The worst case is happening

by John Quiggin on February 6, 2020

A couple of years ago, I published an article on why “extremely unlikely” climate events matter. The central point was that climate outcomes with a probability of 5 per cent or less (“extremely unlikely” in IPCC terminology) were still much more likely than risks we take seriously in our daily life, like dying in a car crash). As an illustration, at the time the piece was written, it seemed less than 5 per cent probable that, within two years, many countries in the world (including Australia) would see catastrophic fires on the scale of those that have actually happened.

I made this point in an interview for an ABC story on economists’ views of the likely costs of 3 to 4 degrees of climate change. Most of those interviewed agreed with me that the costs were likely to be much higher than suggested by economics Nobelist William Nordhaus (with whom John Horowitz and I had a debate in the American Economic Review quite a while ago). We pointed out, among other problems, that a paper he had co-authored implied an optimal July temperature of -146 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nordhaus declined an interview, but his viewpoint was represented by Richard Tol. Longstanding readers will remember Tol as a commenter here who eventually wore out his welcome.

The other point I made in the interview was that the abstruse debate about discount rates central to much of the debate between Nordhaus and Nicholas Stern has turned out to be largely irrelevant. The premise of that debate was that the costs of unmitigated climate change would be felt decades into the future while the costs of mitigation would be immediate.

As it’s turned out, the costs of climate change have arrived much sooner than we expected. And the only mitigation options adopted so far have been low cost or even negative cost choices like energy efficiency and abandoning coal (more than justified by the health costs of particulate pollution).

That doesn’t mean discount rates are completely irrelevant. If we manage to decarbonize the global economy by 2050, benefits will keep accruing well after that. But even if we stopped the analysis at 2050, we would still have a substantial net benefit. The likely cost of near-complete decarbonization now looks to be less than a two per cent reduction in national income. Reducing the frequency and severity of disasters like the bushfires will more than offset that.

{ 46 comments }

1

roger gathmann 02.06.20 at 7:32 am

That Richard Tol was allowed anyway near the IPCC report is a gross failure of responsibility. You might as well have a crazy conservative talk radio host make “estimates” for the commission. My favorite Tol comment is about how, even if the temperature goes up 4 degrees, they do very well in Saudi, cause they have airconditioning. Clowns pull down the credibility of economics as a social science. Really.

2

Lee A. Arnold 02.06.20 at 2:24 pm

I am not able to determine whether the main problem is intellectual or emotional. Maybe it’s both.

On the intellectual side, economists have employed mathematical models to predict the “social costs of carbon” without incorporating all the meteorological and ecological factors which affect lives and economies, because that level of complexity is computationally impossible. So the results are useless. Supposing otherwise is either in ignorance of the totality of interaction in complex systems, or else an epistemological error in supposing that a subset of variables and the subsystem they compose are somehow separable from the larger whole system, or even predictive of the larger whole system.

Prediction in economics is further faulty because there is no way to model or predict human creativity and innovation, or the lack thereof. For example, the recent 40 years of globalization was justified by economists on the assumption that the unemployed people in developed countries would find new things to do, new goods to send to market. But it didn’t happen, or at least it didn’t happen fast enough to prevent new social unrest and disruption.

At least the climate models are doing a decent job of predicting the average temperature if little else.

To make it worse, economists do not follow up, by continuously correcting the bad uses to which their misleading models are continuously employed by thinktanks, lobbyists, developers and crooks to justify harmful policies. There ought to be an academic law that you are responsible for the continued misuse of your results.

These are just some of the main intellectual problems in this arena.

On the other hand we are facing the overriding emotional problem of tribalism:

Individuals rely on their own biases and their own in-groups for risk perception. Facts and logic don’t matter. Or rather we should say, facts and logic are entrained behind political beliefs, behind relations with peers, and behind the emotions of fear, anger, helplessness and guilt which arise from the perception of risk and threat.

This is the overriding condition of most people, and there is nothing intellectual about it. It leads to cognitive closure and preference for the status quo, and among the scientifically literate tribalists there is a preference for technological optimism and a denigration of regulatory science.

Well, there aren’t many established ways to deal with an emotional problem. All of them amount to some analogue of psychotherapy: you go to a therapist who establishes a neutral space for transformation. But you agree to go to a therapist, that agreement is crucial to the change, and there’s the rub. Tribalists don’t go anywhere willingly.

Thus it is that social psychotherapy has had only a few historical forms. One sentence for each: Religion necessarily employs sanctity, something which is held by all to be sacred.
Oratory was understood by the ancients as the necessary instrument to align pathos, ethos and logos, indispensable for the conduct of the polity. Art and the art world lost its sanctity and leadership, once with the decline of religion and again with the decline of romanticism. Now social scientists are stumbling upon the necessity of finding an arena of emotional neutrality and then finding ways to expose the middle valence or else cross each side’s experts over the middle ground.

So we have two very different problems, distinct but they combine to make the mess: 1. The inability of science and economics to completely predict complex systems, and the incompetence of scientists and economists in communicating that fact. But improvement here won’t help much because 2. Facts don’t matter to tribalists, it’s an emotional problem.

What I cannot figure out is how many scientists and economists are tribalists, who entrain their facts and logic to predetermined ends.

3

Peter Dorman 02.06.20 at 6:50 pm

Interesting OP; I disagree about the costs of decarbonization (to stabilize at or below 450 ppm), but I’ll save that for another day. About Tol: (1) Yes, he’s nuts. Look at the “debate” he participated in via the comments thread at Andrew Gelman’s blog, a complete embarrassment. He actually threatened to sue Frank Ackerman (recently deceased) when Frank published a glaring glitch in Tol’s FUND model. (2) Tol has substantial support within the economics profession. The only time I saw him in person was at an AEA panel (national economics meetings) in which he was joined by several other name economists all agreeing with him that worst case climate scenarios would have minor economic ramifications. One paper (not his) estimated that a complete loss of all ocean life would be little more than a blip.

As for IPCC, you can see by the way they sequester Nordhaus et al. in a text box and quarantine their analysis that the participation of these modelers is strictly pro forma.

4

J-D 02.06.20 at 11:58 pm

One paper (not his) estimated that a complete loss of all ocean life would be little more than a blip.

It’s like a shock image: can you tear your eyes away?

5

reason 02.07.20 at 8:31 am

Peter Dorman @3
Why do economists of ALL people never seem to understand that price is not value (water and diamonds and all that)? Money illusion seems very wide spread.

6

Tm 02.07.20 at 9:22 am

Come on what contribution has ocean life ever made to economic growth? If you believe that the loss of agriculture doesn’t matter much since it contributes only 3% to the „economy“, why would you care about ocean life?

On the other thread (now closed), somebody stated that Obama had done „very little“ to fight climate change. It is worth pointing out that the fossil fuel industry disagrees. The „little“ Obama has done motivated them to declare total war on Obama and Clinton and to get a planet burning fascist appointed president so he can destroy the EPA. And they succeeded because a fraction of the left doesn’t care about the difference between a liberal and a planet burning fascist.

Of course leftists must criticise liberals for not doing enough. The Strategic mistake of a certain leftist fraction is to grotesquely underestimate the enemy – the real enemy. Every little step in the right direction has to be fought for tooth and nail.

7

Zamfir 02.07.20 at 9:46 am

With apologies to our host, who seems reasonably OK ;-), but I have grown annoyed with the attitude of the economics profession when it comes to climate change.

On the one hand, many economists present their profession as the central lynchpin experts in the debate. They will gather the partial inputs from other fields. The risks and impacts of climate change, the costs and limits of improvements or mitigations. Then economists will combine these inputs into models that tell us the optimal approach for the future. This attitude is often denigrating towards other experts (who are presumed to miss the bigger picture), and towards activists, politicians, policy makers and anyone else involved in implementation. These people get criticized for deviating from the Optimal path.

At the same time, that supposed central lynchpin is as flexible as taffy. No matter what path of action you want, you can get a fairly eminent economist to support it, with graphs and calculations and peer reviews, even a Nobel price if you pay enough. Tweak the assumptions, and anything can roll out.

Some years ago, I did some side-work for experts on the effects of climate change. They used an economic black-boxy model. A variant of DICE I think. These were smart people, fully aware of the myriads of limitations of such a model (including the implicit trade-off between drowned Bangladehis and less horsepower for SUVs, both of which are included as a loss of global GDP). Yet, they could not escape the model. No matter what topic they studied, people wanted to know about The Economics. Which meant rolling out the oracle box and have it predict 0.03% GDP more or less in 2065. It was asad to watch.

8

Alex SL 02.07.20 at 10:10 am

Somehow I feel that trying to do economic analysis of whether to avoid warming the planet to the degree that all coastal cities have to be abandoned and much of our farmland turns into desert is a category error. One could just as well calculate the wear of the break pads that would be caused by stopping one’s car from driving over a cliff. Nice exercise I guess, but it reveals a severe misunderstanding of the situation.

9

J-D 02.07.20 at 12:48 pm

Come on what contribution has ocean life ever made to economic growth?

At the risk of providing information already known to everybody here: the contribution ocean life has made to economic growth is greater than the contribution economic growth has made to ocean life.

10

reason 02.07.20 at 2:12 pm

Tangential I know, but is there something like a “ceteris paribus” fallacy? It seems to me that is what is happening here. There is a ceteris paribus implicit assumption being made, which is not anywhere near holding.

11

Omega Centauri 02.07.20 at 2:46 pm

Great comments, all of them. At least amongst our subgroup of intellectually aligned people who care about the future, it is very useful in increasing our understanding of how things work. Not much to add, other than a plea to keep this going.

12

ken melvin 02.07.20 at 3:49 pm

Think of the worst catastrophes tha have befallen mankind. A mere pittance in comparison. One billion displaced. The immigration out of marginal areas to date is only the tip of the iceberg.

13

Chetan Murthy 02.07.20 at 4:07 pm

How can these (not all) economists make such a colossal mistake, as to think that (say) the reduction in agriculture by 25%, wouldn’t have a far -greater- impact than 25% on the economy as a whole? It is only by grace of the fact that agriculture employs 3% of the workforce (via it’s great efficiency) that the other 97% can work in non-agriculture settings! Reduce that productivity, and masses of people will need to spend their time searching for food …..

SMDH.

One thing that JQ said that really resonated: yes, we keep reading about the costs of climate change in 2100, and yet we see the world burning *today*, drowning *today*, crops being destroyed *today*.

14

Peter Dorman 02.08.20 at 1:46 am

One further addition to the thread on crazy economists. Economists working on “micro” issues (particular goods, markets, etc.) have a big problem with scale and scope. Price data are typically used to assess the costs or benefits of actions at the margin, but really big changes (like wiping out ocean life) render current prices meaningless. This holds even if you accept the dubious conceptual framework of willingness to pay = marginal social benefit.

Related to that, demand and supply curves, while they can be drawn elegantly in a diagram, can be measured only in the vicinity of current prices and quantities. To extrapolate, economists assume constant elasticities up and down the curves, but this assumption gets flakier the further you get from past experience — and climate change will get us very far from that.

Also, holding the rest of the world constant and changing just one component (the ceteris paribus conditions of reason @10) fails if that one thing is really big. Then you would have to do a general equilibrium analysis where everything affects everything else, and it gets out of hand.

None of this is difficult to understand, but mainstream economists have such a strong urge to frame their analyses as identifying optima — so they can tell others what they should do — that they run right over their better judgment. In a conversation, and I’ve had many of these, the economist will acknowledge all the difficulties but say something like, well, we have to make some simplifying assumptions in order to get a determinate solution, as if the determinate solution part were not itself a choice.

15

dilbert dogbert 02.08.20 at 2:02 am

@9
To paraphrase Diamond: The greatest mistake ocean life made was to discover dry land and walk on it.

16

Sam Osborne 02.08.20 at 7:27 am

I sometimes wonder whether the time spent talking about climate change and the lack of political will is pretty futile, even if politicians agree, they feel protective of the economy.

I think it’s time for those of us who are aware to put our money where our mouths are, we need to start buying up the fuel reserves.

e.g.
If I buy oil from Venezuela at $70 per barrel I’m happy for them to keep it in the ground, it’s safe there plus there are no extraction costs, meaning that Venezuela makes the maximum profit margin.
Selling oil to me is very cost effective with about $68 profit.
If enough other people did the same thing, Venezuela would be able to re-finance it’s economy within three months and be able to defend itself against USA’s hostile takeover bid.

The same system can apply to coal and gas reserves, those who buy the reserves in the form of bonds, can prevent extraction, force up prices, finance the development of sustainable energy programmes and dilute the threat of toxic geo-politics, all in one easy move.

17

bad Jim 02.08.20 at 9:03 am

A month ago I attended a memorial service for our next door neighbor, a dear friend. My younger brother lamented that our own deaths were only a couple of decades away. In one sense I fear that he was optimistic, but I find some solace in the prospect of my imminent demise, considering the nearly inevitable catastrophe confronting us and the all too probable prospect of the next election hastening our doom.

Vonnegut: “If flying-saucer creatures or angels or whatever were to come here in a hundred years, say, and find us gone like the dinosaurs, what might be a good message for humanity to leave for them, maybe carved in great big letters on a Grand Canyon wall? Here is this old poop’s suggestion: WE PROBABLY COULD HAVE SAVED OURSELVES, BUT WERE TOO DAMNED LAZY TO TRY VERY HARD…AND TOO DAMNED CHEAP.”

18

ken melvin 02.08.20 at 11:38 am

Capitalistocene?

19

ken melvin 02.08.20 at 3:57 pm

In re the fossil fuel reserves: The amount of wealth involved skews politics around the world. Trump set out to preserve this wealth but ran into reality. Saudis went IPO; the divesting is only beginning, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the very wealthy demanded the governments buy up the reserves. There needs be a Manhattan type project to get completely off fossils in 10 years. I don’t think we have a choice.

20

christian h. 02.08.20 at 9:24 pm

Very interesting discussion. Of course one also can – like our Australian media did in the recent elections – take the difficulty of estimating economic costs of climate change* as a reason to ignore them altogether and instead double down on fear mongering about the costs of reducing emissions.

*I agree that the notion is a category error. Unfortunately though the economic category – the “what does it cost me” – has become the one much of our political discourse is filtered through.

21

William Berry 02.09.20 at 6:36 am

Very pleasant weather today: sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Light slacks and polo shirt weather. A great day to be out on the links. Except they don’t yet have golf courses in Antarctica.

I worry about my wife’s hometown of Lima. That amazing coast, so near the Equator, is kept temperate by the Humboldt Current, a kind of inverse of the Gulf Stream.

Climate scientists predict that, like the GS itself, the HC will likely be disrupted by global warming. Balmy Lima could become like Guayaquil, or La Guaira; except with ten million people.

I made the mistake of mentioning this to my wife once, and she cried. Clumsy fool on occasion; that’s me. I try to avoid the subject of climate change in her presence any more.

22

J-D 02.09.20 at 7:03 am

Tangential I know, but is there something like a “ceteris paribus” fallacy? It seems to me that is what is happening here. There is a ceteris paribus implicit assumption being made, which is not anywhere near holding.

Price data are typically used to assess the costs or benefits of actions at the margin, but really big changes (like wiping out ocean life) render current prices meaningless. … Also, holding the rest of the world constant and changing just one component (the ceteris paribus conditions of reason @10) fails if that one thing is really big. … In a conversation, and I’ve had many of these, the economist will acknowledge all the difficulties but say something like, well, we have to make some simplifying assumptions in order to get a determinate solution, as if the determinate solution part were not itself a choice.

Of course one also can … take the difficulty of estimating economic costs of climate change* as a reason to ignore them altogether … *I agree that the notion is a category error. Unfortunately though the economic category – the “what does it cost me” – has become the one much of our political discourse is filtered through.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McNamara_fallacy

… involves making a decision based solely on quantitative observations (or metrics) and ignoring all others. …
[US Defence Secretary Robert] McNamara was trying to develop a list of metrics to allow him to scientifically follow the progress of the war. He asked [US Air Force Brigadier General Edward] Lansdale if the list was complete. Lansdale replied that it was missing “factor x”, the feelings of the common rural Vietnamese people. McNamara wrote it down on his list in pencil, then erased it and told Lansdale that he could not measure it, so it must not be important.

See also

Goodhart’s law

Streetlight effect

23

Hidari 02.09.20 at 11:17 am

@22

The failures of ‘mainstream’ economists to deal with the issue of climate change have been so egregious that it’s legitimate to wonder whether the academic study of the economy, as we have known it for the last 200 years, really has that much of a future.

There are examplars of similar ‘transitions’ from the past.

Modern day chemistry ‘evolved out of’ alchemy (which was NOT a deranged cult-like branch of magic, as we imagine nowadays, but a serious proto-science, practiced by some of the greatest minds of the era, like Newton). Indeed, chemistry owes much to its (now embarrassing) predecessor. But at the end of the day, alchemy ‘didn’t work’: it’s presuppositions were false, and modern day chemistry is different enough that it deserves a different name.

Similarly modern day scientific psychology ‘evolved out of’ various proto-sciences of the early 19th century (like phrenology) and a much longer tradition of ‘armchair speculation’ in philosophy. Again, it’s not that these people (i.e. the philosophers) were stupid, or idiots, or anything like that: it’s just that statistics, computers and the scientific method hadn’t evolved enough to turn psychology from armchair speculation to a genuine empirical science.

In the same way, one can imagine that 22nd and 23rd century economists might view many, perhaps most, 19th and 20th century economists as ‘armchair economists’ (in the same way that modern scientific anthropologists view 19th century and early 20th century anthropologists like Frazer as ‘armchair anthropologists’), and ‘classic’ essays by Hayek (e.g.) as simply armchair exercises, closer in spirit to philosophy than modern economics (as it will be then): entirely lacking in empirical data and scientific rigour.

In any case, it’s not too difficult to see the presuppositions of most (not quite all, but most) 19th and 20th century scientific economists being quietly abandoned as the field develops. Perhaps economics might even keep the same name, but ‘modern’ scientific papers will simply stop quoting and citing ‘classics thinkers’ from the 19th and 20th centuries, and a polite pretence that economics ‘really’ began, in, say, 2120 (perhaps by thinkers as yet unborn) will hold sway, and the names of people like Hayek, von Mises, Krugman etc. will simply be forgotten, except by specialists and historians.

Or perhaps economics will simply break apart. It’s quite easy to see (in 100 years or so, or even less) large swathes of what is currently considered to be ‘economics’ being ‘eaten up’ by the new ‘up and coming’ science of Ecology, or Environmental Science, what we now call Economics being ‘eaten up by’ History of Economic Thought, and so on.

24

reason 02.09.20 at 2:59 pm

Don’ t know if this is the same. It is not so much a completeness issue as a correctness issue. Completeness, is important yes (and often ignored) but in this case it is using a statistics outside of it’ s range of accuracy. It is in my mind a different issue.

25

Paul 02.09.20 at 3:00 pm

Vaclav Smil is considered one of the leading authorities on energy transitions and deep decarbonization and he is not as optimistic about the costs and timeframe necessary –

http://vaclavsmil.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Substantia.pdf

26

Hidari 02.09.20 at 6:51 pm

CF Comment 6

Someone should write a version of Godwin’s Law

The likelihood of an embittered Clintonite turning up to rehash the 2016 election in a CT comments thread on any topic eventually (and always) reaches 100%, always, given a long enough thread.

27

Orange Watch 02.09.20 at 7:55 pm

reason@10:
Tangential I know, but is there something like a “ceteris paribus” fallacy?

It’s a bit higher-level and more abstract, but it seems like most instances where this specific breed of faulty reasoning occurs it just gets classified as false analogy/false equivalence without further subcategorizing the error. That doesn’t quite feel like it captures the exact nuance of how the argument is being equivocated here, though.

28

Alex SL 02.09.20 at 8:23 pm

Sam Osborne,

Unfortunately it is not really clear to me why a country or company should not pocket the money pledged to keep carbon in the ground and then, fifteen years later perhaps during a crisis, decide that they now really need the money from the sale of that carbon after all, to keep the lights on.

I believe the same will happen to all those nature reserves across the world once people have the choice between converting them to cropland or starving. Putting something aside is transient; only solving the underlying problem will make a difference.

29

nastywoman 02.09.20 at 11:20 pm

@6
”On the other thread (now closed), somebody stated that Obama had done „very little“ to fight climate change. It is worth pointing out that the fossil fuel industry disagrees. The „little“ Obama has done motivated them to declare total war on Obama and Clinton and to get a planet burning fascist appointed president so he can destroy the EPA”.

and then@26

”The likelihood of an embittered Clintonite turning up to rehash the 2016 election in a CT comments thread on any topic eventually (and always) reaches 100%, always, given a long enough thread”.

Why are you guys writing such… stuff?

Don’t you know – that it isn’t the right nor helpful way to fight the Climate Crisis?

30

J-D 02.09.20 at 11:24 pm

Completeness, is important yes (and often ignored) but in this case it is using a statistics outside of it’ s range of accuracy.

I’m afraid I’m not clear on which statistic you have in mind here and therefore I don’t know what you mean by its range of accuracy. It’s possible that what you’re referring to is an instance of something like overfitting or underfitting, but it might also be an illustration of something like Goodhart’s law or Campbell’s law; or it might be something else and not any of those. It’s difficult to tell without more information whether the phenomenon you are focussing on is an example of a more general category already identified and named, unless we generalise further to something like ‘error’.

31

MFB 02.10.20 at 8:12 am

If it is indeed true that global warming is going to cause massive food shortages and if it is indeed true that simultaneously there will be shortages of raw materials and energy supplies, in the course of the next decade or so, then we do not need a “Manhattan project”, we actually need something like the mobilisation which took place around World War II, when virtually all states took complete charge of their economies and populations and forced them to work towards a particular goal.

I don’t see that happening. I don’t see anybody preparing for it to happen.

What I see is rich countries preparing to exploit the crisis by manipulating international trade, and rich people building fortified residences to prevent the starving plebs from stealing their nice things. And journalists (and economists, of course) telling us to have faith in those rich people.

Why should we have any faith in journalists or economists, or indeed, in any future worthy of the name?

32

reason 02.10.20 at 9:05 am

J-D @30
J-D I’m talking about confusing price (current) and value (intrinsic) by assuming that current relative prices represent actual intrinsic relative value, so that their optimization function produces crazy results. This sort of fits to how “Austrian” economics gets science backwards. Science works by calculating the consequences of models and rejecting models whose conclusions don’t fit reality. “Austrian” economics (and many neo-classical economists as well) proceed by extending the results of the model and then accepting the absurd conclusions instead of rejecting the model. That’s why we still have DSGE models.

33

Dipper 02.10.20 at 9:22 am

@ MFB “If it is indeed true that global warming is going to cause massive food shortages”

It isn’t. It is precisely this kind of panicking and scare-mongering, the repeated promises of imminent catastrophe that have been made by eminent scientists throughout my lifetime during which not one of them has materialised that has resulted in widespread scepticism. As it stands, humanity enjoys unparalleled standards of living, literacy, health, education, longevity, political freedoms.

‘Advances’ in agriculture mean we can get more out of less, and as the human population stabilises that means we need less land under cultivation. There is lots and lots of marginal land that can be brought into food production if we need it. To identify a specific area, Eastern Europe is depopulating quite quickly due to a mixture of migration and a lack of interest in reproducing, so there is lots of land there that can be used. Those advances themselves do effectively wipe out much of the wildlife of the land, hence much of the UK is effectively an open-air factory, and that may have serious consequences. But that isn’t what is being highlighted in the current panics.

Global warming is real, and production of greenhouse gases does need to be stopped for the health of the planet, but panicking is not a useful response.

34

Tm 02.10.20 at 11:55 am

Hidari 26: Whatever you say. And now let’s hear your substantive point…

35

Hidari 02.10.20 at 2:24 pm

Middle aged (white) men are very keen, I’ve noticed, in making predictions about global warming that are unfalsifiable, in the sense that, if the predictions are falsified, they won’t be around to see them happen.

Ignoring the non sequitur that there won’t be famines in the future because there aren’t any right now (cf@33) , if there are any mass famines/food shortages, this will be something that will happen in the late 21st century or the 22nd century. None of us will be around to see them.

And will these happen?

The short, unsatisfactory, and accurate answer is ‘we don’t know’. Nothing like climate change has ever happened before to our civilisation: we simply have no idea how things will pan out. It also depends on whether or not we get our act together to do something about climate change, and to what extent, which are, at the moment, unknowables.

But is there are risk that this might happen? Self-evidently yes. The latest climate change models are predicting up to 5 degrees of warming, by 2100 (and of course, more after that (https://www.businessinsider.com/global-warming-climate-models-higher-than-usual-confusing-scientists-2020-2?r=US&IR=T)).

Not only would this be catastrophic in and of itself, but it greatly raises the risk of (as yet) unforeseen ‘feedback loops’ which might raise temperatures even further by (say) 2200: it is not at all clear that any human civilisation of any sort could survive (say) 7 degrees of warming, even ‘spread out’ over a couple of centuries.

Are temperature rises of this size unlikely? Yes. Are they possible? Yes. Will they result in gigantic famines? Yes.

36

Omega Centauri 02.10.20 at 2:57 pm

Paul @25: Don’t get me started on Smil. Needless to say he appears to have the same affliction as the many “Nuclear is the only way” people. They produced an informed position based on the then state of the art twenty years ago, and have since refused to look at the advances of the alternative technologies. So now we have the next marginal watt of renewables being cheaper than the older “serious” technologies, but still we are dealing with the hue and cry “we can’t afford it”

37

Barry 02.10.20 at 6:19 pm

“To identify a specific area, Eastern Europe is depopulating quite quickly due to a mixture of migration and a lack of interest in reproducing, so there is lots of land there that can be used. “

In a logical world, having millions of people migrate there from heating/drying areas would happen, and all would benefit.

We do not live in that world.

BTW, you are behind in your reading; the correct term for “…but panicking is not a useful response.” is ‘Project Fear’.

38

J-D 02.10.20 at 9:53 pm

I’m talking about confusing price (current) and value (intrinsic) by assuming that current relative prices represent actual intrinsic relative value, so that their optimization function produces crazy results.

Some people have referred to what they call ‘the fallacy of intrinsic value’: what they mean by this is that all analyses that depend on a concept of ‘intrinsic value’ are fallacious, because there’s no such thing as intrinsic value, all value being, by definition, relative.

39

Chetan Murthy 02.11.20 at 5:09 am

Something I just remembered. Do you remember The One Percent Doctrine ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_One_Percent_Doctrine ) ?

In a nutshell, if there’s a one percent chance that some nutjob will blow up one of our cities, we’re justified and indeed -bound- to hunt that guy down, and devil take the “collateral damage” (yes, in quotes, b/c that’s innocents). Yanno, the chance that the bad outcome of AGW will occur is … waaaay higher than that some religious nutjob in ….. (checks notes) rural Idaho Uzbecki-becki-becki-stan will kill a lotta Americans.

And yet we don’t apply that doctrine. Yeah, I know: “it was all motivated reasoning, maaaan.” Sigh.

40

reason 02.11.20 at 1:51 pm

J-D,
I don’t get what you are talking about here. It doesn’t matter if “intrinsic values” are relative or absolute, the point is that instantaneous relative prices are not a good way to estimate them and so can not be sensibly used to build an optimization model. (Really, really, really think about water and diamonds.) Earth => Venus what is now valuable.

41

reason 02.11.20 at 1:56 pm

42

reason 02.11.20 at 2:26 pm

You might also want to follow the link in the above article to:
http://econospeak.blogspot.com/2014/11/public-works-economic-stabilization-and.html

With this passage:
“David Ellerman argues that the efficiency/equity distinction is simply an artifact of the choice of numeraire. In other words, the supposed efficiency of a policy outcome measured in dollars is an illusion created by the fact that efficiency is being measured with the “same yardstick” that was used to assign “value” to incommensurable things like human life, output of goods and services and damage to the environment. If one reverses the process and establishes human life or environmental damage as the unit of measurement, then the results of the analysis are also reversed.

Although simple, this is not an intuitively obvious argument, so Ellerman illustrates it with a very simple example in which John values apples at one dollar each, while Mary values them at 50 cents. Social wealth would be improved if Mary sells an apple to John for 75 cents. Under the Kaldor-Hicks criterion, social wealth would also be improved if Mary lost her apple and John found it, even though Mary receives no compensation. Kaldor-Hicks would deem this an efficiency gain because John could potentially compensate Mary by paying her 75 cents for the lost apple. Measured in apples, though, there has been no change in total wealth because Mary’s lost apple exactly balances John found one..

But using apples as the unit of measurement changes everything. Since John values one apple at one dollar, he also values one dollar at one apple. Mary values a dollar at two apples.Measured in apples, social wealth would be improved if John lost a dollar — worth only one apple to him — and Mary, who values the dollar at two apples, found it. John’s cost is smaller — in apples — than Mary’s benefit. But since a dollar is a dollar, if the unit of measurement was dollars, the cost and the benefit would exactly balance leaving no net gain.

Ellerman’s illustration may seem trivial but the “same yardstick” argument comes from Paul Samuelson who pointed out that, measured in money, the marginal utility of income is constant at unity. Bill Gates would value an extra $20 a week of income as much as a Walmart clerk would — $20 dollars worth! It’s a tautology.”

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Dipper 02.11.20 at 2:30 pm

On this famine business, I’m reading Wilding by Isabella Tree, which is about her farm in Sussex UK where she has given up intensive agriculture and encouraged a more natural approach.

In it she states that human intake of calories in the Western world is about 20% more now than in 1970, and the commercial food chain wastes about a third of all food. grown. So any ‘global famine’ has to first take out that excess production before eating into the health of the global population.

Tree also states that the NFU has said that the UK only has 100 harvest left. This is due to soil erosion due to intensive farming. As these people are unbiased experts I know that CTers can be just as confident in their predictions as they are in the dismal effects of Brexit etc, so if a global famine does emerge it is likely to be due to catastrophic persistent mismanagement of agriculture rather than global warming per se.

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nastywoman 02.11.20 at 3:50 pm

So –
could y’all at least support and distribute this:

https://youtu.be/531RiUNUFug

45

J-D 02.12.20 at 9:20 am

Although simple, this is not an intuitively obvious argument, so Ellerman illustrates it with a very simple example in which John values apples at one dollar each, while Mary values them at 50 cents. Social wealth would be improved if Mary sells an apple to John for 75 cents. Under the Kaldor-Hicks criterion, social wealth would also be improved if Mary lost her apple and John found it, even though Mary receives no compensation. Kaldor-Hicks would deem this an efficiency gain because John could potentially compensate Mary by paying her 75 cents for the lost apple. Measured in apples, though, there has been no change in total wealth because Mary’s lost apple exactly balances John found one..

But using apples as the unit of measurement changes everything. Since John values one apple at one dollar, he also values one dollar at one apple. Mary values a dollar at two apples.Measured in apples, social wealth would be improved if John lost a dollar — worth only one apple to him — and Mary, who values the dollar at two apples, found it. John’s cost is smaller — in apples — than Mary’s benefit. But since a dollar is a dollar, if the unit of measurement was dollars, the cost and the benefit would exactly balance leaving no net gain.

I love that example. It’s beautiful. I’m entranced.

I will use that example to give an extended explanation of the point I was making.

If Mary is prepared to exchange at the rate of two apples for one dollar, then the value of an apple to Mary is fifty cents and the value of a dollar to Mary is two apples. If John is prepared to exchange at the rate of one dollar for one apple, then value of a dollar to John is one apple and the value of an apple to John is one dollar. In this example, both in the case of an apple and in the case of a dollar, we know the value to John and the value to Mary: both of those are relative values, specifically the value relative to John and the value relative to Mary. Neither the value relative to Mary nor the value relative to John is an intrinsic value, by definition. There is no intrinsic value anywhere in the analysis. Seeking the intrinsic value is seeking something that isn’t there, something that doesn’t exist. Neither the apple nor the dollar has value in itself (which is what ‘intrinsic’ means); it only has value to a person who values it (which is what ‘relative’ means). If we want to measure how much something (for example, a dollar) is worth in apples, we can find out how much (in apples) it (the dollar) is worth to John, or how much it is worth to Mary, but not how much it is worth in itself: that formulation is meaningless. If we want to measure how much something (for example, an apple) is worth in dollars, we can find out how much (in dollars) it (the apple) is worth to Mary, or how much it is worth to John, but not how much it is worth in itself: that formulation is meaningless.

So any argument or discussion or analysis which refers to ‘intrinsic value’ lacks meaning, because there is no such thing as intrinsic value: the reference generates a fallacy, a fallacy which has been named as ‘the fallacy of intrinsic value’. That is, therefore, an answer to your earlier inquiry about whether there was a name for the fallacy you were discussing.

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Lee A. Arnold 02.12.20 at 12:34 pm

We could have a general collapse of the food supply within 10 or 20 years. How?

Shrinking polar ice covers –> Increased variability of associated jet streams & ocean currents –> Unprecedented heatwaves & precipitation events (floods, droughts) in the mid-latitudes –> Destruction of most food crops, for a season or two –> Mayhem & collapse of civilization.

Versions of the first three steps are beginning to happen at both poles and their mid-latitudes. There are plenty of recent research papers.

Australia’s predicaments were forecast years ago from the changes in ocean currents around the Antarctic.

In the northern hemisphere there is an additional near threat: Melting tundra –> Shotgun blast of more carbon to the atmosphere. Research on this is in progress. Methane has a shorter life in the atmosphere than CO2 but is almost 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas.

The paleo evidence shows that SHORT-TERM drastic changes can happen because they have happened in the past. See the Dansgaard-Oeschger events, or the Younger Dryas. We don’t know what caused these.

What’s different from the past? Now we have a civilization based on annual crop production for food and materials.

Speaking generally in terms of systems theory, external forcing (such as the CO2 increase) can lead to drastic variability in the subsystems and sudden rapid oscillations, resulting in extreme events and irreversible tipping points.

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