Stupid revealed preference arguments …

by Henry on November 26, 2011

are very common among a certain class of economist. This from climate-not-quite-skeptic-but-sneaking-regarder-of-same Richard Tol, is rather special, and deserves particular attention. I quote it in its entirety.

Eight academic economists have left Dublin in recent months or will leave shortly. That may seem like a small number, but there are only 200 or so academic economists in the country. They all have moved / will move to warmer places: Stirling (2.0K warmer on average than Dublin), Brighton (2.2K), Oxford (2.2K), Canberra (3.4), Melbourne (5.3K) and Lisbon (7.0K). Dublin economists thus disregard the opinion of the European Union that a climate change of 2.0K is dangerous.

Between 1998 and 2009, intra-union migration has been towards warmer places. The average migrant in the EU experienced a warming of 0.6K. The average masks a wide spread. About 10% of migrants stayed in roughly the same climate, 17% experienced a cooling of 2K or less, and 16% a cooling of more than 2K. 24% experienced a warming of less than 2K, and 33% a warming of more than 2K. 450,000 people opted to live in a climate that is more that 5K warmer than what they were used to.

Obviously, one cannot compare the individual impact of moving to a warmer climate with the impact of global warming, but at the same time it is clear that both Dublin economists specifically and intra-European migrants generally do not object to a warmer environment.

City climate data from World Guides. Country climate data from the Climate Research Unit. Migration data from EuroStat, for Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom.

Update: In comments, Richard Tol says that the piece was intended to be tongue in cheek. He has changed the tag on the original post to say this (although he has not noted this change anywhere on the post or in comments).

{ 228 comments }

1

David Moles 11.26.11 at 2:37 pm

That might very well be the single dumbest thing I’ve ever heard anybody say about climate change.

2

JWP 11.26.11 at 2:46 pm

Not the least funny thing about this argument is the implication that economists who live in Chicago are 1) too dumb to come in out of the rain; 2) severely constrained in their choice of employment; or 3) yetis. I have some sympathy for all of those possibilities, but I doubt that Mr. Tol shares my disdain for freshwater economics.

3

Bill Snowden 11.26.11 at 2:48 pm

“Obviously, one would have to be a shambling cretin to think climate catastrophe is going to be like a trip to Spain, but at the same time it is clear that I am a shambling cretin.”

4

Steve LaBonne 11.26.11 at 2:55 pm

That’s a pretty funny joke at the expense of climate denialists.

Wait a minute, are you saying he was serious?

5

Walt 11.26.11 at 3:00 pm

Is it clear that he’s serious?

6

P O'Neill 11.26.11 at 3:05 pm

This could be turned into a good argument as to why Germany should embrace that dreaded transfer union to the Mediterranean countries. Holiday and migration patterns show that teh market has spoken!

7

Akshay 11.26.11 at 3:22 pm

The economics of climate change has got to be one of my bete noires. In articles like this economists like Tol happily recommend a warming within one century comparable to the warming from the last ice age to the pre-industrial era. The mind boggles at the possible consequences. The mind boggles even more at the academic effort put into the project of cost/benefit analysis of climate change. Surely one of its practitioners will soon win a Nobel Prize, like proponents of efficient, welfare maximizing, fully liberalized financial markets.

Some economists, like Stern or Weitzman, seem to have listened to climate scientists aghast at the othodox recommendations. So they tweak the paradigm in order to justify a more sensible policy. But the idea, that – when dealing with non-quantifiable uncertainty, value pluralism (for instance between current and future generations, as evidenced by the discounting paradox), and potential irreversible catastrophe – utility maximization might be a wrong framework, remains anathema to the mainstream disciplinary matrix. After all, why care about utterly false assumptions, when one gets the ideologically desired predictions?

8

Yarrow 11.26.11 at 3:28 pm

I quote it in its entirety.

But Henry, you left out the part where he reports how many have moved from an area not covered by seawater to that paradise under the sea awaiting so many of us who live near the coastline.

9

Andreas Moser 11.26.11 at 3:40 pm

I am moving from London to Malta – http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/leaving-london-moving-to-malta/ – so I might actually experience the highest rise in average temperature. In no way does this mean that I don’t find it dangerous that temperatures and sea levels are rising, stroms more severe and droughts expanding. Probably, I will see many more refugees from Africa in Malta.

10

Henry 11.26.11 at 3:41 pm

David, I had the same initial thought, but then realized that this is a _very_ high standard indeed. I am willing to say that it is the stupidest argument I have seen made by someone who has academic credentials which are relevant to one bit of the global warming debate.

11

nick s 11.26.11 at 3:53 pm

Well, it’s a more sophisticated version of “why doesn’t Algore live in a cave?”, but that just makes it a more sophisticated version of farting on command.

12

cian 11.26.11 at 4:09 pm

Walt: Yeah, if you read the comments its quite clear that he’s serious.

13

Ray 11.26.11 at 4:35 pm

Isn’t the general trend of human migration from warmer countries to colder? From Africa into the EU, from Latin America into the US, and so on? But these are poorer people, so they don’t count?

14

Matt McIrvin 11.26.11 at 4:36 pm

On the other side of the coin, we have Hank Hill’s riposte to Dale Gribble’s enthusiasm about growing oranges in Alaska, that if it gets one degree warmer in Texas he’s going to kick Dale’s ass.

Unfortunately the only Youtube clips of this I could find the last time I looked for it cut off right after Dale’s line…

15

Enda H 11.26.11 at 4:43 pm

Jesus, Henry, look at the tag on Tol’s post!

16

William Timberman 11.26.11 at 4:54 pm

He’s got to be joking! Well, no, he doesn’t, actually. Plenty of enthusiasts would flock to his door even if he weren’t. That’s the scary part.

17

Henry 11.26.11 at 5:07 pm

I had not seen the tag – whether this was because of my own oversight, or because it was not initially on the post, I don’t know. Anyone else in the CT readership see it during the short period after I posted this here post?

18

Henry 11.26.11 at 5:09 pm

Actually, now that I think about it, I am reasonably confident that it wasn’t on the initial post – if it were, I almost certainly would have seen it when I cut and pasted the text (the tag resides just beneath the bit of text that I excerpted).

19

chrismealy 11.26.11 at 5:15 pm

The thing I always see in the “global warming is worth it” economic models is some arbitrary end date. We’ll live better for 100 years, and after that, well, whatever. I guess the assumption is that future generations will murder all their economists and get down to business.

20

Henry 11.26.11 at 5:20 pm

And a quick consultation of Google Cache reveals that the post was initially categorized under “Environment” and “Migration” rather than “tongue-in-cheek.” Since Google Cache will presumably update in a bit, here‘s a screenshot of the original. It seems to me to be verging on dishonest to change the tags like this, without acknowledging it in comments or in an update. But then, I’m not Richard Tol, the poor man’s Bjørn Lomborg, and likely he subscribes to different norms on this sort of thing.

21

guthrie 11.26.11 at 5:23 pm

Oh dear. My contact with Tol has mostly been on blogs when he’s been trying to sound reasonable about some nitpicky little point and generally tries to avoid getting sucked into the big picture (said big picture usually destroying any lukewarmism eg that of Lomborg). But thats the stupidest bunch of paragraphs I’ve seen on the topic for ages.
Once again someone doesn’t get the importance of ecology, food webs, sunk costs in infrastructure etc etc.

22

Richard Tol 11.26.11 at 5:24 pm

@Henry
I thought it was obvious that the piece was tongue-in-cheek. Your reaction and Peter Dorman’s convinced me that it was not. That is why I added the tag.

23

Enda H 11.26.11 at 5:28 pm

@Henry,

But then, I’m not Richard Tol, the poor man’s Bjørn Lomborg, and likely he subscribes to different norms on this sort of thing.

Here’s a likely sequence of events:
1. Tol makes a joke
2. You take it seriously, make subtle personal jibes at him
3. He sees that people are taking it seriously and changes the tags
4. You start outright ad hominem attacks on him after he changes the tags

I don’t think you’re being nice here. (Obligatory redundant disclosure: I have absolutely no affiliation with Tol, and know very little about his research.)

24

Henry 11.26.11 at 5:34 pm

Richard – OK – I will withdraw the suggestion above – but I strongly urge you to include some acknowledgment that the post has been updated. Otherwise, people will make Enda’s mistake.

Enda – to refresh your memory on this, you just attacked me above saying “Jesus, Henry, look at the tag on Tol’s post!” Since that tag actually wasn’t there when I read the post, contrary to your initial suggestion, and since Tol had responded in ways that suggested it was a serious post …

25

Shay Begorrah 11.26.11 at 5:38 pm

@Henry

The “Tongue in Cheek” tag was most definitely not there when I looked at the post this early this afternoon (I still have the window open), my experience of reading Richard’s postings is that irony is another thing which he is deeply sceptical about.

I would note that though Mr Tol trolls and emits dog whistles for the Lomborg/Perry axis quite a bit he seems less objectionable (and crazy) than other deniers like Steven Levitt and I harbour the hope that eventually he will kick the right-glibertarian habit and come to his senses.

26

Steve LaBonne 11.26.11 at 5:40 pm

I thought it was obvious that the piece was tongue-in-cheek. Your reaction and Peter Dorman’s convinced me that it was not. That is why I added the tag.

Yes, that’s one possible explanation of the sequence of events. Its credibility would have been enhanced if you had updated the post rather than just quietly changing the tag, but whatever.

27

JJ 11.26.11 at 5:43 pm

Quite apart from any (specious) considerations of global warming, one might consider instead the following proposition:

If the migration of one Irish economist to another country will raise the national IQ of both countries, then the migration of eight Irish economists will raise the world IQ to astronomical dimensions!

28

Enda H 11.26.11 at 5:44 pm

Henry – nonsense! I asserted that you that you had missed something. Regardless of the issue of the ex post tag addition, it did not come within an ass’s roar of constituting a personal attack. It’s a pity you feel that way.

29

Anderson 11.26.11 at 5:45 pm

Jesus made that remark about “sell all you have” tongue-in-cheek, but they didn’t have tags back then for him to change. Oops!

30

guthrie 11.26.11 at 6:03 pm

Ahhh, seen the tag now, that’s better.

31

Henry 11.26.11 at 6:05 pm

Enda – I interpreted your comment as claiming that I had been so incompetent in my reading as not to have noticed that the post had been tagged ‘tongue-in-cheek.’ I didn’t take this particularly personally – the exciting cut-and-thrust of debate in the blogosphere and all that – but when someone says “Jesus, Henry. Look at the tag on Tol’s post!” I don’t think it’s odd to interpret this as suggesting that I didn’t look at the tag, and deserve to be called out for not so doing. And that the tag in question was not actually attached to the original post seems to me to be not entirely irrelevant to all of this.

32

Enda H 11.26.11 at 6:23 pm

Fair enough, Henry. The alarmist “Look out for the bus!” was poorly phrased by me, mis-interpreted by you, no offence intended, no harm done, let’s all be friends.

33

Henry 11.26.11 at 6:27 pm

I also should not have used the word “attacked me” (and regretted it shortly after putting it up (“given me a hard time” would have better gotten across the sense of what I meant).

34

David 11.26.11 at 7:38 pm

I love The Onion. Oh, wait…..
Enda, lost in the homilies about ad hominem is the question of Tol being serious or not. You seem to be maintaining that he is not. Evidence has been produced that he is.

35

cian 11.26.11 at 7:42 pm

I think if anyone is under any illusion that it was intended as a joke, look at the first three comments. Irony free zone. Unless those have now been removed.

And that the tag in question was not actually attached to the original post seems to me to be not entirely irrelevant to all of this.

Well it suggests that Enda H is a sock puppet. Hole. Digging. Hmm.

36

Henry 11.26.11 at 7:43 pm

cian – please refrain from suggestions like this without strong evidence, thx.

37

Enda H 11.26.11 at 8:19 pm

@David

Enda, lost in the homilies about ad hominem is the question of Tol being serious or not. You seem to be maintaining that he is not. Evidence has been produced that he is.

Sure, maybe he was being serious. I don’t know the man so I’ll admit the possibility. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. You know, good faith, and all that.

@cian

Well it suggests that Enda H is a sock puppet.

Sheesh. I come on a website trying to prevent a flame war by pointing out Henry might have missed something, suggest he’s getting a little personal, make peace and say that maybe we should all still be friends. You stroll in and accuse me of being disingenuous and acting in bad faith.

Good man yourself.

38

Gareth Rees 11.26.11 at 8:33 pm

Poe’s Law: without an explicit label, it’s more or less impossible to make a satire so ridiculous that someone won’t entertain the idea that it might be sincere.

39

J. Otto Pohl 11.26.11 at 8:41 pm

I moved from Kyrgyzstan which is very cold in the winter to Ghana which is pretty warm during the winter. I am not sure what is the exact difference in temperature, but I am pretty sure it is greater than that between Malta and the UK. On of my coworkers moved here recently from Norway. Another came from Massachusetts and another came from Ohio. But, then again we are all historians not economists.

40

Jamie 11.26.11 at 9:02 pm

But, then again we are all historians not economists.

See, that just proves that economists have higher risk tolerances.

41

Richard Tol 11.26.11 at 9:11 pm

My original post was serious and not.
I did not seriously think that a few descriptive statistics about migrants in Europe could tell us anything about the impacts of climate change.
I do think that there is serious problem with the “2K warming is dangerous” theme. Otto Pohl demonstrates that humans can experience drastic climate change and live to blog the tale. It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.

42

dave heasman 11.26.11 at 9:14 pm

“It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.”

Species don’t worry; people do. All of us living in temperate climes that might be overrun by hundreds of millions of desperate refugees worry at least a little.

43

Richard Tol 11.26.11 at 9:18 pm

@dave
Why do you worry about that prospect? At the moment, there are hundreds of millions of desperate people would love to overrun Europe and North America. They do not. Immigration barriers are pretty effective. Why would that be any different in the future?

44

Barry Freed 11.26.11 at 9:24 pm

“It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.”

It’s odd that a professor of the economics of climate change could make such a statement seriously. What about all the other species that inhabit the planet that do not have the same adaptability as human beings? Many of which we depend on economically, I might add.

45

William Timberman 11.26.11 at 9:26 pm

Omigod.

46

Pope Epopt 11.26.11 at 9:35 pm

I’m waiting for this comment to be taken down:

Not thinking of going anywhere yourself, Richard? I’ve heard Harare is balmy at this time of the year.

You could continue to triple-job for the Koch Br^h^h^h^h^h^h^h sorry Global Warming Policy Front.

47

Pope Epopt 11.26.11 at 9:36 pm

Wow your markup does something powerful with my backspaces!

48

Gareth Rees 11.26.11 at 9:42 pm

In a way this kind of thing is encouraging: it’s a sign that the “warming isn’t happening” line of denial is no longer convincing to anyone, so people are forced back to the next line of defence, which is “the effects of warming will not be all that bad [at least for people who don't live near the coast, or depend on glacier-fed water supplies, or rely on crops grown in marginal areas, etc]“. (After that line is no longer convincing either, the line after that will be, “tough luck, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.” Coming to a blog near you in a few years’ time.)

49

Adrian Kelleher 11.26.11 at 9:44 pm

“If one takes the pure rate of time preference of the median voter, then one adopts the moral position of one person, one vote.” – Richard Tol

50

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.26.11 at 9:47 pm

Man is not a flea, gets used to anything.

51

cian 11.26.11 at 9:49 pm

cian – please refrain from suggestions like this without strong evidence, thx.

Oh sorry, thought that you were suggesting that the tag was not attached to the post when s(he) posted here. Misread it, my fault.

52

cian 11.26.11 at 9:56 pm

“It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.”

Yes why would anyone worry about rising sea levels, desertification, more extreme weather and the as yet known affects on the ecology of massive changes in the temperature. Not to mention the possibility at some point the methane stored in Siberia will be released causing even worse problems. Obviously this is exactly the same as a professor choosing to take a position at a university with a warmer climate.

Or is that the joke?

53

Alan in SF 11.26.11 at 9:57 pm

Wouldn’t the additional body heat in the warmer economist-vectors accelerate climate change even more? This is worrisome! Although no doubt good news for Dublin.

54

Richard Tol 11.26.11 at 10:03 pm

@Cian
No joke. An invitation to think. Tokyo subsided by 5 metres in the 20th century. Projected sea level rise for the 21st century is in the order of 0.5 metre. Why would Tokyo worry about a problem one-tenth of the size it has successfully mastered? And if the Japanese could do it in the 20th century, could the Americans do the same in the 21st?

55

Spencer 11.26.11 at 10:11 pm

It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.

Now this is without a doubt the dumbest thing I’ve seen anybody write about climate change. Economists are supposed to be able to think a little more long-term than is evident here.

56

Omega Centauri 11.26.11 at 10:23 pm

This sort of stuff unfortunately has political relevance. Among the intended audience of mid and high latitude dwellers, warmer (weather) is usually thought of as better. So the argument -even if not intended to stand up to scientific relevance has a lot of political salience. A lot of people are closet fans of a warmer planet.

Well, Richard it is very unlikely to be .5M, more likely 1-2M per century. And this rate of change will continue for several hundred years. Dealing with inconstant, and rising sealevels will be a serious tax/expense on coastal communities for hundreds of years to come. The benefits of a minor extension in the age of cheap energy will be dissipated within a couple of decades. Not to mention all sorts of other changes away from the conditions upon which the design of our infrastructure -especially stuff like farming practices was predicated upon. And the natural world which humans are as reliant upon as any other creatures, that doesn’t figure in economic analysis -so it doesn’t matter.

57

dave heasman 11.26.11 at 10:24 pm

“At the moment, there are hundreds of millions of desperate people would love to overrun Europe and North America. They do not. “

Not desperate enough yet. Just wait.

58

EWI 11.26.11 at 10:28 pm

It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.

Richard Tol is welcome to show us a sustainable modern civilisation which exists on either Pole.

Otherwise, this is just more attempted muddying of the waters from “Lord” Lawson’s messenger.

59

Yarrow 11.26.11 at 10:31 pm

Richard Tol @ 52: “Projected sea level rise for the 21st century is in the order of 0.5 1.5-2 metre.” FTFY

…and 4-6 meters in the long run.

60

Sam Clark 11.26.11 at 10:36 pm

Richard Tol at 43, to dave heasman: ‘Why do you worry about that prospect [of desperate refugees fleeing the effects of climate change]? At the moment, there are hundreds of millions of desperate people would love to overrun Europe and North America. They do not. Immigration barriers are pretty effective. Why would that be any different in the future?’

I don’t want to speak for dave heasman, but I worry about this because I care about other human beings. I therefore think that your comment reveals a pretty repulsive unconcern: ‘why worry? It’ll only be some distant poor people who are hurt by all this climate-change stuff’.

61

cian 11.26.11 at 10:44 pm

And if the Japanese could do it in the 20th century, could the Americans do the same in the 21st?

yeah I wasn’t so worried about rich people in wealthy first world cities. I was thinking more about the loss of coastal regions, and areas where people can’t afford massively expensive sea defences. jeez. Plus, you know, the other things I mentioned as well some I didn’t bother to.

62

Richard Tol 11.26.11 at 11:00 pm

@cian
So you are concerned about the impact of sea level rise on poor people. You can do three things. You can reduce your emissions. You can finance dike building. Or you can help them develop. Which is most effective? What do you think they would prefer?

63

Pope Epopt 11.26.11 at 11:00 pm

‘Ere, EWI, how come you don’t get held in a moderation queue? Some kind of suction no doubt :-).

Or do the siblings know where M. Timber lives?

64

Emma in Sydney 11.26.11 at 11:22 pm

Not to speak for Cian, Mr Tol, but I try to do all three in my house, and the use I make of my spare income. Unfortunately, deniers and their fellow travellers like yourself are persuading governments to do none of the above. Development won’t do much for the populations of the Maldives, or many Pacific islands which will not have a country to develop in. But they are poor brown people, right, so I guess they don’t matter.

65

Eli Rabett 11.26.11 at 11:27 pm

Obviously the Irish economists were fleeing Richard Tol. Have you seen his picture?

66

Steve LaBonne 11.26.11 at 11:41 pm

One of the most nauseating things about libertoonish ninnies is their habit of clumsily feigning concern for people in less-developed countries, in an effort to score cheap rhetorical points that a clever five-year-old could see through.

67

Tom Bach 11.26.11 at 11:41 pm

The obvious question is if development is the cause of the problem how can more development solve the problem “it” created? There is, isn’t there, always the option of ignoring the Tols of the world and working on the distribution of things in an equitable manner that doesn’t nor rely on problem creating technologies and systems.

68

Akshay 11.27.11 at 12:06 am

I would point out to Richard Tol@41 that not that many people live deserts. But the deserts will spread, taking over steppes and savannah which are now home to millions. We don’t know how far they will spread, as we know from paleoclimatology that ‘tipping points’ can turn wetlands into the Sahara very quickly. Trusting on immigration barriers as in @43 seems rather callous. Is there any evidence adaptation to mass desertification will happen easily and non-violently?

Amazingly, this whole debate does not seem to have much advanced since 1983, as described by Naomi Oreskes. The issue is still wether adaptation is feasible at all at higher levels of warming. Isn’t the burden of proof on economists who use high discount rates here, as their calculations recommend a potential all-bets-are-off warming as great as the one since the last ice age? Climate models can be run for such a warming, but trust in those models becomes low at these extremes. All kinds of terrifying scenarios become thinkable.

Speaking of discounting, shouldn’t the unsolvability of this issue have buried intergenerational CBA’s by now? There are perfectly rigorous arguments to pick low discount rates (by Amartya Sen for example) and arguments from market analogies to get high discount rates. Even leaving aside the philosophical problems with discounting future lives, you can cherry pick a discount rate to defend any moderately feasible climate policy you like. Then what is the use of CBA as a decision making mechanism here?

(Of course, the ethical argument against contributing to desertifying the third world, bleaching coral reefs or causing possible global disaster is trivial, as is the argument for helping the poor or preserving nature in other ways.)

69

Barry Freed 11.27.11 at 12:15 am

@Eli Rabett 11.26.11 at 11:27 pm

That was seriously uncool and unhelpful. I used to be a regular reader of Deltoid and read many of your comments there as well as being an occasional reader of your blog as well and I know you’re better than this. Or maybe arguing with disingenuous denialists and rehashing the same tired arguments has finally gotten to you, I know it would wear on me; but still, that’s uncalled for.

And I would ask Richard Tol rather than getting into a back and forth about ad hominem ad nauseaum to answer my question above at 44.

70

cian 11.27.11 at 12:23 am

So you are concerned about the impact of sea level rise on poor people. You can do three things. You can reduce your emissions. You can finance dike building. Or you can help them develop. Which is most effective? What do you think they would prefer?

What is the argument even supposed to be here. First of all we know that you don’t actually give a damn about the poor, as you’ve already stated that problem can be solved with bigger borders around Europe. You’re not fooling anyone.

Secondly effective at what? Given we in the west produce most of the emissions, its kind of a no brainer that the most effective way to reduce emissions would be for the people producing them to, you know, reduce emissions.

Thirdly development is doing a lot of work here, given that development can mean an awful lot of things ranging from educating children to building carcinigen spewing chemical factories in countries with no environmental standards.

And fourthly. Dyke building. Everywhere where people live. That’s your solution. Rather than, I dunno, reducing emissions.

Rather than trying to get others to think, has it occurred to you that perhaps you should be the one thinking.

71

Barry Freed 11.27.11 at 12:25 am

Dyke building. Everywhere where people live. That’s your solution.

Keynesian economic stimulus FTW!

72

Michael H Schneider 11.27.11 at 12:28 am

“Tokyo subsided by 5 metres in the 20th century.”

The accuracy of this claim is under dispute in the comments here:

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/11/where-does-richard-tols-claim-that-tokyo-today-is-16-feet-lower-relative-to-sea-level-than-it-was-in-1900-comes-from.html

73

Brad DeLong 11.27.11 at 12:33 am

I would say that it is clear by this point that Tol’s claim that “Tokyo” today is 16 feet lower than it was in 1900 is as close to totally false as a claim can be in this Fallen Sublunary Sphere of ours…

74

Brad DeLong 11.27.11 at 12:36 am

I do remember a conversation with somebody… was it Hal Varian?… who said that his people had estimated that with 20 feet of sea level rise we lose London completely (and everything else that low) because we could not build enough nuclear power plants to pump enough water to keep it from being submerged. But I haven’t done the math. I do know however, that the force on a seawall is not proportional to its size…

75

guthrie 11.27.11 at 12:40 am

Um, I was under the impression the 2 degrees C warming thing had nothing whatsoever to do with whether people could survive better or worse outside their houses, but to do with the increased risk of hideous and nasty changes to weather, climate, sea level, ecologies, deserts, rainforests, oceans etc etc concommitant with more than 2 degrees C (global average) warming.
So I’m rather at a loss as to what Richard means.

76

Rich Puchalsky 11.27.11 at 12:41 am

“My original post was serious and not.”

OK, now that was stupid. More stupid than if it was described as either serious or not serious.

The build environment, everywhere, is closely calibrated to local climate. Farming is strongly affected by local climate. Ecosystems have evolved to match local climate. A human being can easily move to an area a bit warmer or colder, but none of those other things can move so easily.

Rather than make an argument against that, you claimed your piece was only half a joke. That means that if anyone does address it seriously, you can say “it was only a joke!”; if people don’t address it seriously, you will continue to claim, as you’ve done here, that it means something.

Standard denialism. If Tol is remembered at all, it will be in keeping with Father Coughlin. Oh, that was a joke. Well, maybe serious and not.

77

terence 11.27.11 at 12:49 am

It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.

Far odder still that a man who lives neither in a desert or a rainforest, and who is fed by a global agricultural system prone to commodity price spikes after relatively limited regional droughts, and who is paid thanks to a global economy that hasn’t proven particularly resilient to shocks, and who was born in the century that saw the Great Depression give birth to World War 2, could write something like that.

Odd, and yet very revealing.

78

js. 11.27.11 at 12:51 am

Several people have demolished RT @ 41 well enough, but it’s also worth noting that this:

Otto Pohl demonstrates that humans can experience drastic climate change and live to blog the tale.

at best blatantly equivocates on “climate change”.

79

Sev 11.27.11 at 1:09 am

JWP 11.26.11 at 2:46 pm
“Not the least funny thing about this argument is the implication that economists who live in Chicago are 1) too dumb to come in out of the rain”

Presumably the invisible hand will bring desired climate to their doorstep- possibly within the lifetime of some of them- markets clearing, if imperfectly.

Really the ignorance of most economists about this is appalling. The professional training goes to their heads, and they forget that they are living, breathing earthly creatures.
There is a lot of evidence that we are messing with things in ways far larger and more dangerous than we well understand. Besides climate change, for example, CO2 is causing ocean acidification, threatening much of life there, which consists largely of unidentified and little understood microbes.
The mass extinctions well under way ought to give us a hint about what the future holds. It is criminal to destroy so much of life so blithely, ignorantly and with such indifference to its intrinsic beauty and value.
The logical outcome of what we are collectively doing is that natural limits will bring an end to our recklessness as they do for other species- a population crash.
Supposedly Prometheus brought us fire and foresight. The former is much in evidence, the latter, less so.
Forgive the rant; would be nice if economists in general would show some professional courtesy to the climate scientists who actually know what they’re talking about on this subject.

80

Lee A. Arnold 11.27.11 at 1:23 am

I think we should worry about a sudden unpredictable heat spike, due to natural variation, that ends agriculture for a couple of years, and with it, ends almost all of human civilization. It is a very likely pattern in complex systems dynamics, although many previous occurrences might not show up in the fossil record, due to the survival of wildlife species in cryptic refugia. Yet we know of a few occasions of sudden drastic change, and it would be devastating to us, now. The reasons why are unclear and even after it happens, people will argue about why — that is, if there is anyone who survives the mayhem.

Even without heat spikes, and with climate sensitivity at the low end, it is going change natural ecosystems from the patterns that we currently rely upon. You would think that by now, economists would have some understanding of the unpredictable nature of the dynamics of complex systems, having just witnessed the crash of the housing and financial bubbles. Alas, a form of anal analytical thought still rules, without the ability to think synthetically. They will never understand ecology.

81

Eli Rabett 11.27.11 at 1:47 am

Barry Freed, if you engage with clowns like Tol on his own terms you lose. He and his lie back and enjoy it running mate Roger Pielke Jr. delight in setting up such, oh innocent me, I never thought that this could be thought of this way, just kidding stuff. The point is, unlike Henry, you NEVER accept their excuses. Tol meant his post to be taken exactly the way it was on his blog. He has form.

82

Eli Rabett 11.27.11 at 1:48 am

JWP 11.26.11 at 2:46 pm
“Not the least funny thing about this argument is the implication that economists who live in Chicago are 1) too dumb to come in out of the rain”

Snow

83

Ronald Calitri 11.27.11 at 2:09 am

Actually, a good experiment,
Proves that People Follow Money. If that’s where the jobs were. Not to criticize Irish academics. Are any asking their jobs back? Meanwhile the Euro migration trends imply warmer countries were their borrowed money to work .

84

Mrs Tilton 11.27.11 at 2:46 am

I do think that there is serious problem with the “2K warming is dangerous” theme. Otto Pohl demonstrates that humans can experience drastic climate change and live to blog the tale. It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.

As anybody stupid enough to say this sort of thing and mean it seriously would likely have difficulty remembering to breathe, in charity and the interest of Mr Tol’s continued respiration I’ll read this as an addendum to his joke (such as it was).

85

Jeffrey Davis 11.27.11 at 3:37 am

A man walking on the deck of the Titanic could walk 180 degrees away from the iceberg.

86

Jeffrey Davis 11.27.11 at 3:45 am

re:43 and the effectiveness of limits on immigration

Whew. I was worried that we’d have to put up with the unwashed after we’d made their countries uninhabitable.

87

Jeffrey Davis 11.27.11 at 3:55 am

2C is just a number. It is definitely not a plateau or sustainable. At 2C, outgassing from tundra, taiga, and ocean sources will equal current human contributions. We could cut our own emissions of greenhouse gases to 0 and atmospheric concentrations will continue to rise and even accelerate.

Humans can survive a 2C increase since that’s about the difference between 9AM and 10AM on a summer morning. But many plants won’t, and many agricultural pests will. We lost to flood Pakistan’s agriculture last year and Thailand’s this year. Those events will increase and worsen. The same year we lost Pakistan’s agriculture to flood, we lost much of Russian and Australian production to drought. Events like that will increase and worsen. Within 5 years, the Amazon suffered two “100 year” droughts.We lost Texas agriculture this year.

It’s insane and immoral to keep making sophistical arguments about AGW.

88

Omega Centauri 11.27.11 at 4:55 am

Jeff is right that 2C is just an arbitrary number. The danger/damage is some unknown (and possibly discontinuous) rising function of temperature increase. I disagree about the tundra outgassing, that is a conceivable but not expected feedback. But the trend to more variable weather, with bigger droughts and floodsis serious if it continues. People don’t realize that human society are stretching sustainable food supply limits, with soils and groundwater resources being seriously depleted, add climate instability to it, and the potential for significant dieoff goes way up. But those are the unwashed third worlers mostly, so they don’t count?

89

snuh 11.27.11 at 6:42 am

comments #41 and #43, wow.

by that logic, if an ice age were to come on, and average temperatures were to quickly fall 8-10 degrees celcius, it shouldn’t concern us at all. we are, after all, “a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest”, and a global average temperature change of 8-10 degrees is to be treated as essentially the same thing as me moving somewhere that is 8-10 degrees colder than where i currently live, which is no problem as i currently live on australia’s eastern seaboard (which incidentally i needn’t worry will be overrun by climate refugees because “immigration barriers are pretty effective”).

HOLY CRAP!

90

Richard Tol 11.27.11 at 6:58 am

@Brad DeLong
I see that people have answered your question about Tokyo on your blog. My source is a paper by Robert Nicholls, who indeed writes “up to 5m”.

The work cited by Hal Varian is about Holland. London was another case study in the same research project, which, incidentally, was led by me.

91

Jamie 11.27.11 at 7:17 am

@Richard Tol:

Are you buying property in London?

92

Frank Ashe 11.27.11 at 11:04 am

The subsidence in Tokyo has been mostly away from the coast and is due to the extraction of ground water. See Figure 9.4.7 in

http://wwwrcamnl.wr.usgs.gov/rgws/Unesco/PDF-Chapters/Chapter9-4.pdf

The chart is not sufficiently detailed to see what is happening in the east part of Tokyo where subsidence is greatest, but Tokyo has had to substantially raise its levees in that area.

Needless to say, this is tangentially relevant to the issue of a general rise in sea level. And the use of a statement of “up to 5m”, while accurate, spreads more disinformation than information.

93

Richard Tol 11.27.11 at 11:29 am

@Frank
I disagree. The examples of Tokyo, Shanghai, Rotterdam show that sea level rise is a problem that can be solved, at a price, with 20th, even 19th century technology.

The Netherlands started its modern dike building programme in 1850 when it had a per capita income of about 2000 dollar (1990, PPP) per person per year.

94

Emma in Sydney 11.27.11 at 11:54 am

@Tol. I’m sure the people of Tuvalu will be comforted by that.

95

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.27.11 at 1:43 pm

Hey, this is the 21st century, you doubters. Considering current per capita income, a few decades from now we should be able to afford to grow some gills.

96

John Quiggin 11.27.11 at 1:45 pm

@Akshay – you don’t need to “tweak the paradigm” to get the answer given by Stern. He is presenting the standard utilitarian analysis which gives the right answer. The people who give a different answer don’t understand the economics of discounting.
http://johnquiggin.com/2007/02/23/discounting-the-future-yet-again/

By the way, although I can hardly enjoin others not to ‘feed the Tol’ since the post is about him, I’ve had my fill of pointless engagement with him, which ended with my banning his sockpuppets from my blog. So, I agree with Eli @81, and will not respond to anything he writes here.

97

JJ 11.27.11 at 2:18 pm

Of course, all subsequent benefits are severely mitigated by the prior migration of one Dutch economist to Ireland.

98

bexley 11.27.11 at 3:05 pm

Having read Mr Tol’s “arguments” I now realise he must be part of some hitherto unknown Irish stimulus plan. He is being paid by Trinity College to dig himself into holes on the internet.

99

John Mashey 11.27.11 at 3:10 pm

One might compare the original post with some of the work of NZ’s Chris de Freitas, who has often written on “climate tourism,” showing people like to go to warmer places, which makes it all fine. Another example is this one, by folks from U Waterloo in Ontario.. I.e., the same sort of argument has been made quite seriously by others.

Of course, many of those who seek warmer climates may like to go to the beach. While this is very minor compared to many other things, a relatively-quick 2m SLR is the *end* of most ocean beach acreage. Putting levees in front of beaches is … awkward.

To pick a few places I’ve been, here’s Bondi, or Perth beaches or Rottnest (sorry, quokkas), or French Riviera or Miami Beach.

When on the beach, take good pictures for the great grandchildren so they’ll have some idea what they were like.

100

Uncle Kvetch 11.27.11 at 3:21 pm

A man walking on the deck of the Titanic could walk 180 degrees away from the iceberg.

I would like to thank Jeffrey Davis for this, which gave me a genuine chuckle in the midst of the most depressing thread I’ve ever read on CT.

101

jazzbumpa 11.27.11 at 3:42 pm

Richard Tol @ 62:

Clearly, this calls for Pareto optimization.

http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/841.html

Leaving absolutely nothing to chance, I will explicitly state that I am joking.

Spencer @ 55 for the Win. That’s serious.

Cheers!
JzB

102

jazzbumpa 11.27.11 at 4:07 pm

Sev @79

would be nice if economists in general would show some professional courtesy to the climate scientists who actually know what they’re talking about on this subject.

That’s asking rather a lot, since they don’t even show it to each other.

But the way we’re going, in the long run, there will be nothing but salt water, so those debates will become passe.

WASF,
JzB

103

Brad DeLong 11.27.11 at 4:57 pm

@ Frank Ashe. Tol did not say “up to 5 meters.”

Tol said: “No joke. An invitation to think. Tokyo subsided by 5 metres in the 20th century…”

He’s a bullshit artist. What he says is not accurate at all.

104

Barry 11.27.11 at 5:09 pm

Sev @79

” would be nice if economists in general would show some professional courtesy to the climate scientists who actually know what they’re talking about on this subject.”

jazzbumpa ” That’s asking rather a lot, since they don’t even show it to each other.”

More importantly, the past few years have shown that ‘professional courtesy’ toward reality is far from universal among economists, even the elite ones.

105

Barry 11.27.11 at 5:11 pm

BTW, getting back to the subject of Henry’s post, it’s now clear that the question of ‘stupid, joking or dishonest’ has been conclusively settled.

106

Barry 11.27.11 at 5:16 pm

Here’s a serious question for Henry, John Q and Brad – who are the honest economists specializing in the effects of AGW?

107

EWI 11.27.11 at 5:18 pm

@ Eli

Tol meant his post to be taken exactly the way it was on his blog. He has form.

Indeed. His ‘concerned’ posts on IrishEconomy just happened to continually push the climategate nonsense as a side-effect, of course. The repeated validation of the scientists concerned since then has, alas, been deemed unworthy of likewise mention there (“off-topic”, I’m told).

@ Omega Centauri

Tol’s academic work has explicitly put a lower value on the lives of third-worlders, as other have noted.

108

cian 11.27.11 at 5:20 pm

Another example is this one, by folks from U Waterloo in Ontario.. I.e., the same sort of argument has been made quite seriously by others.

Good god that article is stupid. Please tell me ‘Climate Research’ is a minor journal of zero significance.

109

Cosma Shalizi 11.27.11 at 5:34 pm

106: Filial piety demands that I offer this link. (Which would also be relevant to 62, if it had been asked in good faith.)

110

Richard Tol 11.27.11 at 6:07 pm

Here is a map of subsidence in Tokyo between 1938 and 1975:
http://wwwrcamnl.wr.usgs.gov/rgws/Unesco/PDF-Chapters/Chapter9-4.pdf

Google Earth has a digital elevation map. Elevation is the third number at the bottom of the graph. It shows, of course, current elevation, which is measured relative to mean sea level.

111

Alex 11.27.11 at 8:11 pm

Richard Tol should probably read this. Content warning: may cause insomnia, despair.

112

terence 11.27.11 at 9:24 pm

Jeffrey Davis,
Thanks – great comments.

John Quiggin,
“By the way, although I can hardly enjoin others not to ‘feed the Tol’”

Priceless, the thread has been redeemed.

113

Jawbone 11.27.11 at 9:45 pm

Does anyone know of any literature on the extent to which global warming has “crowded out” other environmental issues? Deadly small-particulate air pollution is horrible in, e.g., urban China, Delhi, Cairo yet it seems to attract far too little attention. Ideally the one issue shouldn’t detract from the other, but my sense is that it has.

114

djr 11.27.11 at 10:33 pm

Tokyo dealt with its subsidence problem by imposing strict new planning regulations which stopped people from doing the thing that was causing the problem. Applying the same procedure to…

115

Nick Barnes 11.27.11 at 11:53 pm

Richard Tol wrote: “Tokyo subsided by 5 metres in the 20th century. Projected sea level rise for the 21st century is in the order of 0.5 metre. Why would Tokyo worry about a problem one-tenth of the size it has successfully mastered?”

Easy answer to a stupid question: Because the very small part of Tokyo which subsided by 4.6 metres is not on the water-front.

See, for instance, this: http://wwwrcamnl.wr.usgs.gov/rgws/Unesco/PDF-Chapters/Chapter9-4.pdf

There’s a handy map. It’s about as relevant to sea-level rise as if the Hollywood hills subsided by 4.6 metres.

Now either he knew this, in which case he is dishonest, or he didn’t, in which case he couldn’t be bothered to spend 30 seconds researching it (that paper is actually the top Google hit for “tokyo subsidence”).

Also note that, say, 2.5 metres is also “in the order of 0.5 metre”.

116

John Quiggin 11.28.11 at 12:32 am

@Barry – Global warming raises a lot of different economic issues. The result is that, except for full-time modellers, not that many people specialise in global warming as a topic. Rather you get auction theorists weighing in on the design of emissions trading markets, benefit-cost people talking about discount rates and so on.

The big reports that do a reasonably good job are by Stern in the UK and Garnaut in Australia. Both are highly-regarded economists who came to the field without any particular preconceptions.

117

John Quiggin 11.28.11 at 12:36 am

Does anyone know of any literature on the extent to which global warming has “crowded out” other environmental issues? Deadly small-particulate air pollution is horrible in, e.g., urban China, Delhi, Cairo yet it seems to attract far too little attention.

In some, not all cases, there are complementarities. Most obviously, shutting down the worst (in terms of local pollution) coal-fired power stations reduces both global warming and particulate pollution. Similarly with reforestation.

What might have been the big case in the opposite direction was nuclear power. A lot of people concluded (rightly I think, given the available evidence) that the risks of nuclear power were less than those of climate change. But the economics never panned out, and then Fukushima killed the whole thing.

118

John Mashey 11.28.11 at 12:40 am

re: #108 cian
“Good god that article is stupid. Please tell me ‘Climate Research’ is a minor journal of zero significance.”
Well, these days it seems credible. It went through an interesting time (~1997-2003) when Chris de Freitas was an editor and publication of a paper by Soon and Baliunas ended up causing resignations of editors.

119

Ranjit Suresh 11.28.11 at 12:43 am

Richard Tol raises the salient issue here. The effects of global warming are likely to cause significant increases in mortality only in the least developed regions. Elsewhere it will be principally an economic issue. It makes eminent sense to question whether it makes more sense to do more to foster industrialization in Africa and Asia than to spend billions to make reductions in carbon emissions. Which will save more lives, dollar for dollar?

120

William Timberman 11.28.11 at 12:46 am

I don’t mean this to be as impertinent as it sounds, but didn’t Fukushima in fact contribute to the available evidence? (I realize that defenders of nuclear power have every right to treat Fukushima as a one-off, but in my opinion, we still haven’t adequately discounted the dangers lurking in the economics-driven re-licensing of plants already well past their designed lifetimes. I wonder particularly about France, which despite its enviably competent management, and equally enviable safety record, seems also to have been forced by economic necessity into flirting with potential future disasters.)

121

Watson Ladd 11.28.11 at 12:47 am

That relicensing is the result of nuclear power being very cheap and building new plants being very expensive. Replacing an old plant with a new one on the same site requires far more permits then asking it to run longer, even though the risks are reversed.

122

Brad DeLong 11.28.11 at 12:51 am

Nick Barnes: “Now either he knew this, in which case he is dishonest, or he didn’t, in which case he couldn’t be bothered to spend 30 seconds researching it…”

I vote for Tol as simply dishonest.

123

Jawbone 11.28.11 at 12:55 am

@117
Those are two solid points–thanks!
I still can’t help but imagine, though, that quality-adjusted life years would be better promoted by spending $X directly on particulate-pollution reduction in developing country mega-cities than on global CO2 reductions. . . . at least to some degree, which my concern about the “crowding out.”

124

Frank Ashe 11.28.11 at 12:59 am

@Richard Tol 92

You can build dykes around Tokyo Harbour but you can’t build dykes around every continent and low lying Pacific Island! Even to build dykes to protect the huge number of houses built on low lying sand and drained marshes around the rich world is a bit of an ask. Even if we stick to Japan, we’ve seen the lack of effectiveness of sea walls to stop a tsunami. And short sightedness led to massive populations building on areas below warning stones set up by their ancestors. Most probably some crude “cost-benefit analysis” by some people many years ago said that the likelihood of massive death toll in later generations was of low present value.

125

Ranjit Suresh 11.28.11 at 1:12 am

You won’t need dykes around every continent, since not all population centers are in threat of being inundated in the next century. But it’s not clear to me why we have trouble envisaging cities in the late 21st century investing in the time of protection from the encroachment by the sea that countries achieved in the 1800′s and 1900′s.

126

Matt 11.28.11 at 1:15 am

The problem is that the effects of coal plants are identifiable statistically rather than individually. If the nearby nuclear plant melts down and you find cesium-137 in your soil, everyone knows who’s to blame. If a new coal plant goes up nearby and your son dies of an asthma attack or your father dies of a heart attack, who can say whether the plant is to blame? It could have been smoke from forest fires. It could have been emissions from your neighbor’s car. It could have been uncorrelated with any external stimulus. Epidemiologically, it’s clear that coal pollution kills a lot of people before you even get to coal’s long-term climate effects, but (except for coal miners) the weapon always has its serial numbers filed off. So who cares that normal coal plant operation kills more people through air pollution alone than nuclear core breaches? You’ll never make liability stick for the former. Better hope that people developing renewable energy knock our socks off and beat coal on unsubsidized price, because it’s pretty clear that in the foreseeable future there are going to be no effective legal curbs on the damage coal does.

127

Watson Ladd 11.28.11 at 1:16 am

Ranjit: that’s not the correct spelling of dike. The distinction is as follows: one husbands the inside of a country, the other is a seawall. (Apologies for the risque nature of this joke.)

128

Tom Bach 11.28.11 at 2:01 am

Ranjit:
If the cause of the problem is industrialization how is more industrialization the solution? China, for example, has “successfully” industrialized with attended increases in pollution, exploitation of workers, and income/wealth inequality. Are you suggesting that engaging in more of the same will lead, some how or another, to less of the problems the industrialization created? I

129

John Mashey 11.28.11 at 2:06 am

I attended this conference on preparing for sea level rise.
it was very good and I was continually impressed by the town planners worrying about mitigating emissions and thinking now about 50-100 years off. We broke into teams, were given descriptions of imaginary towns and asked to plan. The politics was very, very ugly and anybody who thinks this is all easy … hasn’t studied it yet.

I have no doubt that the San Francisco Bay Area can deal with 1m of SLR and maybe 2, and people are working on it already… of course, it’s also one of the richest, best-educated and environments-sensitive places in the US…. and at least, most of California has prohibited development on the beaches, so there isn’t the massive amount of sea level infrastructure there, like the East Coast has. We also don’t have a lot of low-lying coast and rivers. [One can up levees, but when it rains the water has to be pumped out.]

130

Jeffrey Davis 11.28.11 at 2:22 am

New Orleans lives behind levees. It’s disconcerting to look up into the sky to see a tanker sailing past on the Mississippi. It’s enormously expensive to protect the city from water, and it’s made more difficult because it’s an ongoing enterprise: the weight of the levees drives the city even lower. In the future, such projects will be continuous around every place that’s within a few meters of sea level. In this country, we don’t even repair our bridges until pieces fall off, and one party is actively sabotaging the economy to make a point about how dreadful government is. So, the odds of the success of future projects to protect us from the sea are tiny.

All so carbon extraction tycoons won’t be taxed or forced to account for the externalities of their products. It would be nice to think that the rise in sociopathy is due to something novel in the environment.

131

Eli Rabett 11.28.11 at 3:01 am

Ranjit Suresh: By the time climate change starts killing people wholesale it is too late to do anything about it, which is why it is the perfect moral storm.

132

Jamie 11.28.11 at 4:11 am

It is worth revisiting one of Tol’s comments, from earlier:

It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.

I find this to be one of the most breathtakingly short-sighted, frankly dumb, comments on the topic I’ve seen. The notion that, because people manage to live in lots of different biomes, they shouldn’t care about those biomes changing, is just dumb on its face. What professional economist would assert that, for instance, a car manufacturer shouldn’t worry about gas prices, changes is rubber availability, or shipping?

And if those are valid concerns, why are the literally thousands of other concerns that go along with climate change no big deal?

This is the sound of someone unconcerned with millions of deaths, because, hey, people keep making people.

133

geo 11.28.11 at 4:16 am

Brad @122: not so fast. As someone who frequently says dumb things because I can’t be bothered to spend 30 seconds on research, I think Tol should be given the benefit of the doubt.

134

Henry 11.28.11 at 4:51 am

Watson – please take a break from commenting on my posts for a week or so. I don’t think you’re adding very much to discussion, thanks.

135

Richard Tol 11.28.11 at 6:39 am

@Frank – 124
Protecting vulnerable coasts against sea level rise is not that expensive. In most places, the cost will be far less than 0.1% of GDP. The reason is simple: It’s an old, well-established technology; most people live vertically removed from the sea; and the dikes need to go up by a centimetre per year or less.

Atolls are a different story. The momentum of sea level rise plus saltwater intrusion together imply that most atolls will become uninhabitable regardless of our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

@All
Migration implies individual climate change. Migration (and holiday) patterns suggest that climate change cannot be uniformly bad and that the amenity component of the total impact of climate change is non-catastrophic (and may even be positive if one omits equity weights).

This means that the concern about climate change must lie elsewhere.

I am struck, though, by the inability of many intelligent people to cogently argue why they are worried about climate change. Many of the commonly expressed worries are factually wrong or in sharp contrast to current and past experience. Often people worry about something different (e.g., poverty) but call it climate change.

For the record, I have researched the impacts of climate change for 20 years now; I have always found that climate change is a negative externality; and I have always advocated greenhouse gas emission reduction.

136

Frank Ashe 11.28.11 at 7:23 am

@Richard 135

I’m thinking of some place like the Gold Coast in Australia, with significant infrastructure built on huge sand spits and reclaimed swamps with multiple points of entry to the ocean. What well known technology has been adopted to protect such places that does not significantly affect their amenity? Coastal defences of sand beaches has not worked in Australia.

Admittedly, the forced relocation of such a city, or the massive loss of its current amenity (beaches, easy access for boating), in a rich country like Australia would be no great tragedy compared to, say, the Japanese tsunami. We’ll adapt, but what cost is there for the rest of the world? Bangladesh?

137

Ranjit Suresh 11.28.11 at 7:43 am

@Frank Ashe 136

You make a good point, but if we assume that Bangladesh is still a poor country 50 or 100 years from now, then that would seem to be the greater issue here. Do we really want to live in a world which has spent trillions to reduce carbon emissions but has allowed nations like Bangladesh to remain poor? What if those resources had gone to development and investment in infrastructure instead, thus insuring against the encroachment of the ocean on coastlines and the effects of increased drought and hurricanes, while at the same time producing higher living standards and healthier populations?

Considering the rapid development of much of Asia today, admitting that a huge nation like Bangladesh (almost half the size of the U.S.) may be poor generations hence seems to be a major concession indeed. As it happens, the country is growing rapidly, is getting its population growth under control (from 7 to 2.3 births per woman in forty years), and likely has a bright future ahead, even if that future involves turning the country into a gigantic version of the Netherlands as a result of climate change.

138

Jamie 11.28.11 at 7:58 am

Migration implies individual climate change

No, it implies that you want to change the subject, and that you’re still trying to make a deniable defense of the third dumbest climate change denialist argument I’ve seen in… Well, weeks.

It isn’t cute. I hope it tl least makes you money.

139

Emma in Sydney 11.28.11 at 8:41 am

I think we can now all see why JQ banned this Tol some time ago at his blog.

140

Guido Nius 11.28.11 at 8:43 am

An epidemic implies individual hygiene issues. Any recession implies individual spending cuts. Inhabiting the moon implies individual rocket flying. & Babies imply individual love making.

Boy, this is a promising line of research, this is.

(I felt addressed by @All to feed the Tol. By the way, if I would live in the Netherlands I would be very worried about nature. In fact, I would be so worried by it that I would dedicate lots of funds to insure against the global inability to deal with the root cause.)

141

Richard Tol 11.28.11 at 9:07 am

@Frank – 135
I don’t know the Gold Coast. The solution may be groynes or barrier islands to break the force of the waves plus raised buildings to cope with floods. That’s expensive locally, but nothing compared to the money made in coal exports.

@Ranjit – 136
Exactly. If Bangladesh can gets its development act together, sea level rise is much less of a concern. (Note that, unlike the Netherlands, Bangladesh suffers from tropical storms which greatly complicate coastal defense.) If Bangladesh cannot get its development act together, then perhaps we should prioritize that.

142

Zamfir 11.28.11 at 9:46 am

I don’t really se how this ‘prioritizing’ is supposed to work in practice. It’s not as if development aid is this new and untried field just waiting for someone to give it priority to go ahead.

143

Richard Tol 11.28.11 at 9:57 am

@Zamfir
Sure. Climate policy is not exactly easy either.

That said, a growing share of official development aid is diverted towards climate policy, that is, to close HFC factories rather than to educate girls.

144

David Stern 11.28.11 at 10:01 am

@Watson 127 – it’s spelled “dyke” in British English at least… Interesting thread.

145

Alex 11.28.11 at 11:31 am

Concern troll.

146

Andrew F. 11.28.11 at 12:21 pm

Is it really so difficult to disagree with a modicum of civility? Tol may be incorrect in certain of his factual claims, but has yet (correct me if I’m wrong) to engage in ad hominem, in contrast to a remarkable number of other commentators.

Tol’s claim that Tokyo has subsided 5m over the 20th century appears to be inaccurate (though the widely cited paper above seems to contain data on subsidence in Tokyo only up to 1975).

However, it does appear, from the same paper, that large areas of Tokyo bordering the Bay have experienced subsidence of 2-3 meters from 1938 to 1975.

This is the easy part of the disagreement to resolve, and should be quick prelude to to the heart of what could have been an interesting discussion about the economic effects of climate change and rising sea levels on coastal areas. Instead the easy part seems to have become an opportunity for the less restrained to throw tomatoes.

I’m curious as to the estimate of the cost of building protections against rising sea levels, though. Tol earlier claimed that, in most cases, the cost would be roughly .1% of GDP.

So two questions: (1) why would the cost in so many different areas remain proportional to the GDP of the country in which it was undertaken? (2) does this cost take into account the effects that the increased demand, resulting from the protection building project, on certain skilled workers, machines, and material will have upon other projects underway in the same country or region?

147

John Quiggin 11.28.11 at 12:43 pm

Alex @144, are you equipped with precog powers re @145?

148

ajay 11.28.11 at 12:44 pm

I don’t mean this to be as impertinent as it sounds, but didn’t Fukushima in fact contribute to the available evidence?

The contribution being “you can take a nuclear power station – not even a particularly modern one – hit it with ten metres of tsunami, take out all its backup power and push its core into meltdown, and you still won’t see a single death from radiation sickness”.

149

Richard Tol 11.28.11 at 1:00 pm

@Andrew F
Coastal defense is a fairly basic form of construction. You would expect its cost to rise more slowly than economic growth.

However, a major cost component in densely populated places is land. A state of the art dike has an aspect ratio to 7:1. So to raise a dike by one metre, it needs to be widened by 14 metres. Therefore, coastal defenses are build on the foreshore rather than inland.

If sea level rise would be faster than 2-3 metres per century, a shortage of civil engineers may be a bottleneck. See
http://ivm30.ivm.vu.nl/adaptivegovernance/docoments/ClimaticChangeAtlantis.pdf

150

Alex 11.28.11 at 1:39 pm

are you equipped with precog powers re @145?

Just adaptive expectations based on @143…

151

Jeffrey Davis 11.28.11 at 2:04 pm

re: 148

We don’t maintain our current infrastructure. Your blandishments about how easy it would be to ring our coasts with dikes and levees is well into “and a pony” territory.

152

reason 11.28.11 at 2:40 pm

It seems to me building a dyke in Japan is a completely proposition to building a dyke in the north of Germany for instance. It has to cope with earthquakes and typhoons. And in extreme circumstances, a breached dyke is worse then no dyke at all.

153

wilfred 11.28.11 at 4:38 pm

Not one crack about shifts in hot air? When I read the post I thought it had the ingredients of the long theorized but never identified Second Economist Joke.

154

Salient 11.28.11 at 5:01 pm

It is odd that a species that lives on the equator and on the pole, in the desert and in the rainforest, is worried about climate change.

I was finished typing “But we rely on other species to survive. There’s not a lot of agriculture happening in the deserts or on the poles.” …before I realized this too was completely tongue-in-cheek.

Richard Tol, you’re too subtle; for goodness’ sake please start marking your jokes with squiggly ~ or italics or something. Please?

155

Pascal Leduc 11.28.11 at 5:26 pm

I should point out that encouraging third world development and curbing emmisions are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some solutions like a global carbon credit scheme do both. Such a scheme operates on giving each nation a certain number of carbon credits based on population. Nations with low per capita emmisions can then sell these credits to nations with high emmisions leading to a wealth transfer while still putting a cap on total emissions.

I am reminded of the computer game Fate of the world (http://fateoftheworld.net/) which pits you as the leader of a global environmental agency (the GEO) tasked with scenario dependent objectives such as keeping warming under 3 degrees for a century while dealing with a global oil shortage. The game puts you in a difficult spot where you have to manage the consequences of not only ongoing climate change but also your own actions all the while maintaining a strong global economy (since the money you need to do everything is payed by a percentile tax of the regions GDP).

You would think that an economist who deals in climate change issues would be interested in the economic consequences of global climate change but apparently thats wrong, much better for the state to damn and dike everything then to require industries to account for the whole cost of their production.

156

John Mashey 11.28.11 at 5:31 pm

Surely, it will increase GDP to tear down most sea-level cities and rebuild them somewhere else. No problem. Think of all the construction jobs, especially as oil becomes less plentiful and more manual labor may be required. Even building dikes will be good for that. I’m sure people’s great-grandchildren will be pleased for those jobs.

Of course, the Dutch plan ahead, see Netherlands floating houses.

As usual, a fine way to make money is:
a) Privatize the profits and socialize the costs or risks.
Example: will the Oz coal exporters pay for replacing the Gold Coast?
b) Create unfunded liabilities, preferably where someone else has the liabilities, including those not yet born.

I grew up near Pittsburgh, PA, i.e., near coal country. Houses still collapse, although the mine owners are long gone.

157

Malaclypse 11.28.11 at 5:36 pm

I was finished typing “But we rely on other species to survive. There’s not a lot of agriculture happening in the deserts or on the poles.” …before I realized this too was completely tongue-in-cheek.

Nonsense. If a childhood spent watching The Jetsons has taught me anything, it is that in the future, we will get all food from little pills produced by the free market.

158

Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.28.11 at 5:42 pm

It seems to me that if we do give some serious thought to Tokyo’s groundwater subsidence issue, we’d notice that what they did was to pass ordinances addressing the root cause of the problem by banning further groundwater depletion. We also notice that they built no dykes, levees, special migration routes to higher ground or even giant robots purpose designed for pushing back water piloted by giant-eyed blue-haired teenagers. We also notice that after tackling the root cause of the problem half a century ago, no one talks about Tokyo sinking into the sea. Except Richard Tol. I think his example doesn’t say what he thinks it says.

159

Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.28.11 at 5:46 pm

As reason said,

And in extreme circumstances, a breached dyke is worse then no dyke at all.

It seems to me that what happened to New Orleans a few years ago illustrates this point quite strongly. It also seems to me that a 2K increase in average global temperatures would lead to hurricane seasons with significantly higher Accumulated Cyclone Energy. But then again, I haven’t been researching the impacts of climate change for the past twenty years.

160

Christoph 11.28.11 at 6:34 pm

Mr Tol,
As a resident of New Orleans and involved in ecological and environmental issues in this region, I remind you that your suggestion of building levees (or dykes as you call them whatever those are, pardon the LA humor) as the magic bullet to sea level rise is laughable. As you encase the low-lying areas with ever higher rims all you do is create an ever-larger catastrophe when they are (inevitably) overtopped.

Also, let me remind you that there is no magic earth-making machine so the expanse of building 10 meter high levees across hundreds of meters means you are stealing land from the interior which either reduces habitable land in the interior or if spread across a region merely adds to subsidence. And trust me, trying to acquire earthen resources from some far-flung area unimpacted by the loss is ALWAYS cost-prohibitive.

161

Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.28.11 at 7:10 pm

Also too, in re: the original point about migration, it seems to me that Richard Tol is cherry picking numbers. I mean, aside from the fact that the argument is ludicrous on its face.

It seems to me that the average global migrant experiences a significant drop in average climate temperatures. Else why all the hooferaw about immigrants from the warmer climes stealing our jobs and bankrupting our welfare states? A quick glance at this wikipedia graphic reinforces my prejudices, but I’m open to looking at actual analysis on the point.

162

EWI 11.28.11 at 7:45 pm

@ John Mashey

Surely, it will increase GDP to tear down most sea-level cities and rebuild them somewhere else. No problem. Think of all the construction jobs, especially as oil becomes less plentiful and more manual labor may be required. Even building dikes will be good for that. I’m sure people’s great-grandchildren will be pleased for those jobs.

As ever, Mr. Tol is existing beyond the bleeding-edge of satire:

“Prof Richard Tol of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has said that while the flooding has caused widespread damage, there may be an unexpected fillip to the economy once the clean-up operation begins. “Floods are bad but flood restoration can actually provide a stimulus to the economy,” said Dr Tol.”

http://www.corkeconomics.com/?p=760

163

Richard Tol 11.28.11 at 8:45 pm

The source of the 5m subsidence in Tokyo is this paper:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/?k=%28au%3a%28Holzer%29+OR+ed%3a%28Holzer%29%29+pub%3a%28GEoJournal%29

It is unclear where they got it from. Certainly not from this paper:
http://iahs.info/redbooks/a151/iahs_151_0381.pdf

@Dragon-King: The first paper has a nice picture of river wall in Tokyo. Your Wikipedia link has migration rates, which say nothing about origin and destination.

@Christoph
Levee is the French word for the Dutch word dyke. There is no English word.

164

ScentOfViolets 11.28.11 at 8:46 pm

I don’t mean this to be as impertinent as it sounds, but didn’t Fukushima in fact contribute to the available evidence?

The contribution being “you can take a nuclear power station – not even a particularly modern one – hit it with ten metres of tsunami, take out all its backup power and push its core into meltdown, and you still won’t see a single death from radiation sickness”.

This goes to the nub of the matter, namely that whatever else happens, the rest of the world will continue to modernize and “develop”. And while Peak Oil is upon us, Peak Coal is not; accordingly, those equatorial people seeking relief from the heat will plug their air-conditioners into an electrical grid powered by . . . fossil fuels.

The only way around this is to go nuclear. Yes, yes, this is where the advocates (whatever their motives are) for “renewable energy” jump in and go on about the evils of nuke power, the benefits of “clean” solar, wind, etc. But haven’t we done this one already? In fact, at just about this time last year, i.e. two Friedman units ago? And remember all those breezy claims about where we’d be a year from then? How did those predictions pan out?

On the economics side of course, this makes the inclusion of the effects of global warming into the costs of fossil fuels all the more obvious – and necessary. So maybe there was a valid point somewhere inside Tol’s mischief after all :-)

165

Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.28.11 at 9:07 pm

The first paper has a nice picture of river wall in Tokyo.

Item – I suspect that the vast majority of flood prevention infrastructure in Tokyo is tsunami and typhoon related. Again, I haven’t been studying the effects of climate change for the past twenty years – but there’s something about a correlation between extreme weather and sea surface temperature that gets mentioned a lot. Still I really doubt you are trying to say that Tokyo’s response to groundwater subsidence is to try and hold back the sea. Tokyo’s response was to stop draining their water table[1].

Your Wikipedia link has migration rates, which say nothing about origin and destination.

Item – If you have a big orange band of negative net migration across the equator and splotches of blue positive net migration everywhere else, it suggests directionality. Again, I’m open to looking at the actual analysis but the first reaction to your initial premise is extreme doubt. The argument really caught me because I live in Toronto, a city not particularly famous for warm weather but with extremely active and vibrant South Asian and North African communities. I suppose there might be a huge Alaskan community in most Mexican cities or somesuch, but I’m having difficulties imagining it.

Footnote [1]: I will leave the “stop digging” comment in the footnote.

166

Peter Erwin 11.28.11 at 9:30 pm

Richard Tol @ 163:
Levee is the French word for the Dutch word dyke. There is no English word.

Good Lord. “Dike” (and its alternate spelling “dyke”) goes back to Old English (with some influence from Old Norse).

Levee does come originally from French, but it’s a been a perfectly good English word for over two centuries.

167

William Timberman 11.28.11 at 9:34 pm

SoV and ajay, you may well be right — certainly I don’t know for a fact that you aren’t — but I do know that the present economics of nuclear power plant construction and reconstruction which makes it difficult to build new ones, will also make it almost irresistibly tempting for politicians to wink at keeping existing ones running forever without at the same time making adequate investments in upgrading them.

To me this isn’t an either/or situation. I suspect that we’re likely to wind up with all the evils of coal you cite in addition to the evils of an increasing number of nuclear accidents. I’m all for as broad a mix of solutions to the global warming threat as proves necessary, but I don’t think that nuclear power generation is as promising a part of them as you do. Perhaps Germany will provide us with a little better picture once we see how their recent Atomausstieg turns out — assuming that it goes forward as laid out prior to the current Euro meltdown.

168

Omega Centauri 11.28.11 at 9:39 pm

One fallacious way to deal with sealevel rise, is to limit the time span to say a century (or 89years i.e. year2100). Once we get done emitting, sea level will continue rising at whatever rate it reaches for several hundred years. Unless mitigation consists of abandoning low lying areas, the cost of a dike (I won’t go into the spelling game here), goes up much faster than linearly with the height. Its not just a matter of building a mound that is X meters high, such things have to contend with water seepage underneath, pumping any leakage out, the ability of ships to pass in and out of the protected zones, the potential for catastrophic overtopping, etc. So the cost in the first century of SLR is considerable less than the cost of the second century which is … But, those folks aren’t even our children’s children, so I guess they don’t count.

169

Omega Centauri 11.28.11 at 9:42 pm

But, honestly sealevel rise has gone away. The latest data show sea level has actually dropped the past couple of years! But before we breathe a sigh of relief, it is because the water has ended up on the land, in places like, Thailand, Pakistan, and Queensland. Its seems global warming can cause severe flooding via means other than direct sea level rise.

170

Richard Tol 11.28.11 at 10:20 pm

@Peter
Dike is an old word, shared by many Germanic languages. Offa was an Anglo-Saxon, though. Later dikes were built by Dutch immigrants.

171

Richard Tol 11.28.11 at 10:33 pm

@Dragon-King
This paper has that groundwater extraction continues, and that groundwater tables are falling in one of the coastal municipalities.
It also has the up to 5m claim.
http://enviroscope.iges.or.jp/modules/envirolib/view.php?docid=2128

As to migration: You don’t have the right data at a global level and neither do I. So let’s stop speculating. My initial remarks referred to Europeans and European policy. I wish I had global data.

172

Jeffrey Davis 11.28.11 at 10:38 pm

re: 169 “But, honestly sealevel rise has gone away”

Sea level, like air temps, can always be construed to favor a denialist narrative. All that’s required is to pick the right subset to trumpet. But from the geological record we know that sea levels can rise and rise a lot. And they rose from Milankovich forcings which are an order of magnitude less than those from the current increase in greenhouse gases.

But this whole issue is a fairly minor one. Sea level is just something that mass media has picked up on because it can illustrated with dramatic headlines, but AGW is primarily an agricultural issue. Droughts. Floods. The increase in habitats for pests. Constrictions in growing seasons and the decline in suitability of major crops. The industrialization of the food supply has done great things, but we’ve also had great luck. Whole civilizations can disappear quickly when the food supply goes south. So to speak.

173

sg 11.29.11 at 1:06 am

I’m interested in how one can build dikes sufficient to protect Tokyo from 2m sea level rise and also maintain its current (massive) working harbour? Not to mention all those refineries and chemical factories right on the edge of the sea. I guess we just raise them all 2m? And then another 2m after 50 years? And we do the same in Osaka, Shanghai and Hong Kong …

See, adaptation is trivial…

174

Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 1:26 am

Okay, I’ll put the “stop digging” comment up front this time.

This paper has that groundwater extraction continues, and that groundwater tables are falling in one of the coastal municipalities.

Ground water extraction is continuing at one third the peak rate. To bring it back to climate change, it’s not but the patchouliest reeking of hippies that’s calling for a GHG reduction to a third of peak. And while the water table is still dropping in some localized areas, your linked paper indicates that this is an infiltration problem. Also that the actual issue of subsidance has been reduced an order of magnitude. IOW, Tokyo addressed it’s sinking problem by replacing most of their tradition method of supplying water via groundwater extraction with a combination of conservation and alternate water supply (i.e. deslination). From that article, and the previously linked USGS one, it’s clear that Tokyo’s approach was to address the water table issue and not to erect giant levees.

Your links. Your metaphor. Thinking about Tokyo w/r/t land level vs sea level leads us to the conclusion that we ought to be cutting CO2 emissions.

As to migration: You don’t have the right data at a global level and neither do I. So let’s stop speculating. My initial remarks referred to Europeans and European policy. I wish I had global data.

If climate change were a Europe-only phenomenon you might have a point, other than the fact that the actual comparison still doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. And while the plural of anecdote isn’t data, I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with the idea that the warmer equatorial countries have net migratory outflow and the colder northern countries in the Western hemisphere have net migratory inflow.

Canada for example has a very high net migration rate with the four primary sources being the Pakistan, the Phillipines, India and China. What little emmigration we have mostly goes to the US. The US four top immigration source countries are Mexico, China, India and the Phillipines with quite a few Caribbean nations featuring in the top ten. It’s also fairly high in net migration, so for North America, the average international migrant almost certainly experiences a colder climate. Basically, your entire revealed preference argument can only be demonstrated to apply to the very specific term you defined, intra-union migration. You’ve even discounted, for example, persons moving from North Africa to France, or the Middle East to Germany or South Asia to the UK. Even if you do accept the ridiculous notion that migration is driven primarily by climate, it seems to me that you are still far away from demonstrating that people prefer warmer environments. Unless only the opinions of European people count.

175

piglet 11.29.11 at 2:13 am

I have to disagree with 25. Tol does not to me “seem less objectionable (and crazy) than other deniers”. This is as crazy as can be (as shown by many excellent comments on this thread). What is frightening is that this crazy thinking is not far from economic mainstream. Who was it again who said that climate change was no big deal because it mainly affected agriculture and even if we lost 50% of net output, it would only cost us about 1.5% of GDP (in the US)? Wilfred Beckerman.

176

ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 3:18 am

SoV and ajay, you may well be right—certainly I don’t know for a fact that you aren’t—but I do know that the present economics of nuclear power plant construction and reconstruction which makes it difficult to build new ones, will also make it almost irresistibly tempting for politicians to wink at keeping existing ones running forever without at the same time making adequate investments in upgrading them.

That’s probably true. But I’m not talking about old plants in developed countries, I’m talking about building new ones in countries that are trying to catch up to first world living standards. I don’t see how Usians have the moral authority to dictate how developed the third world may become and more practically, I don’t see any way to enforce those sorts decisions. So given that third world development is going to occur and given that the only options to power it are coal or nuclear, I don’t see how to avoid pricing the alternatives accordingly. Or for that matter, how to avoid pricing the U.S.’s refusal to build more nuclear plants.

177

Sev 11.29.11 at 3:20 am

piglet “Who was it again who said that climate change was no big deal because it mainly affected agriculture and even if we lost 50% of net output, it would only cost us about 1.5% of GDP (in the US)? Wilfred Beckerman.”

In any case, technical and economic development appear to be well along in solving this mismatch. Robots, of course. Are humans a necessary economic input? Doesn’t economics teach us that when one factor’s price moves too far up the curve that other factors will tend to substitute?

178

chris 11.29.11 at 3:50 am

The contribution being “you can take a nuclear power station – not even a particularly modern one – hit it with ten metres of tsunami, take out all its backup power and push its core into meltdown, and you still won’t see a single death from radiation sickness”.

You forgot to mention that it was built on the coast of a Pacific Rim nation, i.e. the most tsunami-prone place you could possibly pick if you were actively trying to get hit by as many tsunamis as possible. Granted, Japan doesn’t have any really tectonically stable places to build, but they could at least have built on 20 or so meters of elevation. 20/20 hindsight, I guess, but it’s not like tsunamis are an unforeseen problem there.

Surely, it will increase GDP to tear down most sea-level cities and rebuild them somewhere else. No problem.

This seems like some kind of sarcasm, but aren’t cities in fact being torn down and rebuilt somewhere else constantly? It’s just piecemeal so people can overlook it when rhetorically convenient. If the average life of a building is measured in decades, and the sea level is moving a few centimeters per decade, isn’t it fairly simple to plan for new buildings to be sea-level-change-safe for their entire expected use lifetimes?

All I’m saying is, look at the problem with some perspective. “We’re going to have to replace all our building stock!” –because we totally weren’t doing that a couple times a century anyway? Besides that, if the US in particular wants to get serious about reducing emissions, we need to replace a lot of our building stock even faster than we normally would, in order to replace it with something that’s configured to allow more use of transport modes other than individual motor vehicles with ruinous inefficiency. Compared to that challenge, building on land with positive elevation is easy.

179

Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 3:59 am

,,,and given that the only options to power it are coal or nuclear,,,

Assumes facts not in evidence. Don’t tell me it’s a cost issue – new nukes cost a ton. Even on a per MWh basis – notwithstanding their exceptionally high capacity factor. Barring a region with no wind at all, onshore WTG’s are more cost effective and don’t have that nuclear waste issue or require an army of extremely highly skilled operating staff. Biomass is comparable in price and dispatchable. Hydro is still king and we’re talking about nations with access to ocean tides.

In Ontario, we recently rejected all submitted proposals to expand the Darlington nuke plant due to cost. And we’re paying 13.5 cents per kWh for wind power. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for nukes. Half of all energy generated in Ontario is nuke. But the advantages it supposedly has over the alternatives are definitely overstated.

180

Marc 11.29.11 at 4:24 am

What’s utterly bizarre here is that the actual costs to society are not being borne by the people doing the polluting. In some rational world we’d say “the cost of dealing with climate change is X to Y”, so we should price carbon accordingly. But this would make fossil fuels quite expensive, which would drive their usage down. But we’re not allowed to do that; instead we get the ludicrous game of pretending that abandoning all coastal cities or adding massive walls to them is somehow a rational response. And it’s completely out of the question to, say, perhaps spend money on solar or wind or geothermal at a fraction of the likely cost of climate change.

New Orleans, by the way, is an example of what will happen to coastal cities. Flooding of vulnerable cities won’t be a stately affair; the dams will be breached by massive storms and a lot of people will die. We could see collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, or other sudden shifts not captured in the models. And for what? To keep profts higher for fossil fuel producers for a few years?

181

Ranjit Suresh 11.29.11 at 4:40 am

@Marc 180

A lot of people wouldn’t have died in New Orleans if the U.S. was even as effective at evacuating people from category 5 hurricanes as is Communist Cuba. Likewise, thousands would not die from European heat waves if air conditioning was as widespread as in the states.

I think what chris and richard tol are pointing out is that if we’re concerned with saving human lives here, then there are more effective ways to go about then making plans in the early 21st century for reducing sea levels of a hundred or two hundred years from now – as if we have even the slightest idea of what society will look like in the 2100′s and 2200′s. Given this lack of accurate information, it makes eminent sense to prioritize on human beings alive today or about to be born. I’m more concerned about the Bangladeshi child suffering from malnutrition today than I am about how his much wealthier descendants a century from now will deal with a half meter sea level rise.

182

piglet 11.29.11 at 4:42 am

“This seems like some kind of sarcasm, but aren’t cities in fact being torn down and rebuilt somewhere else constantly?”

Not really, no. It’s not everywhere that building lifetime is measured in a few decades. Although that perspective may be common in the US.

183

piglet 11.29.11 at 4:46 am

Ranjit Suresh 181: It seems to have escaped your attention that there is a bit of a disconnect between these two statements: “as if we have even the slightest idea of what society will look like in the 2100’s and 2200’s” and “how his much wealthier descendants a century from now will deal with a half meter sea level rise”.

184

ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 5:31 am

and given that the only options to power it are coal or nuclear

Assumes facts not in evidence.

You’ve got your assumptions backwards. We already know that nuclear can handle the baseload requirements of any given country. Otoh, no such thing is known for alternative energy schemes. And I think history has been pretty clear on the subject. As I said, look at all those predictions for alternative energy that were being made this time last year. I predicted at the time this just wasn’t going to happen. I also pointed out that the crowd saying this switchover was going happen Real Soon Now have been saying this for, oh, the last twenty or thirty years. At least.

Guess who turned out to be right one year later ;-)

So if you want to try to convince me, give some hard numbers, feel free to do so. You know of course that I’m not really the guy you should be concentrating on; these figures have also got to be good enough to convince developing countries to go with alternative energy schemes as opposed to coal or nuclear.

Until then, the conversation ought to be, properly speaking, about how to figure in the cost of dealing with AGW when it comes to fossil fuels . . . which also includes the cost of the U.S. not more aggressively building new nuclear utilites. Again, if the U.S. doesn’t do this, how could we possibly expect developing countries not to automatically go with coal-fired plants?

185

js. 11.29.11 at 6:19 am

Mrs. Tilton @ 84 flat out wins this thread. Why exactly are people still engaging with Richard The Tol? (With due credit to JQ.)

186

Richard Tol 11.29.11 at 6:42 am

@Dragon-King
I am reluctant to discuss facts with someone who does not put her reputation on the line.

It is clear that Tokyo got its subsidence problem under control in the places that matter.

It should also be clear that Tokyo has extensive coastal defenses. If you don’t want to believe me, try Google. Or fly there and see for your anonymous self.

187

Nababov 11.29.11 at 9:54 am

“I am reluctant to discuss facts with someone who does not put her reputation on the line.”

That must be so easy for you to say. Reminds me of that great tagline for ‘The Commitments’. “They Had Absolutely Nothing. But They Were Willing To Risk It All.”

188

snuh 11.29.11 at 10:00 am

I am reluctant to discuss facts with someone who does not put her reputation on the line.

it’s comforting to know you’re not a hypocrite.

189

ajay 11.29.11 at 10:06 am

We already know that nuclear can handle the baseload requirements of any given country. Otoh, no such thing is known for alternative energy schemes

Not so: several countries have no non-renewable generation capacity at all. I’d name them, but I think it might do you good to research this a bit for yourself…

190

ajay 11.29.11 at 10:08 am

I should add, too, that there aren’t any countries which handle their entire baseload with nuclear. Even France has quite a bit of non-nuclear generation.

191

Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 10:21 am

I am reluctant to discuss facts with someone who does not put her reputation on the line.

That’s your choice. Still doesn’t even remotely address the substance of my arguments.

It is clear that Tokyo got its subsidence problem under control in the places that matter.

And there’s one of them. Thank you for acknowledging it.

It should also be clear that Tokyo has extensive coastal defenses. If you don’t want to believe me, try Google. Or fly there and see for your anonymous self.

I have no doubt that this is true. But if you are trying to imply that they are there primarily because of the groundwater subsidance problem and not as tsunami/typhoon defense, then it becomes extremely difficult to disagree with Brad DeLong’s assessment of you.

192

David Littleboy 11.29.11 at 10:26 am

“It is clear that Tokyo got its subsidence problem under control in the places that matter.”
Whew. I thought you were arguing the exact opposite.

“It should also be clear that Tokyo has extensive coastal defenses.”

That’s not clear to me, and I’ve lived here 30 years. The Tokyo bay area tends to look like this:
http://www.pbase.com/davidjl/image/37431099/large
Much of the lowlying areas are filled land that is subject to nasty liquefacation effects when shaken by an earthquake. Oops. That the lowlying areas around Kamakura have far less coastal defenses than the areas destroyed by the March 11 tsunami was discussed on the tube here. Most of the “public works” of a defensive nature have been to deal with erosion of riversides from floods (and to prevent landslides). I guess that counts as typhoon defenses. Although Japan’s crew of pet rich white foreigners complain bitterly about how the Japanese despoil nature with these defensive projects. But that’s another rant.

193

Richard Tol 11.29.11 at 11:59 am

@Dragon-King
I’m glad we’re beginning to agree on things that can readily be observed.

My sole point is that coastal defense is not beyond the wit of men and women, and that sea level rise is therefore not an existential threat (atolls apart).

Bits of Tokyo are below sea level, so the levees cannot be just against tsunamis and typhoons, even if that it is their primary purpose and design standard.

If you can defend a coast against a tsunami, then you can defend a coast against half a metre of sea level rise over a century.

194

Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 12:00 pm

@SoV

I don’t know what predictions you are talking about, I wasn’t around for them. I don’t know how you’re gauging things either, I do know that last year saw significant increases in the install base of both wind and solar energy. Last year saw 38 GW of new wind power generation. The fifty largest solar farms in the world all date from 2008.

Your assessment of how clear history has been – I’m not sure I get that either. Utility scale PV is pretty new so there’s not a lot of history to be looking at. But in terms of new generation, it’s growing at the fastest rate.

As to the question of ability to supply base load – that question is set up to derail renewables. Yes they are intermittent generators, but if you look at the electrical system as a whole unit then the problems start to disappear. Solar’s production is coincident with peak demand in areas with air conditioning. A large and widely enough spread network of wind farms can provide a steady minimum level of generation. Will it need to be supplemented to meet fluctuating demand, sure but that’s true of a predominantly nuke based electrical systems as well.

Nuclear power also has some pretty steep cost of entry requirements aside from the actual cost. Stability and security are issues, having a large enough technically skilled workforce to run the thing is a problem, since you basically never want to turn the thing off you have to be pretty certain about your fuel rod supply as well as your electrical demand. These are problems more likely to be found in developing nations. They may get to the point where nuke plants are viable, but something has to bridge that gap. To produce and deliver power during the period before the prerequisites are fulfilled.

Renewables make perfect sense for the developing world. Where there’s little to no transmission infrastructure so smaller localized generators make more sense than large central ones. The drawback is that this necessitates energy storage solutions, but with consumer electronics becoming as big a part of the economy as it has, R&D resources are being spent on related battery technology. There’s no fuel requirement so there’s no need to worry about the logisitics of regular deliveries. You don’t need nuclear engineers.

Is there a long way to go before renewables make up the majority of power generation? On a global scale, most definitely. The installed power base of nukes and coal plants is huge. But in developing countries where that pre-existing inventory doesn’t exist?

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Barry 11.29.11 at 12:51 pm

Richard Tol 11.29.11 at 6:42 am

” I am reluctant to discuss facts with someone who does not put her reputation on the line.”

The advantage of a denialist is that they’ve already put their reputation on the line, so to speak, and have nothing to lose – that they didn’t already willingly sell.

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 2:20 pm

@Richard Tol,

I’m glad to see that you’ve acknowledged the existence of typhoons. You’ve been studiously avoiding any discussion of the expected increase in severe and extreme weather events resulting from a rise in temperature. I would have expected that any attempt to determine the economic costs of adapting to climate change would have at least a line item for this.

But back to Tokyo, where holding Posiedon at bay is apparently trivial – Typhoon Songda in May of this year forced Tokyo to issue evacuation notices. So even in the most populous and technologically advanced city in the world, the current conditions (re: sea level and typhoons) still occasionally overwhelm. This seems to weigh further against your position that levees will save all the coastal cities. In fact, arguing that they just build ever higher retaining walls while not acknowledging that hurricane and typhoon activity will be worse under your proposed approach of not dealing with GHG, well there’s all sorts of words for it but I am making an effort to refrain from ad-hominem.

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Richard Tol 11.29.11 at 2:46 pm

@Dragon-King
I’m who I say I am. You can click on my name and look up my publications. These two might interest you:
http://ideas.repec.org/p/esr/wpaper/wp259.html
http://ideas.repec.org/p/esr/wpaper/wp274.html
Both papers have since been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 3:03 pm

I’m glad that you’ve taken enhanced storms into account, but again your assertions leave me skeptical. $19 billion globally? Let me say that I am surprised that it’s so low. Those linked papers will be interesting to read.

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ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 3:09 pm

We already know that nuclear can handle the baseload requirements of any given country. Otoh, no such thing is known for alternative energy schemes

Not so: several countries have no non-renewable generation capacity at all. I’d name them, but I think it might do you good to research this a bit for yourself…

Reread what I wrote; you seem to be addressing claims I did not make. Nowhere did I say that some sort of alternative energy grid was infeasible for every country; merely that nuclear is the only known candidate that can meet the energy requirements of any developing nation that is not also an emitter of greenhouse gasses.

Are you seriously claiming that solar voltaics, wind power etc. can deliver on the base load requirements for every developing nation? That’s some claim your making!

I should add, too, that there aren’t any countries which handle their entire baseload with nuclear. Even France has quite a bit of non-nuclear generation.

I didn’t claim this either.

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ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 3:25 pm

Your assessment of how clear history has been – I’m not sure I get that either. Utility scale PV is pretty new so there’s not a lot of history to be looking at. But in terms of new generation, it’s growing at the fastest rate.

Google “rare earth’s” for this blog from December of last year; I’m not going to rehash this one. Suffice it to say, certain people made some rather, er, optimistic claims about how much capacity would be installed by now. Pointing out the basic physics, the history of the field, or even how a lot of those installations were done with some rather hefty subsidies due to expire shortly didn’t deter them in the slightest. The only thing left to do was wait them out . . . and I have no compunctions about pointing out how wrong they were. This stuff is hard.

But in any event, that’s getting rather far afield; I’m not the one you have to convince. Those worthies, in case you’ve forgotten the original point of this thread, are the ones who will be called upon to make “sacrifices” and curtail their own development in the name of global comity. Since that takes the easiest, cheapest and highly reliable source of energy – coal – off the table, that leaves nuclear and alternative energy. And nuclear is already a known and reliable quantity. Good luck convincing these people to wait until batteries (if!), solar voltaics (if!) and so on and so forth become good enough to invest in. Awfully easy to ask other people to sweat it out from you air-conditioned digs, isn’t it?

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 3:43 pm

Are you seriously claiming that solar voltaics, wind power etc. can deliver on the base load requirements for every developing nation? That’s some claim your making!

See it’s the whole “base load” framing that’s bogging it down. What is the “base load” of a developing nation? It doesn’t make any sense.

Are PV, wind and other renewables good candidates for many developing nations? Absolutely. Northern Africa has an abundance of both wind and solar resource. Hydro and geothermal are both massively underexploited throughout Africa and peaking hydro could supply a lot of flexibility in matching demand. Biomass generation is already in play with bagasse co-generation and this could be expanded to include other feedstocks. Smaller localized generation heads off the need for extensive transmission infrastructure. There is a big question mark around energy storage though. Also, subsaharan Africa gets pretty seriously shafted in terms of wind and sun, and some regions are susceptible to water stress, so the areas most desperately in need of help have the least amount of available resource. But still, certainly for some developing nations, renewables make a lot of sense.

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ajay 11.29.11 at 3:57 pm

You said:
nuclear is the only known candidate that can meet the energy requirements of any developing nation that is not also an emitter of greenhouse gasses.

…and this is not true. There are developing – and developed – nations which are almost entirely reliant for their electricity on non-GHG emitting, non-nuclear methods of electricity generation. (Less than 1% of fossil fuel generation.) Some are even net exporters of electricity. Your assertion that all developing nations must either use fossil fuels or nuclear is wrong.

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Richard Tol 11.29.11 at 4:00 pm

@Dragon-King
The data are all in the public domain. You are welcome to replicate our work. We did triple-check the order of magnitude, as did the referees, but that’s no guarantee.

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ajay 11.29.11 at 4:02 pm

Google “rare earth’s” for this blog from December of last year; I’m not going to rehash this one. Suffice it to say, certain people made some rather, er, optimistic claims about how much capacity would be installed by now

Fascinatingly, nothing turns up.

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 4:35 pm

Also, bagasse is a horrible feedstock for biomass cogen from a human decency perspective. It is absolutely horrible on labourers. But they are going to continue making sugar anyways, so bagasse it is.

re: the cost of PV’s
The cost of PVs is declining and has been for some time. Grid parity is approaching. You say that you’re right to ignore the trend in solar cell pricing since “no concrete reasons” are given for the trend. Uh, you do understand about economies of scale, right? You know, factory lead times, the fact that the install base of PV is increasing at a faster rate than any other type of generation, basic structural reasons why it might be cheaper over time to produce solar power modules. Regardless, the trend doesn’t care about whether you have faith in it or not. NREL’s tracking shows PV module prices decline by an average of 7% per year since 1980. A thirty year trend is not just going to go away because you don’t understand it.

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Steve Williams 11.29.11 at 4:40 pm

SoV:

If you take a look, there are 3 countries in the world that use renewable sources for 100% of their generating capacity, 10 that use them for greater than 99%, and 17 who use them for greater than 90%.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electricity_production_from_renewable_sources

When you write:

‘Are you seriously claiming that solar voltaics, wind power etc. can deliver on the base load requirements for every developing nation? That’s some claim your making!’

I don’t know exactly who you think is arguing this. Clearly, each country has to be treated as an individual case. Nobody’s advice to a developing country is ‘be Paraguay or Iceland’. However, what people are arguing is that renewables can be a vastly larger part of the mix, especially in those countries, such as – as DKW points out – those in North Africa, where climate conditions are most favorable.

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ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 4:55 pm

. Your assertion that all developing nations must either use fossil fuels or nuclear is wrong.

This is the second time I’ve had to tell you this is not what I said. Are you confused by the fact that “any” and “every” can be used interchangeably?

Until you can say, “gee, guess I was wrong about what you meant”, there isn’t any point in us talking. Fair enough?

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Jeffrey Davis 11.29.11 at 4:56 pm

re: 193 “If you can defend a coast against a tsunami, then you can defend a coast against half a metre of sea level rise over a century.”

Let me know where you live. I’ve got the building scrap from our home improvement projects to dispose of — bits of dry wall, an old commode, metal trim from the shower stall, odd bits of fibreglass and old linoleum. That kind of stuff. And a piece of pipe that looks like a saxophone! People dispose of stuff all the time so you shouldn’t have a problem with it. I know I own it, but why should I deal with it? You’ve given us all intellectual cover to dump it on you!

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ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 5:16 pm

‘Are you seriously claiming that solar voltaics, wind power etc. can deliver on the base load requirements for every developing nation? That’s some claim your making!’

I don’t know exactly who you think is arguing this. Clearly, each country has to be treated as an individual case.

But this is exactly the point. Not go all on-topic here, but curtailing greenhouse emissions is a global venture; has to be by it’s very nature. So what are you going to tell those developing countries who can’t use “renewable” sources of energy to power their grid? That they can’t use coal-fired plants because that’s bad for the environment?

Just what are you suggesting that the do instead – just sweat it out and take the hit (again) for the benefit of all humanity?

This is a yet another aspect that has to be factored into the true costs of global warming. A very real and very large one, imho. And of course, something Tol could say – tongue in cheek of course – was a “revealed preference” for those third world citizens who we like to point to as being the biggest losers in the AGW roulette.

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Lee A. Arnold 11.29.11 at 5:38 pm

“you can take a nuclear power station – not even a particularly modern one – hit it with ten metres of tsunami, take out all its backup power and push its core into meltdown, and you still won’t see a single death from radiation sickness”

Radiation covers 8 percent of Japan:
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-22/japan-land-contaminated-by-radiation/3686324

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ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 5:54 pm

If you take a look, there are 3 countries in the world that use renewable sources for 100% of their generating capacity, 10 that use them for greater than 99%, and 17 who use them for greater than 90%.

By the way, thanks for posting the link. It allows one to make some interesting deductions about what can reasonably be expected from renewables in the short term.

For starters, you’re absolutely right about the number of countries that have a very high reliance on non-nuclear, non-fossil fuel energy schemes. Real economic powerhouses like Lesotho, Bhutan, Zambia, Nepal meet something like over 99% of their energy needs with renewables.

But wait, there’s more! With only two exceptions, every country who gets 75% or more of their energy from renewables (there’s 27 of them) gets 95% or more of their clean green energy from hydroelectric. And the exceptions? That’d be Iceland, and Costa Rica – of which over 90% of the remainder comes from geothermal. Heck, next on the list is New Zealand at 74% renewable energy . . . of which over 95% is hydro and geothermal. You have to go all the way down to Spain at number 76 before you get to something besides hydro as the primary source of power. And of the 32% of it’s energy needs being met by alternatives, a bit more than half of it comes from wind. Most of the rest? Hydro, of course.

Do you see a pattern emerging here? Just something to think about when it comes to evaluating renewables as the primary source of energy for developing countries in the 21st century.

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Substance McGravitas 11.29.11 at 6:02 pm

Google “rare earth’s” for this blog from December of last year

Is it this thread? Because you come out of it looking like an idiot. Again.

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 6:29 pm

So what are you going to tell those developing countries who can’t use “renewable” sources of energy to power their grid? That they can’t use coal-fired plants because that’s bad for the environment?

Well, yeah. And sure it would have a lot more force if we completed the phase out of our own coal fired generation, but basically yes, that’s what we’d tell them. In actuality we’d probably say that they could generate however they wanted, but trade and/or aid requires they meet certain requirements like zero mercury emissions or something.

And what are you trying to say about hydroelectric? That it’s not a renewable? I mean I’ll buy the not-carbon neutral argument because of reservoir off-gasing, but unless you’re flooding rain forest, it’s still better than coal.

Also, don’t you be bad mouthing Bhutan.

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ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 6:29 pm

Really, Substance? So you’ve got all sorts of links, cites, whatnot to this supposed “breakthrough” in extraction technology? Some 24 point headlines to the effect that bloom boxes are moving like hot cakes? Or some nifty graphics showing penetration of solar-electric into the market is way up and the rate is increasing? Or anything else amazing battery technology now hitting the shelves just in time for Christmas? I’d sure be interested in being brought up to speed on all or any of these wonderful events. So can you give us any articles, stories, reports, whatnot that we can check for ourselves?

No?

Thought not. And you’ve had Two Friedman units for this to have happened since that thread and the one before it was initiated.

Yeah, I’m looking like a real idiot now, aren’t I ;-) But it’s nice to have a recent example of what’s been typical of the industry for many years now. And right here on this blog.

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Salient 11.29.11 at 6:51 pm

Until you can say, “gee, guess I was wrong about what you meant”, there isn’t any point in us talking. Fair enough?

You should seriously consider offering this there-isn’t-any-point-in-us-talking to everybody who comments on nuclear energy here at CT. I’m pretty sure every single instance of the word ‘nuclear’ in a CT post or comment in the past two years has ensured you’re like a solid third of the conversation thereafter, which could be ok except it’s the same stuff each time and it inevitably detours into personal fights over motivations and technicalities and how people (mis)interpreted your latest comment and stuff. (We really do know the difference between any and every.)

I am reluctant to discuss facts with someone who does not put her reputation on the line.

No no, if anything, be reluctant to discuss interpretations with someone who does not put her reputation on the line. Facts can be investigated, ascertained, disseminated.

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ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 6:59 pm

Well, yeah. And sure it would have a lot more force if we completed the phase out of our own coal fired generation, but basically yes, that’s what we’d tell them. In actuality we’d probably say that they could generate however they wanted, but trade and/or aid requires they meet certain requirements like zero mercury emissions or something.

This edict seems to lack force, moral or otherwise. I’m generally not down on the concern trolling you see in these types of cases. But in this particular instance, it looks to me rather strongly like elites who already got some preaching austerity to the come-latelys who don’t. FWIW, I grew up for the most part without running water or electricity, so I have first-knowledge of what it’s like to do without those particular amenities. Especially since my chief job title down on the farm was “alternative energy manager”, i.e., I cut and stacked a lot of wood back in the day – all by hand – and was the first to get up in the morning to get the fires going. It was not pleasant. And I think I would be vexed if meddling foreigners told me I couldn’t have the amenities they have, the central air and heating, the microwave and refrigerator and gas stove and all the other Bourgeois luxuries unless I was hooked into a grid that met with their approval. Why should I abstain from coal just to curb greenhouse emissions? Especially since the guys telling me I’ve to do so for the good of the planet didn’t have any problems with releasing a little CO2 into the atmosphere when it came to their own comfort?

And what are you trying to say about hydroelectric? That it’s not a renewable? I mean I’ll buy the not-carbon neutral argument because of reservoir off-gasing, but unless you’re flooding rain forest, it’s still better than coal.

No, I have nothing against hydroelectric. A fine source of power. But it strikes that people citing a country that get’s 99% or more of it’s energy from hydro as an existence proof that most (or – let’s be honest – nearly all) developing countries have the potential to derive a large fraction of their energy from “alternative” sources strikes me as being just a tad misleading. Not unless you can point to vast amounts of currently untapped hydro, that is.

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Substance McGravitas 11.29.11 at 7:01 pm

Really, Substance? So you’ve got all sorts of links, cites, whatnot to this supposed “breakthrough” in extraction technology?

No, it was a cite to you being a fool again. I have more.

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DelRey 11.29.11 at 7:24 pm

Well, yeah. And sure it would have a lot more force if we completed the phase out of our own coal fired generation, but basically yes, that’s what we’d tell them.

And they’ll rightly continue to ignore you, on the grounds that meeting the clear and present need to raise the living standards of their desperately poor populations through development and industrialization powered by cheap, coal-fired electricity is more important than whatever unclear future benefit you think they will get from avoiding coal.

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MPAVictoria 11.29.11 at 7:28 pm

“I grew up for the most part without running water or electricity, so I have first-knowledge of what it’s like to do without those particular amenities. Especially since my chief job title down on the farm was “alternative energy manager”, i.e., I cut and stacked a lot of wood back in the day – all by hand – and was the first to get up in the morning to get the fires going. It was not pleasant.”

“House! You were lucky to live in a house! We used to live in one room, all twenty-six of us, no furniture, ‘alf the floor was missing, and we were all ‘uddled together in one corner for fear of falling.”

/ Truly sorry. Whenever I hear people complaining about how tough they had it as kids I cannot resist quoting the Four Yorkshiremen.

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 7:30 pm

Why should I abstain from coal just to curb greenhouse emissions? Especially since the guys telling me I’ve to do so for the good of the planet didn’t have any problems with releasing a little CO2 into the atmosphere when it came to their own comfort?

Because aid money.

Not unless you can point to vast amounts of currently untapped hydro, that is.

You forgot “in developing nations.” Okay, Done.

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ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 7:47 pm

You should seriously consider offering this there-isn’t-any-point-in-us-talking to everybody who comments on nuclear energy here at CT. I’m pretty sure every single instance of the word ‘nuclear’ in a CT post or comment in the past two years has ensured you’re like a solid third of the conversation thereafter, which could be ok except it’s the same stuff each time and it inevitably detours into personal fights over motivations and technicalities and how people (mis)interpreted your latest comment and stuff. (We really do know the difference between any and every.)

By which you mean, I suppose that the people who are rabidly anti nuke and the people who have some rather, er, interesting notions about the state of play for alternative energy keep repeating themselves. Shrug.

In any event, Tol did have a point to make, even if he didn’t intend to. Look, we all know how the situation is going to play out in the media and in politics: First the usual suspects say there’s no evidence for global warming. When that ploy has exhausted it’s usefulness, they fall back to claiming there’s no evidence that global warming is the result of human activity. Which is generally being abandoned for the fallback argument that we don’t know whether a warmer planet is necessarily a bad thing, and which will in it’s turn be abandoned in favor of “judicious” action that weighs all the costs and benefits. And finally, when there’s no more oil to sell or coal to profitably scrape out of the ground, after years of running interference for their patrons, and when it’s much to much to late to make any sort of difference, then our government officials will issue stern pronouncements and pass tough regulations. Gee, thanks.

Now, it’s easy to condemn the usual suspects for their usual villainy, and easy to heap ridicule on their stooges when they make their usual disingenuous arguments.

But the fact of the matter is, revealed preferences seem to rather strongly indicate that most people don’t want to do anything about global warming either. Not if it means significantly cramping their lifestyle. So in that light, it seems rather cheap to condemn our Top Men when after all the only thing that singles them out from the herd on this issue is the amount of power they wield.

And even the people who purport to be concerned, well, for a goodly fraction of those, a good deal of their concern seems to melt away if the only plausible alternative to coal, oil, and natural gas is nuclear. That’s when the arguments for “simpler” or more “wholesome” lifestyles are trotted out, when wishful hopes for alternative energy are taken to be the true reality, whatever the actual facts on the ground say. In short, one of the few examples of agnotology on the Left, as I’ve sadly come to conclude.

But in any event, the notion of looking at the revealed preferences not just of those at the top, the ruling elites, but also your everyday citizen here and in other countries, developed and not so developed is a good one. And as a matter of empiricism, anecdotal evidence seem to suggest that maybe one person in twenty – to be wildly optimistic – has revealed preferences indicating they really think global warming is a major problem and that they really believe strong measures are called for. Is it any wonder in that climate that so little progress has been made on curbing greenhouse emissions?

Oh, let me make a plug for the late great Isaac Asimov and his novel “The Gods Themselves” which deals with exactly this issue. It being science fiction, he’s revved up the stakes a bit; turns out that using too much of that new cheap, clean, inexhaustible energy piped in from the universe next door will turn the Sun into a quasar. Much hilarity ensues as our protagonist and lone scientific genius tries to impart this knowledge to a determinedly disinterested public. Let the good times roll!

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 7:57 pm

You know, it’s another one of those things that should be inherently obvious. Like Richard Tol’s claim that the average migrant moves some place warmer. For intra-EU migration that’s true, but it’s pretty obvious that globally, it isn’t.

Africa has vast untapped hydroelectric potential. How could it not be so? Who would make arguments based on the idea that there is no potential for additional hydropower in Africa?

Large projects on the Congo alone could supply electricity to the entire continent. But you’d still have transmission problems. Widely distributed micro hydro projects is probably a better solution, but it requires knowledge of the geography – IOW it’s harder to do.

Regardless, yes there are indeed vast untapped potentials of hydroelectric generation throughout Africa. Probably Central America as well.

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DelRey 11.29.11 at 8:03 pm

Africa has vast untapped hydroelectric potential.

Your link indicates that Africa has less than 1 million GWh/yr of economically feasible untapped hydropower potential. That’s less than 1 MWh/yr per capita, at the current population. About 15% of the per capita annual consumption of the EU. So even if the population of Africa were not increasing, and all feasible hydropower were tapped, it would only provide a small fraction of first-world levels of energy use. And of course the population of Africa IS increasing. It’s expected to double by 2050.

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Henry 11.29.11 at 8:08 pm

SoV – I’m putting you on a one comment per day per post rule for my posts. Your comments bear an increasingly unfortunate resemblance to kudzu vine, when they are allowed to go unweeded …

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 8:13 pm

,,,when wishful hopes for alternative energy are taken to be the true reality, whatever the actual facts on the ground say.

LOL! You’re the one denying claims of solar power getting exponentially cheaper over time despite the evidence that it is. Because apparently nukes have a great grasp on economics and the actual cost of building a plant. Heck no one’s ever overrun a nuke plant budget!

People like to be comfortable. Sure, great. I agree and I support them in their endeavours to pursue happiness. What does that have to do with GHG? Wind energy is now at grid parity with coal, even cheaper in certain regions with great wind resource. And coal is not getting any cheaper while solar is. Technologies have life cycles, and currently clean energy is ascendant. And a lot of that has to do with where we focus our efforts in research, and a lot has to do with how we portray and depict the various choices to each other and the public at large. I dunno if you have a personal issue with renewable energy, maybe a WTG shot your pa just to watch him die or something. But you’re portraying renewables inaccurately. Those wind turbines don’t spin because a lot of Lefties are Kumbayah-ing at it, they spin because wind power works.

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 11.29.11 at 8:21 pm

So even if the population of Africa were not increasing, and all feasible hydropower were tapped, it would only provide a small fraction of first-world levels of energy use. And of course the population of Africa IS increasing.

That’s economically feasible based on current technology and conditions. Anyways my argument is that renewables like hydro be used to bridge that development period. If Africa develops to the point where their per capita electricity consumption is the same as the current EU average, then I’d be a lot more comfortable with the idea of them building nuke plants. Although by 2050 we may be using Kumbayah turbines powered by the chanting of Lefties.

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ScentOfViolets 11.29.11 at 8:21 pm

Uh-huh. Tell me again about that bit where 72% of conservatives have doubts that Obama was born in the United States, Henry ;-)

Being actually, you know, right on the issue at hand is an irrelevancy, of course. As is the fact that at this point I’m only replying to people who talked to me first . . .

Your prerogative.

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Barry 11.30.11 at 3:41 pm

“The contribution being “you can take a nuclear power station – not even a particularly modern one – hit it with ten metres of tsunami, take out all its backup power and push its core into meltdown, and you still won’t see a single death from radiation sickness”.”

I’d just like to add that every f*cking bit of the what didn’t happen was do to Evul Guvmint requirements for safety and survivability.

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