:

    In other words, while I remain wholly open to the AGW hypothesis and the potential for serious net costs on a globally collective measure (and am certainly not about to make any statements denying AGW is happening or is a serious issues), you don’t come across sounding like a credible witness. Your whole tone and approach is self-defeating. You sound more religious than scientific about the issue. It seems clear that for you this is a moral crusade. However much it frustrates you that I’m not willing to follow you there, I’m just not going to follow you there.

    Given all I’ve argued is that you get up to speed on the peer-accepted science, you are effectively arguing that you refuse to follow me there by becoming cognizant of the theory. Your argument is effectively that of determined ignorance. In addition your not being cognizant of the science has caused you to take positions on matters which are trivial in nature or just plain wrong (why we object to the Kochs), while missing out on the bigger debate that’s one of the most critical issues humanity’s ever faced.

  17. James K says:

    Michael Heath:
    I wouldn’t be so keen to use Stern as a source. Stern’s analysis of the cost of climate change, uses a couple of pretty dodgy assumptions (including the discount rate and the preference for income equality) that speaks against his good faith, or at least the quality of his analysis. William Nordhaus calculated (based on the same climate models) that Stern’s prescription would be a huge overreaction with costs that exceeded benefits by a wide margin.

    In many way though it simply doesn’t matter. There is no practical prospect of a meaningful international agreement on abating climate change, and without that the actions of individual countries is essentially futile.

    IMO, the best we can do is put some government money into researching alternative energy, and hope that it gets cheap enough before things go pear-shaped. Not a great plan, but it’s the best I’ve got.

  18. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    First, AMW satisfactorily points out that your reported 20% of GDP figure is not in fact supported by the source you give. The other points I’ll address using the traditional blockquote/response method.

    I think my response to AMW validated the claim I asserted. I have no problem with AMW’s skepticism since my assertion and my primary Archer-Rahmstorf cite made a very clear, but also nuanced point where the nuance escaped both me and AMW when you get into the actual weeds. The point was there in the Stern review but muddied to the point it took an hour to find it, which was exactly how Archer and Rahmstorf framed it in their book by the way.

    Me:

    Both authors are highly respected climate scientists, especially Dr. Rahmstorf.

    James:

    Appeal to authority. It’s legitimate to list their actual qualification. To skip the credentials and just say “highly respected climate scientists” is to engage in “high ground” claiming.

    Point taken. The reason I noted this was that denialists have been aggressively engaged in a lot of character assassinations, which you yourself promoted by citing Anthony Watts apparently libeling Dr. Hansen with a claim no credible academic should have ever used suggesting you’re both human and perhaps far too invested in defending your position rather than seeking objective truth. That’s some trash talk on my part since you’ve done the same to me – I assume you’re tough enough to take a little yourself – but seriously James, you should be ashamed of what you did regarding Dr. Hansen it was a lousy analogy, wholly without compelling evidence, and you given it was mere hearsay, had you trusting a fraud to the point you didn’t spend five minutes checking on how Dr. Hansen responded where we found Cato’s guy spreading the same lie about Dr. Hansen (and since it’s merely hearsay where the protagonist defends himself, it is a lie to promote a point about someone which one can’t validate is true and is an attack on their character and their intelligence).

    Me:

    The objective of the book is to explain to general readers what is is in the IPCC reports beyond the summaries for policy makers. It is therefore a report on the consensus view.

    James:That’s incorrect. The IPCC reports are a series of reports on specific issues–they are not “the consensus view,” but specific reports that have passed peer-review muster. That’s not the same thing as “consensus,” and the frequent repetition of “consensus” is no more than an effort to marginalize opposing scientists by belittling their positioning on the issue, rather than addressing the specifics of their research. Take, for example, the “the most testable concept in biology,” evolution. Biologists don’t repeat “there’s consensus” ad nauseum. I cannot help but suspect that the frequent references to consensus by so many people is really a sign of uncertainty and insecurity. Don’t worry, I know what the response will be–”but some people don’t understand that scientists really do know this stuff.” But of course that response is equally valid when discussing evolutionary theory, and biologists still don’t feel the need to constantly refer to their consensus, as opposed to their findings.

    Well you are flat-out wrong James. The IPCC report is a synthesis report which combines peer-reviewed findings into a synthesized and summarized report. In fact Dr. Rahmstorf was a lead author of that effort. There is peer-reviewed work in the IPCC reports which is not the consensus view, (e.g., McIntrye’s work), but I was describing the book, not the IPCC report where the book was intends to leverage the IPCC’s synthesized findings to educate its readers on the consensus view though the authors also provide more updated findings and distinguish their personal positions when they vary from the summarized findings. I don’t use the consensus view only as a bludgeon since the summarized views are becoming increasingly dated and underestimate what we are now observing and now predict with a few trivial exceptions.

    The Preface to The Climate Crisis also notes the intense negotiations within the climate science community that goes into developing the summary reports for policy makers which is where most people who read the reports stop. That includes me with the exception of this book which provides a method to delve into the meat of the reports which are far too wordy for me.

    Me:

    I assume the Stern results underestimates the cost of inadequate mitigation in this century. That’s because the assumptions regarding the expected rate of climate change understood at that time this report was being worked was far less than what is now predicted. This isn’t a surprise because we know the models don’t contain all the factors that drive warming since some components are not well enough understood to be incorporated into them,

    James:

    So are the factors now well enough understood to be incorporated into them? No, as you immediately admit in reference to Greenland ice. So if they still can’t incorporate those factors, then we can’t place much reliance on their revised predictions. Now perhaps the predictions have been revised because they’ve been able to improve their incorporation of such factors into the models, even if such incorporation is still imperfect. But that’s not what your claim says.

    James –it’s very difficult to write comment posts to an audience not up to speed on the basics, especially if want to honestly qualify and provide provisions to one’s points which I do. An elementary understanding of the findings has one cognizant that some of the biggest sources of increased warming rates are not in the models while science concedes those sources will contribute to warming (e.g., Greenland, but also methane emissions from melting permafrost which is also excluded form the models).
    As I stated previously, we’ve fine-tuned a number of items which all point to increasing rates of warming. I previously cited an MIT finding that incorporates those findings which increases the expected increase in temp. by century-end by 70% to 113%. I also noted that we’ve since discovered the climate is more sensitive than previously calculated to the point the climate scientists I’ve encountered noting limits have reduced the amount of CO2 and added forcings in order to avoid a tipping point.

    Me:

    Greenland ice melt which will have an enormous impact on climate and ocean levels if that ice melts yet it’s not incorporated into the models because of the complexity of understanding this melting (where Greenland is melting).
    James

    “If” that ice melts. How certain is this melting?
    It’s melting; here’s the most recent cite I’ve encountered: http://goo.gl/xUduO Money quotes:

    New research shows that 2010 set new records for the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, expected to be a major contributor to projected sea level rises in coming decades.

    The challenge is not whether it melts, but modeling it with a high degree of confidence and relatively small margin of error within a precise period of time used to make global predictions of temp. and sea levels.

    James following on my noting Greenland’s exclusion from some climate models:

    You say it’s not incorporated yet because the complexity is too great to understand, but you also admit, with that “if” that it’s not certain whether it’s going to melt. Uncertainty about whether it’s going to melt is in itself a damn good reason for either not incorporating it into the model, or incorporating it but not taking the model as definitively predicting the future. It represents a possible outcome if the incorporate conditions hold, but the incorporated conditions, if you are correct, are uncertain.

    This is a clerical error on my part. I never intended to note it might not melt, in fact I contradict my “if it melts” with the end assertion in parentheses where I correctly note Greenland ice is melting. I meant to convey Greenland’s ice shelf melting will have an enormous impact on temp. and sea levels but we can’t be certain precisely and at what rate for a given period of time in this century, to incorporate into the models. That incorporation would greatly reduce the confidence in those models and increase their margins of error. So those who report such models keep their certainty high and margins tight while noting they underestimate the effects of AGW given that which isn’t incorporated – those predictions are alarming enough and yet they’re not the full threat.

    James:

    Does [Stern] also then add in the savings from reduced heating costs? If he doesn’t, then he’s manipulating the data.

    Stern was criticizing other’s use of GDP, where he instead used income and consumption for his own analysis.

    James:

    His report is confusing as hell, and he has a metric that’s distinct from what others use, but we can be certain that it underestimates things? OK. That’s entirely persuasive.

    Who claimed it was persuasive? I merely sought to validate the claim existed when challenged by AMW. In fact what you respond to from me had me preemptively yearning for a more recent analysis.

    In addition I originally used that number to provide a range of concerning outcomes. I did read Stern’s entire chapter on his analysis, Chaper 6, of his and others findings. I found Stern’s critique of the other economists’ work underestimating the effects convincing while again, seeking more recent work to latch onto to a figure rather than Stern’s since I found his work predicated on overly modest assumptions from 2001 findings and prior. Primarily because the premises he and those economists who also presented predictions used were predictions and assumptions that were far too modest in terms of climate sensitivity and predicted rates of temp. and sea level rise. While he used 5 – 6 degree temp. increases in part of his model which is my understanding of the current predictions by century-end, that rise was based on a less sensitive climate, therefore the effects would take longer to incur with more modest impacts as they occured. People need to realize the vast majority of marginal energy sunk into the climate over our preindustrial energy budget, more than 90% if IIRC, is not stored in the atmosphere where it increases temperature but instead in the ocean which has a saturation point (though not precisely known) and where CO2 creates other effects beyond sea level expansion and warming, i.e., acidification which threatens the oceanic food chain and has already started – especially with animals with calcium carbonate shells.

    I’m not up to speed on what the economists have to say nor am I well-versed in the prescription debate with the exception of the horrible arguments made promoting geo-engineering as a primary fix to our predicament. My problem is that I keep digging into the skepticism and denialism of the science-end of this issue because I’m convinced we can’t begin to sufficiently debate policy issues while people remain oblivious to what science understands and warns us about; where scientists are voicing with increasing stridency given how most people admit it’s happening while remaining almost perfectly clueless on the impact that will have.

  19. Michael Heath says:

    James K:

    I wouldn’t be so keen to use Stern as a source. Stern’s analysis of the cost of climate change, uses a couple of pretty dodgy assumptions (including the discount rate and the preference for income equality) that speaks against his good faith, or at least the quality of his analysis. William Nordhaus calculated (based on the same climate models) that Stern’s prescription would be a huge overreaction with costs that exceeded benefits by a wide margin.

    Well as I’ve now repeatedly noted, they’re all flawed since they’re using old 10+ year old assumptions. IIRC Norhaus calculates a drop in GDP of 9 – 11% but fails to consider all the factors that will impact GDP which has him understating the cost. In addition I agree with Stern about the difficulty of using GDP for this measure and that we should not discount future impacts but instead relate our progeny’s cost to their time. From this perspective Stern is arguing that they will encounter 20% less consumption than if we mitigated away the negative effects of AGW.

    My read on the science has me concluding this and all the other calculations are too modest in spite of how significant a 9 – 35% drop in consumption is. I perceive a number of intangibles like increased defense budgets because of the added strife as people search for water and how mass extinctions will impact our food chain which was not modeled. Here’s a recent finding noting 0ne of those unaccounted for threats, money quote:

    Dr Fai Fung from the School of Geography and the Environment, has analysed the extent of water scarcity in some of the world’s largest river basins in the next 50 years, if global mean temperatures rise by two or four degrees Celsius.
    Even if global warming is limited to two degrees Celsius, the study suggests water supplies will dwindle in most river basins because of the increased demands for water from the world’s growing populations. In a four degree Celsius world, impacts of climate change would become the biggest threat. Projections suggest that in a world that is two degrees warmer, river basins will become drier and some wetter. An increase of four degrees will amplify the changes even more.
    The study also points out that the problem of water scarcity in most river basins will be made worse if warming proceeds more rapidly and large climate impacts coincide with a peak in world population. Cite: http://goo.gl/Dj1Lk

  20. James Hanley says:

    The Koch Brothers are aggressively and systemically involved in lying about the state of climate science [etc. etc.]

    Which has precisely zero to do with whether their lies are part of the policy debate. Sorry, but agenda-setting is part of the policy process. That’s part of the generally accepted academic understanding. Reject it if you want, but you have no principled basis for doing so, and as a political scientist, I just can’t that easily reject the standard definitions of my discipline.

    I was attempting to teach you that considering these issues too narrowly framed is to miss the entire point regarding the threat of global warming.

    I was specifically and explicitly not discussing substance. How many times do I have to say I wasn’t discussing substance before you stop pointing it out as though it’s some discovery, or a valid point of criticism? You’re basically saying that no discussion of the issue except in terms of substance is legitimate. But once again, I’m more of a policy process person than a substantive policy person–that’s my particular intellectual interest and I’m neither going to apologize for it nor agree that I must talk about substance on a particular issue. I don’t particularly care whether you think it’s too narrow of a focus–I find the way people try to set policy agendas to be a fascinating topic.

    You’ve created a strawman of my point regarding that some people would benefit, I think inadvertently based on your not being informed on the science.

    No, the science of global warming has nothing to do with the question of whether there is such a thing as a public interest or only individual interests. You can’t use “ignorance of the science” as an attack on an issue that doesn’t even involve the science. It is a fundamental proposition about human societies that is accurate (or not) regardless of the state of the climate.

    From a citizens’ perspective, that’d be mine, is there a public interest or not

    The question is not a meaningful one from the public choice understanding of the meaning of “public” interest. Because the public is not composed of a single preference ordering, the public does not have “an” interest, but “many” (competing) interests. A citizens’ perspective is just one of those competing interests. People often like to claim that their is a public interest, but it always turns out that some members of the public have interests that conflict with the supposed public interest. No subset of citizens, no matter how large, gets to determine what everyone else’s interests are. So my use of your comment about some farmers’ benefiting was not a strawman–it was a demonstration of the reality that the public has mixed and competing interests, not “an” interest.

    You want to dismiss this all, Michael, because it doesn’t take account of the science of global warming. But this analysis of human societies is wholly independent of the science of global warming. It didn’t arise in the context of analyzing global warming, and the existence and/or severity of global warming doesn’t actually effect the logic of it. Perhaps in the actual context of the Venus Syndrome it would, to some extent (we could safely assume every member of the public has an interest in not dying) but even then not completely, as our interests in how to respond would differ, with each of us having an interest in causing others to bear more of the cost than ourselves. The public’s interests would still be many rather than one.

    Re: Hansen. The 20 year/40 year distinction is a regrettable error, but not material. Another 20 years isn’t going to make a difference in whether that road will be under water. I’m willing to wager. And it’s no good emphasizing “but he was talking about a doubling of CO2,” because if he didn’t have actual evidence for a doubling in that 40 year period, he was still making stuff up. In my next post on this issue (see my final paragraphs below) I’ll make reference to another of Hansen’s extreme and implausible predictions.

    As to your use of the science, I may not know the specific science, but I do know scientists and how they speak. In addition to simply being within the general academic milieu, my regular Friday drinking partners are a chemist, a biologist, and a geologist. Sometimes, we are joined by others, but we four are the core. The people with whom I regularly spend my time and with whom I talk regularly about intellectual and academic subjects are natural scientists. I am working on research projects with both the chemist (life cycle analysis of paper dollars vs. dollar coins) and the biologist (the role of citizen-science in stream health monitoring). I know how scientists talk.

    To a substantial degree, a person need not know the substance of the science to know whether a person is speaking in the measured tones of a scientist or the less measured tones of an activist. There are specific types of words that are common across the sciences, and specific types of words whose absence is common across the sciences.

    I have at no point criticized or objected to the science behind your claims–I have criticized the tone of your presentation of that science. Those are substantively different things. You can pin the blame on me for not just accepting your claims if you want, but it seems to me to be counterproductive to refuse to consider the way in which your own tone increases or decreases the listeners’ probability of being persuaded. You’re shooting yourself in your own foot in your attempts to persuade me.

    But here’s my proposal. I’m going to start a series of posts where I look at specific issue relating to global warming. I’m not going to look at the overall big picture, because that’s too much, too broad, to have an intelligible debate about in this context. It will be a slow process, as I have limited time and attention, but I’ll try to look at specific issues to the best of my ability. And I’ll ask people to comment on those specific issues. I’ll also ask people–i.e., you and anyone else–to suggest what issues I should particularly address.

    But here’s the side of the bargain I’m going to ask you (and others) to keep: Stick to the subject of the post. In this post, my subject was why I wasn’t shocked or outraged that the Kochs do what they do, and you kept trying to make it about the science. But my point wasn’t about the science–my point was wholly independent of the truth of the science (even stipulating that the Kochs are lying through their asses about the science, all the points of my post stand–you never actually addressed them, you just kept saying, “but the science….!”). So if you can hold that side of the bargain, I will, bit by bit, engage in debate on the substantive issues with you. But if it devolves into a rant about me not caring enough because I don’t know the science, then I’m not going to continue on with it because I think that will adequately demonstrate the effort to be pointless and unproductive. It’s your chance to reach me, but it’s my blog, my rules.

  21. James Hanley says:

    I was describing the book, not the IPCC report

    Sigh. Then say you’re talking about the book, and don’t say, as you did, that you’re talking about the IPCC report.

    “If” that ice melts. How certain is this melting?
    It’s melting; here’s the most recent cite I’ve encountered

    I wasn’t actually disputing the melting. I was pointing out that you are writing contradictory things, then getting frustrated that I don’t just accept what you are saying. Don’t say “if” then say, “so we’ve modeled it and it demonstrates…” While you’re busy criticizing me for not knowing the science, I’m asking you to present the science well–to learn how to speak like a scientist.

    Who claimed it was persuasive?

    Um, you keep telling me I should believe all the things you’re reporting, now you’re telling me that you’re reporting things that are not persuasive. Funny thing, but I’m really hesitant to take seriously and get worked up about things that aren’t persuasive. If you don’t think it’s persuasive, please don’t report it as a claim we ought to take seriously. At the least it damages your credibility.

    From your earlier comment:

    My point here is that you personally are unable to consider these debates and properly frame them and the legitimacy of their arguments without at least an elementary understanding of the scientific and economic understandings of climate change.

    And from your more recent comment:

    I’m not up to speed on what the economists have to say

    I’m sure you can explain why there’s no contradiction there, no pot calling the kettle black.

    you should be ashamed of what you did regarding Dr. Hansen

    Nope, the correction still doesn’t clear Hansen of being utterly ridiculous and wildly misleading, and it’s not his only exaggerated claim. He’s the veritable boy who cried wolf. Are you familiar with Paul Ehrlich’s claim in 1967 that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in the 1970s and ’80s and it was too late for us to prevent it, no matter what we did? Turned out to be BS. Is it a slander of Ehrlich to say so? Are you familiar with the Global 2000 report’s 1980 prediction that the world’s population would be much poorer and much less stable in the year 2000? Didn’t happen. Is it slander to point out that they actually didn’t have solid grounding for their predictions?

    There’s a really bad track record for the more extravagant environmental claims, because they tend to not be based on any reliable data. Did Hansen have actual data predicting a doubling of CO2 in 40 years? If not, then pointing that out is not a slander. And pointing out that he said 40 years, not 20, is very much as if someone said, “Oh, Ehrlich meant the ’90s, not the ’70s,” because it still was a bad prediction that was not based on the evidence.

  22. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    Re: Hansen. The 20 year/40 year distinction is a regrettable error, but not material. Another 20 years isn’t going to make a difference in whether that road will be under water. I’m willing to wager. And it’s no good emphasizing “but he was talking about a doubling of CO2,” because if he didn’t have actual evidence for a doubling in that 40 year period, he was still making stuff up.

    The author Bob Reiss brought up a doubling in forty years as the framing for his question, not Dr. Hansen. Hansen and others have wrote about the effects of doubling CO2 to analyze the difference between CO2 levels then (around 280 ppm) and with a doubling (560 ppm); we’re at about 390 ppm now so the number wasn’t pulled out of anyone’s ass. You are attacking someone for answering a hypothetical question which is in the realm of possibilities back when the science was just emerging and using that as an illustrative example of what the Koch brothers do, it’s not.

    James – I am amazed that you of all people would be so easily willing to attack somebody’s character like you do here, without evidence. I thought I knew you better. You call out my tone while you blithely attack the character of someone without evidence. I have no major investment in Dr. Hansen; I do continually observe a feature of denialists such as Anthony Watts is to falsely impugn the character of others. Yes those denialists’ character is also attacked by pro-science advocates, but only after they’ve demonstrated their repeated, systemic, and dishonest attack on others to the point they easily earn their labels. To compare a systemic and expensively executed fraud against all of humanity like we see from the Koch brothers vs. one scientist speaking extemporaneously about a hypothetical to an author writing a book on extreme events; and you won’t concede the utter defectiveness of such a comparison? Especially when that scientist’s peer-reviewed work has led his field now for decades.

    James:

    Nope, the correction still doesn’t clear Hansen of being utterly ridiculous and wildly misleading, and it’s not his only exaggerated claim. He’s the veritable boy who cried wolf. Are you familiar with Paul Ehrlich’s claim in 1967 that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in the 1970s and ’80s and it was too late for us to prevent it, no matter what we did? Turned out to be BS. Is it a slander of Ehrlich to say so?

    These two are not even remotely equivalent. We should certainly criticize Ehrlich’s published work and his presentation of that work. In your analogy you don’t present Hansen’s work which was both seminal and has withstood scrutiny. In fact his ’88 Scenario B has been validated as accurate where that scenario was presented by him as the most likely outcome and yet Michaels and Watts, who are spreading this libel about Hansen, consistently misrepresent that model and its accuracy where it’s somewhat irrelevant now beyond its accuracy since models have advanced well past that one. It’s also a little ironic since Hansen is one of the more vociferous critics of over-relying on models rather than more strongly considering the paleoclimate findings. Instead you take a misquote of Hansen extemporaneously answering a hypothetical and compare that to what the Koch brothers and now to what Ehrlich published and promoted? That’s ridiculous James and a massive critical thinking error.

    Lastly, please provide a citation of Dr. Hansen’s work earning him the title of boy who cried wolf, I’ve never encountered any such thing being validated in spite of following his work now for decades. Don’t you think such a harsh judgment against a leader in the climate science community deserves a preemptive cite? Especially since you claim to not reject the findings of those disciplines?

    I look forward to your future blog posts on this subject.

  23. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    Did Hansen have any actual evidence for the claim that a doubling of CO2 would actually put that road under water? Apparently not, as;

    one scientist speaking extemporaneously about a hypothetical to an author writing a book on extreme events;

    That’s not an excuse–that’s an identification of the very problem.

    And I didn’t say he was the boy who cried wolf–I said the repeated failed predictions of environmental catastrophists creates a boy who cried wolf problem. Your repeated references to the Venus Syndrome, suggesting humanity could be exterminated by warming, only exacerbates that problem.

    And I like how easily you dismiss Ehrlich–apparently you are unaware that he was taken quite seriously back then, and that when he made his famous wager with Julian Simon, most knowledgeable people thought he would win. It’s very easy to dismiss these people post-hoc. It’s harder to recognize them in real-time. That’s not to say Hansen is as bad as Ehrlich–I don’t think he’s remotely as bad. But he does have a tendency to being more alarmist than most scientists, perhaps because he simply talks in public too much and gets a bit carried away.

    And I’m not attacking Hansen’s peer reviewed work–I’m critiquing only his tendency to make extravagant statements unsupported by that work.

  24. James Hanley says:

    Off the cuff, one of the reasons I’ve avoided investing time into the climate debate is because of this type of discussion. It’s damned near impossible to have a measured discussion with anyone on this topic. On the one side you have the denialists, who will eagerly embrace any lie to buttress their argument. On the other side you have the advocates, who demand an unquestioning adherence to the most recent and qualified findings of every climate scientist, and refuse to consider the ways in which their own side in the debate has given fodder to the denialists.

    It’s like discussing abortion with either radical feminists or Operation rescue folks. It can’t actually be done. It all devolves to moral outrage posturing as unquestionable truth.

  25. Michael Heath says:

    James,

    I strongly disagree with the accuracy of your original and continued characterization of Hansen’s behavior and I strongly disagree that my pointing out what I perceive to be both obvious and a highly flawed comparison between what Hansen does/says with Watt and the Kochs makes me a defective advocate regarding the state of the science.

  26. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    Maybe we’ll be able to have a less rancorous and more collegial discussion when I start posting on specific issues. But if it becomes nothing more than a defense of everything any climate scientist says as basically unquestionable, and every critique is characterized as “unfair,” then I don’t think we’ll get anywhere.

    I’ll point out that yet again when you are objecting to my critique of Hansen you make only an assertion of unfairness. There is nothing remotely resembling an actual evidentiary or logical argument about why my comparison to Ehrlich is “unfair.” If you provided a logical argument, with some facts or persuasive points of some kind, then you have a chance of persuading me. But to simply categorize the comparison as unfair without such an argument…on what basis do you think that might actually persuade me?

  27. Michael Heath says:

    James,

    This is off the top of my head (I’m at work), but flooding of NYC around the area Hansen was alluding is predicted with high confidence with far less than double CO2 than what CO2 was in 1988 when this discussion took place (which was 351 ppm in ’88). So what Dr. Hansen stated regarding a world with double Co2 was actually very modest though the time frame (forty years) was not, but the conditions he expressed at those CO2 levels still fits in with predictions presented in the synthesis report, in spite of those reports not accounting for sea level rise from Greenland melting. I’m fairly certain the models predict NYC floods in that specific area at much less than 550 ppm (we’re at about 390 now), though I don’t recall the number.

    Dr. Hansen’s mistake was answering a hypothetical to a reporter, not promoting an unfounded alarmist message to the public as Watts dishonestly framed it as. As someone whose followed his career for decades now, it’s a given he’s not media-savvy -even he acknowledges that; but from my perspective he’s distinguished himself in both his research and the validation of his predictions where his comment here doesn’t even remotely equate to what Watt and the Kochs do, one makes an inadvertent fuck-up once – he’s not promoting that reporter’s question as a prediction of things to come in forty years, the other two have an agenda to systemically lie to the public.

  28. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    He wasn’t media savvy then, or he still isn’t media savvy? The prior would be excusable (but I’ll await more definitive data rather than the off the top of your head argument), but the latter, after decades of involvement with the media and engaging the public, would entail an abysmal continuing ignorance and an egregious level of irresponsibility bordering on a wilful desire to be misquoted. But I don’t know that the latter claim is true. I suspect he’s surely gained media savvy since that interview. (It would also help if he would actually put up a corrections page on his website–he seems to take few pains to dispel the more outrageous statements attributed to him, even in cases that I know are false.)

    I’m working on two posts for some future date. One further critiques Hansen, the other tracks down misattributed claims.

  29. Michael Heath says:

    James in context of the James Hansen quotemine:

    Are you familiar with Paul Ehrlich’s claim in 1967 that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in the 1970s and ’80s and it was too late for us to prevent it, no matter what we did? Turned out to be BS. Is it a slander of Ehrlich to say so?

    My immediate response:

    These two are not even remotely equivalent. We should certainly criticize Ehrlich’s published work and his presentation of that work. In your analogy you don’t present Hansen’s work which was both seminal and has withstood scrutiny. In fact his ’88 Scenario B has been validated as accurate where that scenario was presented by him as the most likely outcome and yet Michaels and Watts, who are spreading this libel about Hansen, consistently misrepresent that model and its accuracy where it’s somewhat irrelevant now beyond its accuracy since models have advanced well past that one.

    James response:

    I like how easily you dismiss Ehrlich–apparently you are unaware that he was taken quite seriously back then, and that when he made his famous wager with Julian Simon, most knowledgeable people thought he would win. It’s very easy to dismiss these people post-hoc. It’s harder to recognize them in real-time. That’s not to say Hansen is as bad as Ehrlich–I don’t think he’s remotely as bad. But he does have a tendency to being more alarmist than most scientists, perhaps because he simply talks in public too much and gets a bit carried away.

    And I’m not attacking Hansen’s peer reviewed work–I’m critiquing only his tendency to make extravagant statements unsupported by that work.

    Let’s parse the problems with your analogy here. First off I was quick to criticize Dr. Ehrlich because his work was confidently asserted in spite of never being peer-accepted and was falsified. James, I’m a strong believer the public should defer to the consensus position when its confidently held. That’s because the public, including me, is not qualified to assess an individual’s work or qualified to rebut the stand the experts in the field take. That doesn’t mean I’m a mere sheep on all subjects, I’ve done my share of research on some topics (seven evolution books in Darwin’s year on evolution) so I don’t passively accept it all, but I do defer.

    From this perspective, I am in no way qualified to assess any individual scientist’s work except through the filter of how its received by their peers. Therefore I’m not cognizant of my holding any positions taken solely by a single scientist, I do think scientists who argue we should consider certain possibilities who’ve previously proven themselves should drive research in that area, especially when the risks are high, such as the Venus Syndrome notion while taking policy positions on the most prudent point on the curve (where my operations research background does provide some skills in developing a position with hedges).

    You were surprised I doubted Stern but that’s perfectly consistent with my point here, which is that I prefer seeing a community of experts taking a position, relying on one person to explain a reality is a dubious enterprise. I used his position as one point in a continuum simply because it was from a synthesis book. Further investigation (my reading his actual paper after AMW asked for a cite) had me convinced that him and other independent analyses from that time are all understated simply because the predictions they were using were based on less onerous climate impacts than they are now and their failure to consider a sufficient set of factors, where Stern himself concurs on both.

    The second fatal defect in your analogy is that Dr. Hansen was not publishing or promoting a prediction in terms of what will happen outside the bounds of what science understands, unlike Ehrlich or the systemic falsehoods promoted by the Kochs and Watt. He was asked a hypothetical question and provided an answer consistent with climate physics to that question, in fact it was also consistent with an ’81 paper he wrote on the effects of doubling CO2 (which is perhaps where this reporter got the idea to ask what that area would look like if Hansen’s doubling scenario occurred). That’s a gaffe James, not a promoted position systemically and energetically promoted and backed by tens of millions of dollars and some congressmen and a think tank on the dole to do so. Hansen’s one-off quote and Ehrlich’s theory are not remotely analogous in terms of helping to criticize Hansen beyond the stupidity of answering hypotheticals. And James, to be clear, you appear to be framing Hansen’s response as a prediction; it was not a prediction, it was instead a response on a ‘what if?’ which Hansen never claimed would happen in forty years given certain emission rate scenarios nor was he promoting this idea, he we was merely responding to a reporter.

    Does he deserve criticism, sure. But is that worthy of avoiding what the climate science community understands relative to instead compare that gaffe with what the Koch brothers do? Does he deserve for this to brought up twenty-three years later in order to assassinate his character as you, Watts, and Patrick Michael do? I think that’s way out of line where I hope you never get treated that way in public, nor me.

    I read Hansen’s book last year. He did a good job of distinguishing the differences between the science, where his scientific views veered (prefers paleoclimate findings more relative to how his peers weight those findings to models), his policy prescriptions, and what we now understand about both the physics and the nature of carbon sinks that should cause us to more thoroughly research the worst case scenario. His communications failures were also dealt with and provided me a better understanding regarding why science in the age of conservatism is chronically unable to get the public to pay attention (which is a topic of Chris Mooney’s book which I also read and reviewed). Hansen did a lousy job of citing his work in Storms which had me knocking down stars for both that and not adequately fleshing out his Venus Syndrome notion sufficiently. (Though he does have a webpage with all his book’s graphs which are also at GISS.) Yes he’s an ‘alarmist’ if one is uninformed of what the climate science community understands; but as someone who follows every paper published that gets a mention in ScienceDaily.com or my other regular sources, nearly all of his peers are ‘alarmists’ where some are arguing their findings have them concluding there’s a chance we’ve already surpassed the tipping point and can’t stop runaway warming (the Armour and Roe paper I cite above at 8:33 p.m. from GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS). Here’s my review of Hansen’s book, where I gave him three stars out of five: http://goo.gl/aduku

  30. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    All right, I want to call this one quits. I’ll come back to Hansen later. But can I just say that your repeated references to the Kochs in your defense of Hansen is the grossest kind of bullshit? Either Hansen fucked up or he didn’t–what the Kochs or any other denialists do is not even remotely relevant (If I steal a popsicle from a kid, I can’t mount a defense of, “but Wilie Sutton is robbing banks”).

    You seem unable to discuss any aspect of this issue without continual reference back to them, but I’m not avoiding, as you inaccurately imply, what the Kochs are saying. I’ve stipulated that they’re dishonest (the only thing we disagree about there, as far as I can tell, is whether I ought to be howling in outrage, and that’s not a fact to be stipulated to, but a normative issue). Once two parties to a debate stipulate to certain facts, the debate focuses on other things–areas where there are disputes about the facts. So let’s set the damned Kochs aside. You know what they say about too many Kochs.

    We’ve now worked over this Hansen claim pretty thoroughly. I have come around to recognizing that it wasn’t as bad as I at first thought, and you’ve moved from a pretty unconditional defense to agreeing he made a mistake. The rest we can work out as time goes by.

  31. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    But can I just say that your repeated references to the Kochs in your defense of Hansen is the grossest kind of bullshit? Either Hansen fucked up or he didn’t–what the Kochs or any other denialists do is not even remotely relevant (If I steal a popsicle from a kid, I can’t mount a defense of, “but Wilie Sutton is robbing banks”).

    I agree it’s gross bullshit, that was my original and continued rebuttal towards you regarding your comparing a gaffe by Hansen with what Watt and the Koch brothers do. You are the one who originally conflated the Koch brothers with Hansen where I called that out as an equivalency failure, where further research amplified into an enormous equivalency error since you also misrepresented what he actually did. I.e., Hansen never lied contra your claim and he never made a prediction which was subsequently falsified.

    No one has claimed that Dr. Hansen didn’t fuck-up, but I’d argue it’s equivalent to a nit compared to the horrendous behavior by the Kochs and Mr. Watt, which is why conflating those denialists systemic efforts to pollute the public square with a scientist who made a gaffe twenty-three years ago has me seriously questioning your motivation here James.

    We also now have evidence of severe projection on your part James regarding your “gross bullshit” quip since you are actually criticizing your own behavior of conflating the Kochs with Dr. Hansen. I quote from your 12:58 a.m. post from earlier today which started the conflation between them you now claim is “gross bullshit”:

    You say the Kochs’ are trying to keep the debate from happening, but that is part of the policy press. It’s the agenda-setting part, and it’s a crucial aspect of determining on what issues we move forward to make policy. You want to say the policy debate is only when we’re deciding how to respond, but a part of the debate is deciding if we respond, and whether there’s an issue to respond to. So the Kochs are lying–that’s normal politics. As it turns out, Hansen has lied, too, or at least been so careless with his predictions that it’s fundamentally indistinguishable from base dishonesty. Is he as bad as the Kochs? That’s irrelevant–a good defense one dishonesty is not “but they’re more dishonest.”

    James – from my perspective you’re punching yourself in the face.

  32. James K says:

    Michael:

    Well as I’ve now repeatedly noted, they’re all flawed since they’re using old 10+ year old assumptions.

    The version of Nordhaus’s model I have is based on DICE 2007, so I assume his assumptions are more recent.

    In addition I agree with Stern about the difficulty of using GDP for this measure and that we should not discount future impacts but instead relate our progeny’s cost to their time. From this perspective Stern is arguing that they will encounter 20% less consumption than if we mitigated away the negative effects of AGW.

    GDP is always problematic as a measure, but my real problem is the discount rate. Discounting is not optional, it is of vital importance in reconciling present and future costs and benefits. Equally his treatment of costs to all people as being the same regardless of income (as opposed to weighting costs to poor people more highly) is most unusual. If we were to apply his methodology consistently to all policy problems (and to do otherwise would be special pleading) one would be forced to recommend the abolition of all welfare and massive subsidies for investment. Do you want to live in that world? Because Stern seems to live in it.

  33. Michael Heath says:

    James K:

    GDP is always problematic as a measure, but my real problem is the discount rate. Discounting is not optional, it is of vital importance in reconciling present and future costs and benefits.

    In order to better understand your point. If someone in 2095 encountered 20% less consumption if we continue business as usual per Stern’s model, how would that look differently if we discount? I’m not looking for an exact figure, please feel free to use assumptions to make a general point. I’m instead merely attempting to understand the marginal value of discounting when doing this specific sort of analysis.

  34. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    I haven’t had a chance to look at the Stern Review yet. Is that 20% less than now, or 20% less than would otherwise be the case at that point in the future?

  35. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    I haven’t had a chance to look at the Stern Review yet. Is that 20% less than now, or 20% less than would otherwise be the case at that point in the future?

    I believe that figure was at the point temperature increased by 5 – 6 deg. C, from then onward (I’m certain on the onward). Page 10 of the long-version executive summary confusingly claims this prediction as “now and into the future” but that’s after some qualifiers are noted including this temp. anomaly. Obviously we won’t encounter a 20% drop in consumption now so I think my first statement is the correct way to read his prediction. The long version of his report quotes the 5 – 20% as “now and onward” as well but only after describing the world encountering climate change of 2 – 3 degrees centigrade to 5 -6 degrees centigrade (with qualifiers on why even this range is understated), which is what he believes consumption drops will approach at the higher temp. level. That higher range is what at least MIT’s prediction is for the end of this century.

    I have not encountered an article that opposes his approach which is partly why I asked to James K. to defend his objection (I’m aware they exist.). It seems intuitive to me that since we’re looking at marginal differences between BAU and mitigating for AGW, we’d want the marginal differences for a specific period to applied to the people of that time, not discounted back to this year since the analysis should be about the wellbeing of those people in their specific time rather than about us.

  36. James K says:

    Michael, fair enought, I’ll give you a few test calulations:

    Let’s call the value of the consumer’s consumption C. If we don’t discount a 20% reduction in their consumption then the cost from climate change would be 0.2C, regardless of whether that person was consuming in 2011 or 2095.

    The size of the effect varies with the discount rate in a highly non-linear way, the general formula would be (1+r)^-t where r is the annual discount rate and t is the number of years into the future the cost or benefit is occurring. So with a discount rate of 7.5%, the discounted cost from that 20% reduction would be 0.00046C, only 0.2% of the magnitude. Interest rates are higher in New Zealand, even for government, than the US so you might use something lower, say only 5%. In which case the discounted cost is 0.00322C, or 1.7% of the magnitude of the undiscounted figure.

    Now none of this really matters if the costs and benefits are occurring at the same time, but bear in mind to avoid climate change we have to accept costs now, and discounting your costs and benefits will mean that it takes a very large benefit in 2095 to offset a cost borne in 2011.

    If you’re interested in BCA from a technical standpoint you might want to look at this, it’s the gold standard for BCA in New Zealand. Sections 3.2 – 3.4 are relevant here.

  37. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    Now none of this really matters if the costs and benefits are occurring at the same time, but bear in mind to avoid climate change we have to accept costs now, and discounting your costs and benefits will mean that it takes a very large benefit in 2095 to offset a cost borne in 2011.

    Part of the reason I haven’t delved into this aspect much* is because it’s a no-brainer, which is why it’s so exasperating that the denialist argument resonates (I don’t add the skeptical argument since it gets virtually no play in rippling through the public square). Even if one is a skeptic, the insurance cost relative to the benefit is also a no-brainer, it’s not even close where I think the two major factors doesn’t even require an understanding of the hit in economic terms of a BAU (though of course that would nice to have), it does require
    a) Understanding the costs of mitigation; perhaps a small rise in GDP though I’m skeptical of that prediction in the short-term to somewhere between 2 – 5% GDP. It depends on the country and how late they start. The later they start the more expensive, partly because they’ll lose out on the benefits of being a source of innovation.
    b) The effects of going beyond the tipping point, which some papers are claiming might have already happened. A tipping point is where the marginal energy now stored will not allow us to retreat and save the ice caps even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gasses. There is no consensus view of when that tipping point occurs primarily while I believe most climate scientists agree it both exists and a 6 degree rise this century risks going over. The effects of surpassing the tipping point as I understand it is sea levels which are tens of meters higher and mass extinctions in the ocean and flora and fauna on land. Stern’s numbers do not consider this effect – which wouldn’t happen in the next couple of centuries but well beyond that, but the pivotal moment is now on whether we go over this tipping point or not with perhaps two more decades of cushion but perhaps not. Part of the problem in precisely gauging this is that we’re changing the climate far faster than it was changed previously and the human-generated forcings we’re using to do it dominate far beyond any natural forcings which could eventually offset it.

    I think part of the problem beyond an uninformed and misinformed public is that the public and the media have grasped onto temperature as the signal to watch, where people consider a small rise in a climate’s temperature trivial (which is course intuitive and makes sense if one is uninformed). This was a communication error that the climate science community is responsible for spreading. I think they should have instead focused on our energy budget, climate sensitivity, and the effects of reaching and surpassing this tipping point. Focusing first on the physics in these areas would have people come to realize the existence of tipping points and how a small change (from their perspective) in temperature creates a path to a tipping point which would be very difficult and expensive to retreat from or perhaps even impossible, even with the geo-engineering notions being presented (because they don’t address the marginal increase in energy already stored in the oceans).

    Once one begins to understand how climate change actually works, what our current observations are, what the paleoclimate findings inform us, then it becomes obvious that a 20% loss of consumption/income/GDP is a very modest estimate to the point of absurdity where the moderate consensus perspective makes for a convincing argument on why to hustle when it comes to green tech. Especially given all the other benefits of having CO2 producers/consumers pay for their externalities and our becoming energy independent.

    *Another reason is probably not having anyone to discuss the economics of it with. You’d think this would be the central ongoing debate in our public square and yet we practically don’t even have a debate in Congress about this aspect because denialists have been successful in keeping the debate centered on the science in spite of science being quite confident and clear in their general descriptions and predictions.

  38. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    I’d suggest we haven’t had a debate on the economics of it not because the denialists keep it centered on the science, but because neither the public, legislators, nor the climate scientists have any economic competency.

  39. James K says:

    I’m not sure I buy that explanation James, when does a lack of expertise stop people from debating economics?

    Michael Heath:
    The relevance of discounting is that it shifts policy at the margins. Nordhaus uses discounting, but he still calls for a Carbon tax, just not as large a one as Stern does. And I definitely agree about hustling on green tech. Especially since I don’t think a workable agreement on carbon taxes will ever arise, technology is likely our only hope.

  40. James Hanley says:

    Can we afford to invest in both the technology that will reduce CO2 emissions and the infrastructure necessary for adaptation? That seems like the crucial question to me.

  41. Michael Heath says:

    James Hanley:

    Can we afford to invest in both the technology that will reduce CO2 emissions and the infrastructure necessary for adaptation? That seems like the crucial question to me.

    I think we can easily afford to do so, in spite of the fact healthcare costs and unbooked but pending government liabilities on healthcare costs are enormous. The effect on the necessary carbon taxes for example are not that onerous where market prices gyrate much more than the cost of these taxes. The task is impossible not because of the math, but because of entrenched interests feeding at the public trough and the necessity to cut spending in those areas (including tax subsidies) to afford to invest in the future combined with some modest tax increases on individuals. And while I can’t see anyway out of not increasing taxes on individuals, I became convinced long ago that we can’t effectively compete in the future without lower taxes on businesses and capital, which puts an even bigger burden on individuals but i think in return would drive more and higher quality jobs and higher median discretionary income due to a far better business climate. Because we can’t compete on wages anymore, we must be a leader on tax climate while still insuring proper government investment that makes for a conducive business climate – which points the finger directly at individuals (all of this is why I favor a consumption/VAT tax).

    Now this strong medicine regarding modest tax hikes and spending cuts in pampered industries will not happen in this current political climate. Not as long as the Koch brothers and people like them are effectively controlling the votes of conservative populists. It’s really amazing to me to encounter a clear message on what needs to happen or else all humanity’s wellbeing is risked be countered with lunacy, but that’s where we find ourselves. So when it comes to a way forward, I think the only way out and it’s humbly presented, is to get the public to confront the facts regarding climate and what it means to encounter mass extinctions and sea levels meters high where we can’t stop the increase. What else will get them off their firmly rooted talking points?

    Let’s remember the lunacy we’re dealing with, the Republican party, which used to be the party advocating that government run itself like a business, which is what originally attracted me to the party, now advocates we don’t eradicate waste in Medicare (current congressional Republicans) or that we effectively kill it altogether after their current voting constituency dies out (the Randian Ryan plan).

  42. James K says:

    Michael:

    While I share much of your sentiment, I don’t think the Republicans are as big a problem as you think. For one thing, I don’t think the Democrats are all that keen either, petrol taxes don’t add up to good politics in the US. For another, even the US got on board, that’s not enough to get the job done. China and India need to agree to make significant cats, and I don’t think they’ll do it. China’s government relies on China’s growth rates to prevent social unrest. If they slow growth down (and restricting carbon emissions will suppress growth in the short-run) they may have another Tunisia or Egypt on their hands. Plus, their wealth-environmental quality trade-off is different, I doubt they’d care too much is a few millions of their citizens were killed by extreme weather, all they’d have to do is relax the one-child policy. People are, after all, a renewable resource.

    Without China, nothing the rest of the world does will make a meaningful difference, they’re too large. That’s why I’m so focuses on technological solutions, China’s more likely to play along (they’re already experimenting with nuclear power), and ti matters less if they don’t.

  43. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    While I share much of your sentiment, I don’t think the Republicans are as big a problem as you think. For one thing, I don’t think the Democrats are all that keen either, petrol taxes don’t add up to good politics in the US.

    Well there are Democrats in Congress seeking to protect local interests, such as in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. But the vast majority of Democrats and the President are on-board with mitigating for global warming. Those balking Democrats are also willing to create mitigation policies, they’re merely seeking to spread those costs to all of us rather than their district’s producers and consumers funding their current and future externalities. While I don’t like the balkers’ position, it’s negotiable and in fact the House did pass a bill monolithically filibustered by the GOP in the Senate.

    It is the Republicans who are the one and only effective barrier to progress. Your’s is another wow statement James given Congressional Republicans are now monolithically denying climate change predictions to the point they refuse to concede the science and are currently gearing up to obfuscate the science re the Michael Mann witch hunt and hearings on Climategate in spite of Climategate findings having nothing to do with the veracity of the theory.

    This is a huge change from the late-90s when many Republicans were increasingly conceding the science as the big oil companies because to concede it as well given their own experts told them by the mid-90s global warming was real. Then Dick Cheney took control of energy policy and the Koch brothers almost single-handedly took over the task of financing denialism and greenwashing that Big Oil had just discarded. And what’s happened since the late-90s? We’ve got a much better understanding of climate change, our observations are far more dire, the 00’s became the hottest decade on record after the 90s and Arctic sea ice volume is disintegrating at incredibly fast rates to the point 2+ year old ice has dropped down to mid-teens percentage wise (Arctic ice volume disintegration is one of the biggest ‘amplifying feedback’ risks we face since it turns a reflector of energy, white ice, into an absorber of energy, blue water).

    See three-color graph titled “September Ice Age 1981 – 2010”: http://goo.gl/Ird9H The data is from one of the best resources on the Internet regarding this topic, the National Snow and Ice Data Center out of the U. of Colorado: http://nsidc.org/

    James:

    China and India need to agree to make significant cats, and I don’t think they’ll do it.

    I disagree. Every signal that China’s sent is they are all in favoring of doing what’s necessary but wants assurances that they won’t be punished with lower trade volume. This is a fair request given they are not responsible for global warming as I noted earlier and want the same economic opportunity to become developed that Western Europe, Japan, and the U.S. had which created this predicament. China’s reticence has little to do with their reluctance to be more aggressive but instead the lack of commitment by the U.S. which punishes China regarding coal power generation.

    James, the world requires U.S. leadership on this issue where the U.S.’s effective position in terms of policy is that science’s predictions regarding global warming is that it does not exist. I assert “does not exist” because even if the debate was about some level of doubt, the insurance cost of mitigation with other related benefits still make it a no-brainer to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we do not. Therefore we are effectively acting as if there is no risk at all in spite of the fact the synthesized consensus reports use terms that are typically in the 90 – 95% confidence range. E.g., in the IPCC AR4 predictions on the major changes tracked as Virtually certain > 99% probability of occurrence, Extremely likely >95%, Very likely > 90% (usually with +/-5% uncertainty). Cite: Footnote 6 of AR4 Summary for Policy Makers on page 3 for confidence level phrasing, and Footnote 5 on Page 2 for uncertainty.

    I don’t know India’s position well enough to opine on it.

    James:

    China’s government relies on China’s growth rates to prevent social unrest. If they slow growth down (and restricting carbon emissions will suppress growth in the short-run) they may have another Tunisia or Egypt on their hands.

    Do you have cites that China’s only recourse to mitigation causes suppression of their growth rates? My understanding is that they can transform away from coal but can’t do so unless their costs can be fairly embedded in their pricing and they won’t encounter onerous taxes on getting their exports into importing countries. Again, China is making the case that mitigation costs should be fairly spread to those responsible where they will then invest in transforming their carbon footprint. I agree with the Chinese and think their position is perfectly fair.

    James:

    Without China, nothing the rest of the world does will make a meaningful difference, they’re too large. That’s why I’m so focuses on technological solutions, China’s more likely to play along (they’re already experimenting with nuclear power), and ti matters less if they don’t.

    I’m fairly confident everything but geo-engineering must be play given the risk we’ve already surpassed the tipping point which is starting to be asserted in the peer-reviewed literature* (beyond Hansen) and if we haven’t, will so quickly (no later than the 2030s), require all approaches. You can’t merely focus on technological solutions, reduction of coal emissions has to be in play as well. In fact the science informs us the single most imperative action we need to take is reduce emissions from coal, far and above the most important task. The Chinese already concede this fact and don’t hide from it**; they’re not the dishonest brokers dealing in bad faith here, the U.S. is. The Republican party has humanity’s fate in its hands on a matter it argues doesn’t even exist, this is not an opinion, it’s an empirical fact.

    *. . . observations are currently unable to eliminate the possibility that we are already beyond the point where the ultimate warming will exceed dangerous levels. Models produce a narrower range of climate commitment, but undersample observed forcing constraints. http://goo.gl/fgBE4

    **The Chinese are disingenuous in how they’re framing their metrics in terms of looking at emissions from a per-capita perspective which muddies the water on the issue. However and again, it’s my perspective their stalling has everything to do with our doing nothing which prevents them from becoming serious without significant downward pressure on their growth rates. This is also the general conclusion that comes out of the inter-country climate change meetings like the one in Copenhagen a couple of years ago and the recent meeting in Mexico.

  44. James K says:

    Michael:
    It may look like the Republicans are the stumbling block, but that’s because the Republican opposition lets everyone else offer lip service to fixing the environment. I expect much of that support to disappear if the Republicans stop being ridiculous on this issue. For one thing, I can’t see the manufacturing unions being very keen on the idea and as the auto bailout showed they still have a long reach.

    James, the world requires U.S. leadership on this issue
    Yeah, where have I heard that before. You may find this hard to believe but other governments are perfectly capable of doing stupid things without your help. They aren’t acting because action would be politically inconvenient for them, not because they’re paralysed with indecision until the US comes riding in on a white horse. And I’m not if you’ve noticed by most people around the world don’t actually like your government all that much, so I’m not sure why they’d act on your President’s say so.

    I’m fairly confident everything but geo-engineering must be play given the risk we’ve already surpassed the tipping point

    The trouble is that political attention on this subject (like most subjects) is a limited resource. I would like governments to focus on the solutions I think are most likely to work. Once we a have a huge global alternative energy prize fund, then we can worry about wasting time trying to negotiate abatement agreements. Who knows? a miracle might happen. Besides which, the cheaper our alternative energy is, the lower the cost to switching to that tech and therefore the lower the cost of taxing fossil fuels.

    Do you have cites that China’s only recourse to mitigation causes suppression of their growth rates? My understanding is that they can transform away from coal but can’t do so unless their costs can be fairly embedded in their pricing

    That’s what I mean by “it would lower their GDP”. Swapping a cheap input for an expensive one (controlling for quality factors that affect production) necessarily lowers your productivity and by extension your GDP. Sure if the West subsidised the change (by lowering their tariffs on goods that don’t use fossil fuels) that would make a difference, but it would do so by moving the cost from China to Western countries. Can you see Western politicians going for that?

    You can’t merely focus on technological solutions, reduction of coal emissions has to be in play as well. In fact the science informs us the single most imperative action we need to take is reduce emissions from coal, far and above the most important task.

    I focus on it because its the only thing I think will work politically. I would welcome a global Carbon tax. Hell, I’d welcome the development of cold fusion too, and I think the one is as likely as the other. And the technology I’m talking about is a zero-carbon energy source cheap enough to displace coal (either cheaper than coal at the margin, or only a little more expensive). Once we have that , getting people to abandon coal should be pretty simple.

    As far as I know nuclear fission is the best technology we already have that could fulfil the role, and we should be investigating how France manages to do nuclear power so efficiently, as well as new reactor technologies like Pebble Bed reactors that are cheaper and simpler than older models. Beyond that, hot fusion is doubtless worth a look, and there may be other options I’m not aware of.

    The Chinese already concede this fact and don’t hide from it; they’re not the dishonest brokers dealing in bad faith here, the U.S. is.

    This isn’t an either-or question and I’ll believe China is serious when they act. Talk is cheap, and there’s a world of difference between saying something’s important and acting like its important (i.e. taking costing action in regard to that thing).

  45. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    Every signal that China’s sent is they are all in favoring of doing what’s necessary but wants assurances that they won’t be punished with lower trade volume.

    I don’t think that’s correct. It’s not only their verbal signals that matter, but their investment signals. And China is investing in high speed rail not just to move more people, but to open up more conventional rail capacity for movement of coal. I haven’t seen any actual actions by China’s government that suggests they’re seriously interested in shifting away from coal yet. Of course I haven’t paid attention to all their government’s actions, so I obviously could have missed something. But I trust the words of their government less than the words of my own government. Their words aren’t sufficient to demonstrate credible commitment.

    the world requires U.S. leadership on this issue where the U.S.’s effective position in terms of policy is that science’s predictions regarding global warming is that it does not exist

    I think this is true, although my interpretation of it may differ. While everything James K says in rebuttal is true, the trope of U.S. leadership has become so prominent that lack of U.S. action provides convenient cover for other governments to not make difficult choices. Witness the early years of the Kyoto protocols when other countries explicitly cited the failure of the U.S. to sign it as justification for their own refusal. And because of the amount of CO2 we produce, lack of action on our part provides a convenient excuse–“it doesn’t matter what we do, the U.S. produces so much CO2 that unilateral action on our part won’t have any effect anyway.”

    Do you have cites that China’s only recourse to mitigation causes suppression of their growth rates? My understanding is that they can transform away from coal but can’t do so unless their costs can be fairly embedded in their pricing and they won’t encounter onerous taxes on getting their exports into importing countries.

    I don’t really follow this line of argument. If China had a route to mitigation that didn’t suppress their growth rates, what’s stopping them? And are you suggesting that their products will face higher import taxes if they shift to non-CO2 based production processes? I can see the argument that other countries should actually give them a tax discount (although giving discounts for Chinese imports ain’t gonna play well here in the U.S.), but the absence of such discounts doesn’t equate to more onerous import taxes than they currently face, so I’m not following the onerous tax argument here.

    I’m fairly confident everything but geo-engineering must be play

    I’m 100% for beginning small-scale experiments in geo-engineering. If we want to actively reduce warming, I think we won’t actually have any choice but to engage in geo-engineering.

    given the risk we’ve already surpassed the tipping point which is starting to be asserted in the peer-reviewed literature…

    a) Saying we’re unable to eliminate the possibility is not cause for panic, but b) if we are in fact past it, then excluding geo-engineering seems like a self-defeating approach.

    You can’t merely focus on technological solutions, reduction of coal emissions has to be in play as well.

    Perhaps I misunderstand what you’re going after here, but isn’t reduction of coal a technological solution? You must have a distinction in mind, but I’m not catching it. (Then again, I’m two glasses of scotch into a nice quiet evening at home, so…)

    JamesK,

    the Republican opposition lets everyone else offer lip service to fixing the environment.

    I think that’s true. I don’t believe the Democrats have the stomach for taking strong efforts to combat climate change, especially given the weak state of the economy right now and their overall sensitivity to GOP attacks on them as being generally bad news for the economy. They may want, in their hearts, to do something, but they are terrified that being cast as responsible for economic weakness will mean long-term exile from the White House, and semi-permanent congressional minority status. The Republicans’ over-the-topness is perfectly suited to the Democrats’ strategy–they can blame the Republicans for the lack of action while not actually taking the responsibility to push hard for serious action. Look also at their priorities–they could have pushed for that during Obama’s first two years, but their agenda was dominated by domestic policy issues that were clearly of far more importance to them.

  46. James Hanley says:

    Roger Pielke’s Iron Law of Climate Policy is relevant here.

  47. Michael Heath says:

    I comment on your last post prior to reading the one prior to that.

    James stated, “Roger Pielke’s Iron Law of Climate Policy is relevant here”

    While I think Pielke’s position is a respectable one that deserves our consideration, much of it in fact matches my own humbly held position; focusing on this aspect avoids the central root cause for America failing to take a leadership role in global warming in spite of humanity’s need we do so. And that is Republican denialism of reality and its most parsimonious explanation – their loyalty to coal and Big oil interests and the hell with the future (which they deny they’re doing on the latter since they deny climate change which is totally irrational even if doubt existed).

    Until we get a concession on the science, little progress will occur at the rate needed. In fact Pielke’s argument was very relevant when George W. Bush and Al Gore were running where Bush’s concession on the science at that time convinced me to vote for him since I thought he’d be a more effective advocate for nuclear and innovation where I was concerned that Gore was overly focused on conservation at the expense of growth. Of course we all know now that Bush’s rejection of science after his election was one of his two major campaign promise reversals (and the first one since it came in March of ’01). The other being that he wouldn’t have an activist foreign policy where he instead adopted the most radical one within our relevant power circles – that of the neo-cons. [I realize Pielke’s argument is recent, but these ideas were arguments I’ve been considering since at least the 1990s.]

    I also find it a little ironic that you applaud Pielke’s somewhat moderately-liberal approach when the guy you’ve misrepresented twice now in what I believe was a logically failed attempt at balance, James Hansen, actually advocates for mitigation using a traditionally conservative approach to energy independence, increasing our nuclear generation capacity, along with a libertarian / Milton Freidman-like approach to moving away from coal, ‘fee and dividend’ rather than the liberal carbon tax or the old Republican position of ‘cap and trade’.

    Personally I think we need nuclear, ‘fee and dividend’, and a carbon tax. I’m not a fan of cap and trade since it limits your rate of decrease, which would have worked in the 80s and 90s when it should have been deployed but we’re a decade-plus beyond that luxury.

  48. Michael Heath says:

    Me earlier:

    Do you have cites that China’s only recourse to mitigation causes suppression of their growth rates? My understanding is that they can transform away from coal but can’t do so unless their costs can be fairly embedded in their pricing and they won’t encounter onerous taxes on getting their exports into importing countries.

    James responds:

    I don’t really follow this line of argument. If China had a route to mitigation that didn’t suppress their growth rates, what’s stopping them?

    I do believe we can discern China’s intentions based on what they consistently argue when those arguments are rational (which most are). [This is in response to an earlier comment I don’t quote here].

    My point is that China wants a commitment from the U.S. on trade policy in a carbon-taxed world prior to getting aggressive about its coal consumption and growth of coal consumption. That’s because they’re concerned that U.S. imports will have taxes based on the carbon footprint of a particular product. This would suppress China’s growth, so they dawdle waiting for us to begin our own mitigation efforts. In the meantime they are moving quickly on green tech though also continuing to increase their coal consumption capacity.

    From their perspective they can grow as nearly as fast or more quickly if the U.S. finally takes on taxing carbon since it increases our market demand for their innovations which can offset their transforming away from coal. Strategically they’re going with slighter lower growth rates since winners at the end of this century will be partly correlative to a country’s energy production capabilities along with assurances of supply of raw materials (which is why they’re investing so much in Africa and Indian Ocean ports). If China was to begin this transformation now and we subsequently came in and taxed carbon footprints on imports in a manner that punished their exports as a method to protect our own domestic green tech industry, they’d be screwed.

    This goes back to the emerging economies like India and China demanding that they not be punished when it comes to trade for a problem they didn’t cause. I’m only guessing on this next point, but I think they perceive that at some point conservatives in this country will come around on global warming mitigation, but given their becoming a populist nativist movement, there will be pressure from both parties to protect domestic green tech markets at the expense of China’s exports and therefore their own market. I can easily see the liberal Democrats going along with this given our weak job market, and while the Republicans have historically been the trade free champions, I don’t think that’s true anymore unless it benefits certain small set of financial constituents as their voting constituency becomes increasingly isolationist and nativist.

    James:

    Saying we’re unable to eliminate the possibility is not cause for panic, but b) if we are in fact past it, then excluding geo-engineering seems like a self-defeating approach.

    Of course I’m not against innovation, I made my bones in tech.

    I’m all for Tom Freidman’s approach to seeding innovation including geo-engineering. The general debate I was referencing is the greenwashing argument we don’t have to currently mitigate for global warming because we can have Reagan-like faith in American ingenuity where when it gets bad, we can then mitigate with geo-engineering projects. It’s one method to avoid investment now even if one concedes doubt, it’s the faith-based approach. That will not work in any way, shape, or form; we simply do not have the wherewithal nor will we soon to harness and expel the marginal energy sunk into carbon sinks like the ocean since start of the industrial age.

    Me earlier:

    You can’t merely focus on technological solutions, reduction of coal emissions has to be in play as well.

    James’ response:

    Perhaps I misunderstand what you’re going after here, but isn’t reduction of coal a technological solution? You must have a distinction in mind, but I’m not catching it. (Then again, I’m two glasses of scotch into a nice quiet evening at home, so…)

    The non-technological aspect of my point is that we should never build another coal plant in this country ever again unless it comes with a viable sequestration solution, a solution which has not yet occurred. Also, given my skepticism in “clean coal”, at least till its economically proven, I’m making a policy argument we need to fixate on decreasing capacity from coal plants by switching sources, particularly natural gas and intermediate- to long-term to nuclear.

    James:

    I don’t believe the Democrats have the stomach for taking strong efforts to combat climate change, especially given the weak state of the economy right now and their overall sensitivity to GOP attacks on them as being generally bad news for the economy. They may want, in their hearts, to do something, but they are terrified that being cast as responsible for economic weakness will mean long-term exile from the White House, and semi-permanent congressional minority status.

    And yet the House passed a cap and trade bill and the President continues to move-out on energy reform though constrained by his executive powers. So I strongly disagree. There is one bad group in this and it’s the Republicans. Certainly there’s nitpicking at the margins, like Democrats not wanting their district’s electric bills going up where other districts don’t, but they’ve repeatedly demonstrated their will while Republican obstructionism is monolithic and now so committed they deny reality itself.

    James:

    Look also at their priorities–they could have pushed for that during Obama’s first two years, but their agenda was dominated by domestic policy issues that were clearly of far more importance to them.

    The Democrats passed a bill in the House which was filibustered in the Senate. I suggest reading Climate Progress, you’ll get a feel for the what the executive branch is continually doing with the limited powers it has without congressional support.

    It’s not naive to pin this all on the Republicans.

  49. James Hanley says:

    [China is] concerned that U.S. imports will have taxes based on the carbon footprint of a particular product. This would suppress China’s growth,

    Not if China has some new technologies that reduce the carbon footprint of their products. This sounds more like an argument for China shifting away from coal energy than for an argument about why they wouldn’t.

    The non-technological aspect of my point is that we should never build another coal plant in this country ever again unless it comes with a viable sequestration solution,

    OK, it’s clear now. And I agree. I’m not remotely comfortable with nuclear power, but I think it’s our necessary approach at this point. And I would support an end to coal power completely apart from climate change. Anyone who’s contemplated mountain-top removal in West Virginia ought to at least be somewhat uncomfortable about coal.

    The Democrats passed a bill in the House which was filibustered in the Senate.

    Yeah, and you don’t think they knew it would be filibustered? Symbolic votes don’t impress me any more than polite words from China’s politburo.

    I suggest reading Climate Progress, you’ll get a feel for the what the executive branch is continually doing with the limited powers it has without congressional support.

    Well, I do pride myself on understanding how government actually works rather better than they do. They can repeat what’s in the news, but real analysis of the politics isn’t their strength. That’s not to say Obama is insincere in wanting to accomplish something on climate change, but it is to say that I don’t think he’s lost any sleep over it all. The climate’s not going to kill us in his term, so it’s almost functionally impossible for him to put it at the top of his real policy agenda (the one he actually works on and thinks seriously about every day) as opposed to his public agenda. Every president ends up being forced to deal with two issues above all else: the economy and the foreign affairs of the moment. The only three presidents in my lifetime who came into the Oval Office embracing that wisdom were Nixon, Reagan and Bush. Presidents who didn’t come into the White House really understanding the degree to which foreign affairs would become so all-encompassing of their time include Carter, Clinton, and Bush I. Obama’s been fairly lucky on foreign affairs so far (but not so on the economy), and in fact has been fairly good (surprisingly so). But there’s no chance in hell right now that he’s getting daily briefings on climate change, whereas he’s getting multiple briefings per day on the Middle East.

  50. Michael Heath says:

    James:

    Yeah, and you don’t think they knew it would be filibustered? Symbolic votes don’t impress me any more than polite words from China’s politburo.

    No more than health care. This occurred earlier in the 111th session. And what passed in the House passed was not ‘pie in the sky’ like I would have liked, but politically pragmatic and therefore feasible for passage in the Senate or at least workable to the point it could have been modified in reconciliation with a Senate bill. Let’s remember that the House worked on this and passed it with the perspective the Senate would have 60 Democratic votes where some were from coal producing/consuming states. Henry Waxman’s efforts in particular were were not merely symbolic; a lot of hard work and compromise when into that particular sausage making.

    Me earlier:

    I suggest reading Climate Progress, you’ll get a feel for the what the executive branch is continually doing with the limited powers it has without congressional support.

    James:

    Well, I do pride myself on understanding how government actually works rather better than they do. They can repeat what’s in the news, but real analysis of the politics isn’t their strength.

    I didn’t know you read Climate Progress to the point you’re capable of criticizing their ability, and mine, to assess whether they’re accurately reporting and analyzing administrative efforts to mitigate for climate changes given constraints on the Executive – good and bad. James, Climate Progress is repeatedly critical of this Administration on many fronts, but they also report on their actual efforts as well.

    Here are two examples,

    A daily report that rounds up and the news and presents a brief progressive perspective: http://goo.gl/favav

    A report on the President’s initiative regarding energy savings on commercial buildings that will be in the President’s next budget proposal: http://goo.gl/CWsR0 . There’s an embedded link in this article of a PDF of the president’s White House paper. It notes:

    The President signed an Executive Order directing federal agencies to achieve zero net energy by 2030 and employ high-performance and sustainable design principles for all new construction and alterations. At least 15 percent of existing buildings need to meet these guiding principles by FY 2015.

    The president has been constantly taking such actions, which I think are helpful though not a sea change like a carbon tax.

    James – it appears you are extremely confident in your ability to assess issues from afar as if they all fit a particular narrative consistent with your perspective of how politics works. I’ve found that it’s difficult to impossible to make such assessments on individual issues without actually first becoming well-informed.

  51. James Hanley says:

    James – it appears you are extremely confident in your ability to assess issues from afar as if they all fit a particular narrative consistent with your perspective of how politics works.

    My response to this became long enough that I decided to move it to post status.

Comments are closed.