The one per cent doctrine

by Chris Bertram on April 5, 2008

Jeremy Waldron has a great piece in the latest LRB reviewing a recent book by Cass Sunstein. He has a nice discussion of the Cheney doctrine that even a one-percent probability of a catastrophic event should be treated as a certainty for policy purposes, where the class of catastrophic events is limited to those with a military, security or terrorist dimension. Reasoning like this interacts neatly with “ticking-bomb” scenarios: now a 1 per cent chance that the there’s a ticking bomb the terrorist knows about is sufficient in to justify waterboarding or worse. Of course other potentially catastrophic developments—such as climate change—haven’t generated a “treat as if certain” policy response from the US government, even thought even the most determined denialists must evaluate the probability that anthropogenic global warming is happening at greater than one in a hundred.

Waldron is also pretty acid about Sunstein’s treatment of global warming and distributive justice, noting some of the shortcomings of the idea that poor people’s lives should be valued according to what they’re prepared to pay to avoid the risk of death. But read the whole thing, as they say.

{ 87 comments }

1

Seth Finkelstein 04.05.08 at 9:15 am

OK, it’s the “one-percent AND we’re on the line” doctrine :-)

2

MR. Bill 04.05.08 at 10:49 am

When I look back at the Cold War (and I was maybe 5-6 years old when my dad brought in plans for a fallout shelter, and my uncle actually built one after the Cuban Missile Crisis) I realize it was all about using the fear of a possibility of, what, the superiority of the Russian system and its expansionism to gain the goal of militarizing the economy in the US. (“Better Dead than Red”) The threat was exaggerated, but we spent billions and are still allowing the inertia of the Military Industrial complex to function and gin up nonsensical wars like Iraq.
In Global warming we see a potential menace that can be dealt with, that has an actual scientific basis for our concern (despite the propaganda of the deniers). It just seems to upset the arrangements of the well off to work against the possibility of environmental and economic collapes.

3

MR. Bill 04.05.08 at 10:50 am

that’s ‘collapse’. Carry on.

4

stostosto 04.05.08 at 11:23 am

Cheney? He still there?

5

MR. Bill 04.05.08 at 12:40 pm

“We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.”
-Kurt Vonnegut

6

Pablo Stafforini 04.05.08 at 1:42 pm

It is misleading to criticize cost-benefit analysis on the grounds that poor people would pay less simply because they have less. Rather, the problem with the approach is that money is worth more to poor people than to rich people, and so the price of a life does not reflect its real value.

In any case, there is a much more fundamental difficulty with using cost-benefit analysis in dealing with catastrophic risks. Such risks will have large effects on future generations. But cost-benefit analysis only gives weight to the interests of future people to the extent that they are valued by present people. Since we have no reason whatever to assume that present people will value future people nearly as much as future people would value themselves, the approach is clearly inadequate to deal with these cases.

7

"Q" the Enchanter 04.05.08 at 2:40 pm

I only add that the Cheney doctrine can be (and, it would appear, has been) conveniently calibrated by appeal to the physicist’s observation that 1 is approximately equal to 10.

8

Barry 04.05.08 at 2:49 pm

“OK, it’s the “one-percent AND we’re on the line” doctrine :-)”

Posted by Seth Finkelstein

With global warming, we are on the line. Perhaps not Dick ‘Zipper Chest’ Cheney, he of the four cardiac bypasses.

9

phyron 04.05.08 at 3:26 pm

Cheaper and more entertaining to read “The Black Swan”.. as all these “issues” are disposed of before the introduction is done..

10

John Emerson 04.05.08 at 5:51 pm

Waldron is also pretty acid about Sunstein’s treatment of global warming and distributive justice, noting some of the shortcomings of the idea that poor people’s lives should be valued according to what they’re prepared to pay to avoid the risk of death.

Law and Economics strikes again.

11

mq 04.05.08 at 6:11 pm

Cass Sunstein is “brilliant, he’s dazzling, he’s aggressively masculine and has a tremendous level of emotional articulateness!”.

http://www.02138mag.com/lists/PC/1111.html

12

engels 04.05.08 at 6:44 pm

My God, the piece linked in #10 is nauseating. Like reading some witless Hollywood hack blathering on about ‘Bennifer’…

13

John Emerson 04.05.08 at 6:56 pm

Nussbaum: “Cass wants to be liked for what he says when he goes to Washington to talk to the Republicans. He wants them to be won over by his sweet reasonableness. I wouldn’t care what they thought.”

I promise, promise, promise! not to take over the thread this time with multiple posts. But Jesus, Sunstein sounds awful (both in the LRB piece and in mq’s link). Has he any awareness of the actual world he lives in, the one with the actual Republicans in it? Tom Delay, Trent Lott, et al?

Reasonableness is not reason, though I’m against both of them. Is there any evidence that Sunstein’s diligent and systematic application of his prodigious legal and philosophical intelligence to reasoning about global warming has done any good? Has there been any payoff? He just seems to have produced a more complicated version of man-in-the-street inertia, with a somewhat larger than average does of American selfishness (“SCREW those shitty little poor tropical countries and they’re whining about problems that we cause and they suffer from! Isn’t their bias evident?”

At times I may seem to think that the problem with analytic philosophy is its detachment from real-world problems, but whenever they do try to use their powerful analytic tools to reality, I start hoping that they’ll go back to grue-bleen possible-world trolley cars.

14

John Emerson 04.05.08 at 6:57 pm

(“SCREW those shitty little poor tropical countries and their whining about the problems that we cause and they suffer from! Isn’t their bias evident?”)

15

engels 04.05.08 at 7:20 pm

Also, you gotta love the textbook Mommie/Daddie division of labour the Cassbaum’s got going on…

Cass: constitutional law, being ‘aggressively masculine’, anything that might actually impact on US policy, climate change denialism…

Martha: emotions, animals, thinking beautiful thoughts, crazy left-wing stuff…

16

Brett Bellmore 04.05.08 at 7:21 pm

If CO2 is going to screw them, they’re going to get screwed regardless of what we do, because the developing world isn’t going to plunge back into poverty for their sake. China, for instance, passed the US’s CO2 output years ago, (Thanks to rampant coal mine fires… All that CO2, and it’s not even to do something productive!) and are only planning to put out more.

How do you deal with that? Short of geo-engineering, I don’t see how, and if you’re going to resort to geo-engineering, it makes no sense to cripple our economies for the sake of CO2 reduction.

17

John Emerson 04.05.08 at 7:24 pm

It’s always good to know where Brett stands on an issue.

18

Demon 04.05.08 at 7:26 pm

…poor people’s lives should be valued according to what they’re prepared to pay to avoid the risk of death.

Who came up with this idea, Al Capone?

NASA should return to the Moon and carve Vonnegut’s words on its surface in mile long letters as a fitting epitaph to our species, “look upon my works and despair” style.

19

Roy Belmont 04.05.08 at 8:45 pm

It may come down to the simple difference between not wanting to do anything but open-mindedly waiting to be convinced you should v. wanting badly enough to do something that it becomes a driving need.
B.Bellmore’s question “How do you deal with that?” is more apt than he realizes.
The difference between sitting on the status quo waiting until you have a reasonable plan with a reasonable outcome, and needing to do something, anything – that’s crucial.
We’re going to be dealing with it, whether fighting with everything we have or just passively watching it roll on toward us.
On a more realistic note, I think the instigators and primary beneficiaries of all this are neither human, nor resident locals.

20

engels 04.05.08 at 9:41 pm

All that CO2, and it’s not even to do something productive!

Exactly what I think every time Brett opens his mouth.

21

Barry 04.05.08 at 9:58 pm

“It’s always good to know where Brett stands on an issue.”
Posted by John Emerson ·

I agree. It’s not a 100% reliable guide, but I’m sure that it’ll get there, with more input from him.

22

John Quiggin 04.05.08 at 11:31 pm

I was just thinking about Sunstein, since I was working on the precautionary principle.

Everything I’ve seen from him since I became aware of his existence (Republic 2.0, sloppy stuff on the death penalty, weak rebuttals of precautionary principle) has been dire.

Presumably he did something worthwhile at some point to get so generally well regarded. Can anyone point me to what it was?

23

John Emerson 04.05.08 at 11:44 pm

Kind to his mother, liked animals.

24

Seth Finkelstein 04.06.08 at 12:05 am

John Quiggin / #21 : As far as I’ve analyzed the pathway to being a Public Intellectual, one avenue seems to be taking simple intellectual concepts and talking about them in ways that elites find interesting and validating AND attention-worthy. It’s not quite being a slavish political hack – a little bit of “edginess” goes a long way. But it does need to have some constituency somewhere that’s going to put it on TV/radio/A-list-blogs/etc. For this media machinery, being rigorous is not a requirement. It doesn’t mean that the person is incapable of excellent academic work. It can be more like literary writers who write genre fiction to pay the bills.

25

Sortition 04.06.08 at 12:48 am

Some studies show, he [Sunstein] says, that each execution in the United States deters 18 murders

Much of the responsibility for this piece of nonsense should probably be placed at the door of Steven Levitt. If not for the ridiculous finding itself, then Levitt is at least responsible for popularizing and lending the weight of intellectual repute and commercial success to the use of the econometric method for producing such absurd claims.

26

Barry 04.06.08 at 1:00 am

John Quiggin: “Presumably he did something worthwhile at some point to get so generally well regarded. Can anyone point me to what it was?”

Adding on to Seth’s comments (a) it’s quite possible that Sunstein turned in some good peer-reviewed work, but much non-perr-reviewed hackwork (much like Yoo?). IOW, he’s somebody who shouldn’t be trusted unless there’s somebody else to vouch for his specific words.

Also, from what I’ve seen (again extending Seth’s theory) Sunstein seems to be a liberal concern troll, [badly] critiquing liberal positions while claiming to be a liberal. One can make quite a good living that way.

27

Matt 04.06.08 at 2:06 am

John- I liked Sunstein’s book on free speech from several years ago (I think it’s from ’94, though it might well be older than that), _Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech_. His earlier work on judicial review, in the book _One Case at a Time_, puting forward a veiw called “judical minimalism” was also interesting if not really satisfactory, to my mind. I believe he first made his name writing about administrative law. So, his earlier work was better and more careful. I think he’s one of those people who would be twice as good if he wrote half as much and really lets the fact that he’s able to write stuff like mad keep him from being good. His work hasn’t been very good for several years.

28

Anon 04.06.08 at 2:51 am

26 is right on the money. I’ve been reading the guy’s output regularly for the past 3 or 4 years, and it’s usually just thoughtless and slapdash. He seems to be really into coauthoring pieces on “hot” topics, and of coming off like this big contrarian. It’s like, ‘woah, a new sunstein piece, let’s check it out,’ and then I regreat the hell out of it 5 pages in.

29

mq 04.06.08 at 4:15 am

At least Sunstein isn’t too harmful. I feel like he wastes my time, but doesn’t nauseate me like some other public intellectuals these days.

The aggressively masculine Sunstein has now moved on to dating Samantha Power. Martha Nussbaum is single, guys! She took a real step down going from Amartya Sen to Cass Sunstein, maybe she’s ready for a blogger now.

The funniest/saddest thing on that “power couples” site I linked was the one on Elliot and Silda Wall Spitzer. Sort of tragic in retrospect.

http://www.02138mag.com/lists/PC/1105.html

30

John Quiggin 04.06.08 at 6:03 am

Sortition, you definitely can’t blame Levitt, since this claim was around, in exactly this form, well before he became prominent. I think the first version was Ehrlich in 1975 (he claimed 8, not 18, but otherwise the claim was the same). Levitt was eight years old at the time.

31

No one 04.06.08 at 8:59 am

yeah sunstein’s early stuff isn’t bad. There’s a whole bunch of books he wrote on judicial minimalism (After the Rights Revolution, the partial constitution, one case at a time)–basically, that judges should eschew broad theories and keep their decisions as narrow as possible. and before that he was a proponent of civic republicanism in the 80s. but you know, even then I always felt sunstein’s work was workman-like. He always uses the ‘latest’ idea but makes them palatable to liberals. He reminds me a bit of malcolm gladwell. A kind of friendly bricoleur.

but what #26 and #27 said. I think it’s a real problem amongst US legal academics, actually.

I wonder if nussbaum regrets being so public? I remember being both impressed and surprised at her public declarations of love for sunstein. Well, anyway, that’s not really relevant.

32

Katherine 04.06.08 at 10:44 am

“aggressively masculine” – is that supposed to be a compliment?

33

Brett Bellmore 04.06.08 at 11:17 am

Ok, jokers, how DO you deal with the growing economies of the world, with no interest in lapsing back into poverty, and the capacity to put out more CO2 than we could reduce even if we shut our economies down completely?

Even if we wanted to do something enough that it became a driving need, what would it be? I’ve suggested geo-engineering, what’s your contribution? Giving your friends efficient light bulbs every time you fly around the world? See above: It doesn’t mean squat.

34

MR. Bill 04.06.08 at 11:52 am

Aww Jeez.
Back when I was still pursuing an art career, I thought up some ‘astro-engineering solutions’ to global warming, and drew them up in cartoon style.
Stuff like:
We ablate enough of the moons surface in to a dust cloud (with nuclear weapons, natch) to cut received solar radation. (Hard to control this, would have to be implemented incrementally)
Or set up robots on the moon to melt the moons soil into disks that the robots hurl into orbit. We control the cloud of disks (i was picturing a meter wide or so) with moon based lasers, pushing them around.
Or use nukes to capture an asteroid/comet, and get it between the earth and the sun.
This was comic book science and I was not serious.

35

Brett Bellmore 04.06.08 at 11:58 am

Fortunately there are serious people working on more practical ideas, and they do seem feasible. Because I really do NOT think we could persuade China to stop burning coal.

36

Walt 04.06.08 at 1:52 pm

Brett has unearthed a new phase in global warming denialism: “Global Warming is real, but requires science fiction solutions.”

37

Brett Bellmore 04.06.08 at 2:39 pm

I find the notion that the straightforward application of engineering principles can be dismissed by being labeled “science fiction” rather tiresome. I supposed I could describe the idea that we’re going to avert global warming by nations voluntarily crippling their economies as “political fiction”; There, now don’t you feel silly for proposing it?

BTW, how does suggesting a way of dealing with global warming that you don’t like amount to global warming “denialism”?

38

Righteous Bubba 04.06.08 at 3:31 pm

Y’know, in the fairy tale the magic beans worked out okay.

39

Consumatopia 04.06.08 at 4:01 pm

I guess that’s what dealing with GW comes down to– are we going to re-engineer our technology and our economy to stop screwing with the atmosphere, or are we going to re-egnineer our atmosphere so that our technology and economy can continue unaltered?

The thing is, technology and economies are things that human beings constructed in the first place, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect human beings to re-engineer them to reduce harm.

The atmosphere and biosphere, OTOH, are complex, dynamically changing systems were here for hundreds of millions of years before we were. The word “engineering” is completely inappropriate here–any assumptions we make about how the atmosphere will react to our modifications are completely unwarranted. “Geo-engineeering” and ordinary air pollution are dangerous for the same reason–we really don’t understand how our planet works and we should be a lot more cautious when mucking with it.

That’s what makes it science fiction. It’s assuming a level of knowledge about our planet that we just aren’t going to get.

40

Andrew 04.06.08 at 4:08 pm

I am uneasy about ‘geoengineering’. Every time I read about such ideas, a tune starts running through my head:

There was an old woman who swallowed a fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old woman who swallowed a spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
Perhaps she’ll die…

There was an old woman who swallowed a horse,
She’s dead—of course!

41

John Emerson 04.06.08 at 4:24 pm

I find Brett’s assumption that there are sure to be be cost-free engineering solutions to global warming rather tiresome. He no longer seems to be a straight denialist, but his main motivation seems to be an insensate need to oppose whatever liberals propose.

I too sometimes fear that no one will be willing to pay the cost of doing something about global warming. For me that’s a real fear, because I think that the consequences of that refusal will be very serious. But for Brett it’s a debating point.

Since the Reagan-Carter campaign the Republican / conservative / libertarian response to any environmental proposal has overwhelmingly been automatic rejection. That’s one reason to throw the bastards out, and also a reason to blackball permanently anyone who’s ever played the denialist game.

42

Sortition 04.06.08 at 4:40 pm

you definitely can’t blame Levitt […] I think the first version was Ehrlich in 1975

The question is whether the Ehrlich claim became a common coin outside the econometric and quantitative social science community.

My impression is that the success of Freakonomics allowed such econometric absurdities to spread from the scholarly literature into other spheres of the public discourse (with books by non-quantitative legal scholars being an example). It is of course possible that having read Freakonomics I became more aware of such claims, even though their frequency did not increase.

43

Sortition 04.06.08 at 4:49 pm

George Monbiot has a multi-faceted plan to reduce CO2 emissions in the UK by 90%. How credible it is I do not know. See a review here.

44

anon at chi 04.06.08 at 5:21 pm

Sunstein recently gave a talk at the Chicago Law School with Prof. Eric Posner (Judge Posner’s son) on climate change justice:

45

anon at chi 04.06.08 at 5:22 pm

46

Cranky Observer 04.06.08 at 6:43 pm

> I find the notion that the straightforward
> application of engineering principles can be
> dismissed by being labeled “science fiction”
> rather tiresome.

Great thing that Hoover Dam; tremendous benefit to mankind. Too bad about destroying the ecosystem of the Grand Canyon and the lower Colorado.

And that was a side-effect /not anticipated by the designers/. If we as humans had said, in advance, ‘we know the dam will destroy the ecology of the Grand Canyon but will have to pay that price’ it would have been one thing. But /we didn’t know what we were doing/.

And that is a small project compared to what you propose.

Cranky
(a once-and-future industrial engineer)

47

Roy Belmont 04.06.08 at 9:19 pm

Shorter Brett Bellmore:
Well okay, the world is sort of on fire.
Who’s gonna put out that fire?
The guys who started it.

48

Brett Bellmore 04.07.08 at 1:52 am

I don’t recall saying anything about “cost free”. And how are the guys who started it going to put it out while the new guys are heaping fuel on the fire?

Nobody has yet explained to me how we get China, never mind the rest of the developing world, to stop churning out CO2. Unless we can do that, we could stop our entire output, and it wouldn’t matter diddly.

Ain’t much you CAN do but rearrange deck chairs or get in a lifeboat, when somebody ELSE has control of the engine room and the rudder.

So, are we going to keep on talking as if the problem of China and the rest of the developing world generating CO2 didn’t exist, or is somebody going to address it?

49

engels 04.07.08 at 2:24 am

Why does anyone still argue with Bellmore?

50

Sortition 04.07.08 at 2:57 am

Nobody has yet explained to me how we get China, never mind the rest of the developing world, to stop churning out CO2. Unless we can do that, we could stop our entire output, and it wouldn’t matter diddly.

Untrue. If the West were to achieve the level of per-capita emissions of China (“never mind the rest of the developing world”) it would be a significant step toward a solution.

For one thing, this reduction by itself would imply the elimination of about half the global CO2 emissions. Beyond that, once the West does that, it could credibly engage with the rest of the world in negotiations for coordinating further reductions. As long as the current situation of emissions inequality persists, any demands the West makes of China (“let alone, etc.”) are ridiculously hypocritical.

51

Walt 04.07.08 at 4:25 am

Engels, it’s better than getting a job and being a contributing member of society.

52

Fen 04.07.08 at 5:57 am

“If the West were to achieve the level of per-capita emissions of China (“never mind the rest of the developing world”) it would be a significant step toward a solution.”

Significant is such a vague term. Why the qualifier, unless you aren’t so sure?

“once the West does that, it could credibly engage with the rest of the world in negotiations for coordinating further reductions… any demands the West makes of China are ridiculously hypocritical.”

Credibly engage? You’re assuming that foreign resistance to further reductions is based on America’s credibility. Not the case, they will simply continue to do what is in their own interests. Your making the same mistake as those who insist America “repair” its reputation with the world, as if being popular ever translated into something tangible we could bank.

As for Global Warming, the first best step we can take is to overhaul our models. They’re bunk.

53

rdb 04.07.08 at 6:42 am

(au)ABC Radio National: Background Briefing: The climate engineers. The podcast is up, transcripts probably in a day or two.

54

Tracy W 04.07.08 at 7:37 am

Beyond that, once the West does that, it could credibly engage with the rest of the world in negotiations for coordinating further reductions.

How would reducing its own emissions to the per capita level of China increase the West’s negotiating power?

55

Guano 04.07.08 at 9:33 am

The piece in the LRB starts off with Cheney hearing that Osama bin Laden has met a high-level nuclear scientist from Pakistan. Cheney says that even if there is a one per cent chance that Al-Qaida is interested in obtaining nuclear weapons the USA has to act.

But how did the USA act? It invaded Iraq! It is completely unclear what the USA is doing about OBL and about the nuclear complex in Pakistan.
There would seem to be some added twists to the one per cent doctrine that haven’t been explored !

56

Great Zamfir 04.07.08 at 10:08 am

Guano, the invasion of Iraq wasn’t due to the one-percent chance of a pakistani nuke in AlQaida hands.

It was due to the one-percent change of disastrous global warming. Raising the oil price to a $100 dollar was the best way to reduce CO2 exhaust in the short run, so Cheney decided to act.

The response to the Pakistani nuke was to punish Pakistan with starvation, through higher food prices AKA biofuel subsidies.

Cheney is so much smarter than you guys think.

57

John Quiggin 04.07.08 at 10:46 am

Is this the same Eric Posner who’s over at Slate, “putting into context” the Yoo torture memos?

58

Matt 04.07.08 at 10:51 am

The same one, John- he’s a chip off the old block. (His father is Richard Posner, another person who would be twice as smart if he wrote half as much.)

59

engels 04.07.08 at 1:04 pm

I never ceased to be amazed by the capacity of those who advocate ‘personal responsibility’, ‘self-reliance’, and suchlike for blaming all their problems on the Chinese.

60

engels 04.07.08 at 2:29 pm

Nobody has yet explained to me how we get China, never mind the rest of the developing world, to stop churning out CO2.

We pay them.

61

SG 04.07.08 at 2:39 pm

Brett’s on the money here guys. geo-engineering. We get everyone in China to jump at exactly the same time, in the middle of the day. When they land the momentum will shift the earth into a slightly wider orbit, and everything will get cooler.

Only a white man with a huge IQ could think of it though.

62

Great Zamfir 04.07.08 at 2:50 pm

SG, that doesn’t work. Really. To move the earth to to another orbit, you have to fire off some reaction mass that never returns. What we should do is arm Afghanis with very high-powered rifles, and encourage them to celebrate their holidays at noon. If they then fire their guns in the air, the earth moves away form the sun. Voila.

63

Picador 04.07.08 at 2:52 pm

we brought about the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis

Nice move, Waldron. Wouldn’t want to go out on a limb there, would we? After all, one mustn’t appear to be a radical if one wants to be taken serious at faculty luncheons.

This is a depressing review. When I was a law student at Columbia, I had some exposure to Waldron and was unimpressed. But that was nothing compared to the semester I cross-registered at NYU for a “Behavioral Law And Econ” class taught using Sunstein’s textbook. It was billed as an antidote to the batshit crazy psychological assumptions underlying L&E, but it turned out actually to be a sort of fig leaf lying on top of them. Completely useless, and offensively easy to debunk. Like most L&E, its primary purpose seemed to be to educate young corporate lawyers in the reasons poor people deserve to be poor and rich people deserve to be rich. My role in the class seemed to be to interrupt the class once at every session to offer an alternative, and more coherent, explanation for whatever Sunstein was using that day to illustrate the tragic irrationality of poor people; these alternative explanations often had to do with racial discrimination, imperfect information, logistical limitations, and other aspects of the actual lives of actual poor people that were incompatible with the L&E model. That these factors seemed never to have occurred to the instructor confirmed my suspicion that L&E — and perhaps neoclassical economics generally — is not an academic discipline, but a religion.

It’s true that, compared to Dick Cheney, Sunstein seems like a real bright bulb. And Waldron, in turn, looks pretty impressive standing next to Sunstein. But the fact is that they’re both intellectual lightweights who would probably have a hard time making it in a real academic department and so opted for the world of “Law and …” instead.

Ah, I see that Waldron has been stolen away by NYU now. I don’t know whether this is a further sign of Columbia’s decline into stodgy irrelevance or of NYU’s continuing policy of recruiting flashy, sexy, second-rate thinkers. Perhaps both.

64

SG 04.07.08 at 3:26 pm

not enough afghanis, zamfir, and their rifles are pissy. No, we need Americans to do it. Then they can gloat about how their right to bear arms saved the world. Maybe they could all jump and shoot at the same time, to make sure it really works.

65

Righteous Bubba 04.07.08 at 3:38 pm

Great Zamfir neglects the possibility of getting people to jump higher.

66

Sortition 04.07.08 at 5:05 pm

Beyond that, once the West does that, it could credibly engage with the rest of the world in negotiations for coordinating further reductions.

How would reducing its own emissions to the per capita level of China increase the West’s negotiating power?

If by “negotiating power” you mean “the ability to force the Chinese to do what the West wants”, then you are right – it doesn’t. If by “negotiating power” you mean (as I do) “increase the chance that the Chinese would respond favorably to proposals for multilateral reductions in CO2 emissions”, then I think the answer is clear.

67

Paul Gowder 04.07.08 at 5:06 pm

Oh god. I don’t want to read this thing if Sunstein has bought into the utterly moronic “revealed preferences values of life” crap that’s coming out of — well, mostly out of people like Kip Viscusi.

68

Sortition 04.07.08 at 5:08 pm

Nobody has yet explained to me how we get China, never mind the rest of the developing world, to stop churning out CO2.

We pay them.

With what? As it is, they give us (i.e., sell us on credit) much of what we consume. Is there anything we can offer them?

69

Righteous Bubba 04.07.08 at 5:14 pm

With what?

How about weaponry? Works for Egypt and Israel. “Works” to be defined later.

70

Brett Bellmore 04.07.08 at 6:41 pm

We CAN’T pay China enough to get them to stop putting out more CO2. The hit to their economy could trigger a revolution, no matter how well we paid the elites. Short of diverting a large fraction of our own economies into a crash program to convert China to a nuclear economy, so that they can have economic growth AND lower CO2, it isn’t happening.

And I’d rate that as fiction more improbable than launching megatons of dust into the upper atmosphere.

71

Righteous Bubba 04.07.08 at 6:51 pm

We CAN’T do that but we CAN build a Giant Space Gadget! C’mon kids, we have a show to put on!

72

Brett Bellmore 04.07.08 at 7:02 pm

Yeah, we could build a giant space gadget, because engineering is easier than politics: Rocks and clouds don’t have minds of their own. People do.

73

Righteous Bubba 04.07.08 at 7:14 pm

I believe the decision to change the nature of the Earth may require politics. Just me though.

74

Brett Bellmore 04.07.08 at 8:33 pm

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t; Dust clouds block out the sun perfectly well without UN resolutions to back them up.

75

Righteous Bubba 04.07.08 at 8:37 pm

Is your back yard large enough for this project? My guess is you’d need to fit this amount of people.

76

Brett Bellmore 04.07.08 at 8:51 pm

My living room is big enough to hold all the world leaders who’d agree to effective CO2 reduction, is that good enough?

77

Righteous Bubba 04.07.08 at 8:55 pm

Well no. Some may like zippy numbers and some might like a relatively placid samba. You have to consider these things carefully.

Got enough crayons for the invites?

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engels 04.07.08 at 9:04 pm

We pay them.

With what? As it is, they give us (i.e., sell us on credit) much of what we consume. Is there anything we can offer them?

I hope this is a joke. Obviously the US and Europe are in a financial position to contribute towards China’s transition costs (and those of LDCs) in moving to more sustainable economies. I think they have a responsibility to do this because their total historical contribution to atmospheric CO2 far exceeds that of those countries.

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Brett Bellmore 04.07.08 at 10:08 pm

Get real, will you? Any even moderately democratic government which attempted to divert that large a portion of it’s GDP to the benefit of other contries, (We’re talking here of an effort that would make the war in Iraq look cheap.) would fall. The only question would be whether the lynch mobs would wait for an election to resolve the matter.

You’re talking about the political equivalent of a violation of the laws of thermodynamics: Logically possible, but so wildly improbable as to be a practical impossiblity.

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Sortition 04.07.08 at 10:20 pm

I hope this is a joke.

I think they [the US and Europe] have a responsibility to do this [contribute towards China’s transition costs (and those of LDCs) in moving to more sustainable economies]

No, I was serious. The West definitely is more responsible for the increase in CO2 concentration, but that does not mean that it has anything of value to give the Chinese as compensation for its past misdeeds, let alone its present misdeed. What do you suggest?

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e julius drivingstorm 04.07.08 at 10:25 pm

“We pay them.”

Or we could restrict their oil supply.

Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran. Not to worry about end-times scenarios, the Chinese would have to be able to raise a 300 million man army in order to show up as the biblical dragon from the east… oh, wait.

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engels 04.07.08 at 10:26 pm

Piss off, Bellmore.

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engels 04.07.08 at 10:29 pm

Sortition – I’ll leave that one as an exercise for you. Don’t start until you’ve put away that bong, though, okay?

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engels 04.07.08 at 10:42 pm

(This is an interesting overview of some of the issues, for anyone who is actually interested in thinking about this issue rather than trying to win some kind of Junior High debate contest.)

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Sortition 04.08.08 at 4:57 am

engels,

Before moving to substance, I’ll note that it is curious that the person who accuses others of “trying to win some kind of Junior High debate contest” is the same one who refuses to answer a specific and relevant question and instead deploys schoolyard insults.

Moving on: I had a look at the ippr article you linked to. The article is full of high rhetoric about “historical responsibility”, but its policy proposals fail to live up to the rhetoric. At no point in the article is it said that the West should submit to the same per-capita quota as the less-polluting countries. Through the use of shifty argumentation the authors are suggesting maintaining emissions inequality through some kind of quota trading system in which the West would either buy or be granted the right to pollute more.

Also, laughably, the authors talk about the difficulty for West to be “altruistic” enough to give $80G yearly to China and other countries as compensation for polluting less. If such an amount could be used to make significant dents in the level of emissions, why hasn’t the West applied its resources already to lower its own per-capita emission to below the Chinese level? Also, since it is China that is giving the rest of the world over $200G every year through its trade surplus, it seems unlikely that a portion of a $80G-a-year rebate would make a significant change in China’s economic and ecological considerations.

Unfortunately, the approach presented in the article is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Focusing on how others should change rather than on how the West should change is convenient but is both ineffective and immoral.

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Guano 04.08.08 at 8:57 am

Going back to the original article in LRB: it starts with the story about Dick Cheney hearing of a meeting between Osama Bin Laden and a Pakistani nuclear scientist and Cheney concluding that if there is one per cent chance that Al Qaida is seeking nuclear weapons then action must be taken (and no wasting time about finding out if it is true or calibrating the risks etc). What I find odd about this story is that Cheney took no action that addresses this problem: instead he got the USA to invade Iraq.

Is this an integral part of the one per cent doctrine: when there is a one per cent risk of an extreme event you become hyperactive in some displacement activity?

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Righteous Bubba 04.09.08 at 6:51 pm

Is this an integral part of the one per cent doctrine: when there is a one per cent risk of an extreme event you become hyperactive in some displacement activity?

Good point. Maybe you respond to the extreme event with one percent of your energies.

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