Manipulating choices

by Henry on February 8, 2005

Alex Tabarrok “protests too much”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/02/schelling_is_ow.html in response to John Q.’s “post”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/003214.html on the Lomborg ranking exercise.

bq. Thus, believe it or not, the new theory of how Lomborg rigged the climate change study is that he chose someone to write the global climate change chapter who was too strong an proponent of its importance! Give me a break.

Alex may sneer, but this is exactly what at least one, and possibly two of the members of the Lomborg panel suggest, according to the “Economist”:http://www.economist.com/agenda/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3630425

bq. Thomas Schelling of the University of Maryland, who voted on the final choices, thinks that presenting climate change at the bottom of the list as “bad” is misleading. He says he and the other gurus did not like Kyoto or the aggressive proposals made by Dr Cline, whom he sees as the “most alarmist of the serious climate policy experts”, but Dr Schelling says he would have ranked modest climate proposals higher on the list, because he sees climate as a real problem. Robert Mendelsohn, a conservative Yale economist who was an official “critic” of the climate paper in this process, goes further: because Dr Cline’s positions are “well out of the mainstream”, he had no choice but to reject them. He worries that “climate change was set up to fail.”

This is strong language for academics – Mendelsohn is saying that Lomborg may have tried to predetermine the outcome by ensuring that the climate change choice was unpalatable to all the panelists. Nor does this invalidate John’s previous argument that the panelists as well as the choices on offer were selected in order to conduct towards this outcome – a different group of economists might well have preferred even the more radical climate change option that was on offer. I’m not sure what the point is to Tabarrok’s surly and ungracious post. If he doesn’t believe that choices between several options can be fixed so that individuals go for the one rather than the other, he only needs to find out a little more about the gentle art of push-polling. If he’d like a slightly more rigorous discussion, I refer him to William Riker’s work on heresthetics. If he doesn’t believe that there’s some serious reason to suspect that this is what happened here, he should re-read Schelling’s and Mendelsohn’s descriptions of the process, as quoted in the Economist. There’s nothing here that’s exactly difficult to get.

{ 16 comments }

1

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.08.05 at 3:33 pm

“He says he and the other gurus did not like Kyoto or the aggressive proposals made by Dr Cline, whom he sees as the “most alarmist of the serious climate policy experts…”

Two things.

First, I had always understood that Kyoto is meant to be a first step. If Kyoto is too much for you, I can’t imagine that a majority of other proposals are going to be ok from a cost/benefit perspective.

Second, in the Social Security debate, proposals other than Bush’s are being dismissed as ‘not on the table’. If that is a legitimate reaction (i’m not convinced it is, but it is a very common reaction) it would apply with even more force to something like Kyoto which has been in the works for almost a decade.

Oops I’ve discovered a third. According to the UN reports–which to say the least are pro-Kyoto, Kyoto would only slow prospective global warming by at most 5 years. If Kyoto would have so little effect, and would be unpalatable to Schelling, it is very difficult to believe that lesser proposals would be more effective–unless Kyoto is a piss-poor method of dealing with climate change. If that is true, it might be a good thing to admit up front.

2

kasei 02.08.05 at 3:48 pm

“He says he and the other gurus did not like Kyoto or the aggressive proposals made by Dr Cline”

There seems to be a strong thread in a lot of the posts on this subject so far that Kyoto somehow represents an excessive approach to Carbon emissions, but from what I understand, it is actually very modest, and probably wouldn’t help very much – by its nature it is a compromise that is far from the ideal action that needs to be taken (I think Henry gets at this above, suggesting a “different group of economists” may have ranked priorities another way).

The real point to be made is not about the methodology of this exercise, but its very existence. The distribution and availability of natural resources is connected to climate change – the latter could have effects both positive and negative (and the balance here would be a real topic for debate…) on the former, so ranking them makes a massive category error (in this case treating climate change and resources as discrete problems). The real bottom line is that all of the topics dealt with by the Copenhagen Consensus (and what great Newspeak there!) deserve attention and financing, and that Lomborg’s project is a nakedly political exercise aimed at dismissing one such topic he has taken an unjustified dislike to.

3

ed_finnerty 02.08.05 at 4:27 pm

If you accept the premise that the major factor in global warming is the emission of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion by humans, which is the presumption of the IPCC, then there are only two possible approaches.

1. deindustrialization on a massive scale, or

2. conversion to a nuclear based electrical system.

anything else is a pipedream.

4

ed_finnerty 02.08.05 at 4:35 pm

Oh I should have added

The CC was a cost benefit exercise. The rating reflected the massive cost of intervention (many trillions of dollars) versus the benefits to be realized far in the future. Even with the spiked discount rate used by Cline it didn’t look good in comparision to the other policy initiatives.

5

Marc 02.08.05 at 4:48 pm

The reality of the impact of people on the composition of the atmosphere of the Earth is not a “presumption” of the IPCC, it is the result of a large body of scientific research.

Ditto for the likely consequences for the climate of the Earth. There are quite a few other families of solutions besides nuclear power and returning to hunter-gatherer mode. As you look
at progressively longer time frames for adopting you get more and more choices. Wind, solar, geothermal, hydrogen-powered cars etc may not be able to carry a lot of the load within a decade…but with resources and the collective will to make an effort, they might well be enough 2-3 decades down the road, and certainly within 50 years.

6

ed_finnerty 02.08.05 at 5:14 pm

marc

I didn’t mean that there wasn’t evidence that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing at a rapid rate. It has. And the almost certain cause has been the burning of fossil fuels. The presumption I was referring to was that this increase in CO2 was warming the atmosphere. The is still debate on the existence and extent of this relationship.

Respectfully, I don’t think there are any other families of solutions. The power demands to maintain our modern industrial lifestyle are just to great. To point out one obvious difficulty, hydrogen must be produced through a process which at the present time largely involves the burning of fossil fuels. We could of course substitute nuclear power for this.

7

Luc 02.08.05 at 5:44 pm

To point out one obvious difficulty, hydrogen must be produced through a process which at the present time largely involves the burning of fossil fuels.

Current car engines are horribly inefficient. Hydrogen can be produced in a highly efficient way. Thus the large energy savings.

And besides the CO2 issue, it is far more efficient to remove other pollutants from a power plant than from all those cars.

(But then hybrid cars are a good compromise and are here now, so the hydrogen car isn’t a certainty yet.)

8

jet 02.08.05 at 6:23 pm

luc,
You seem knowledgable, have you read about any updates on solving the hydrogen storage problem for autos?

9

Andrew McManama-Smith 02.08.05 at 6:48 pm

Petroleum is amazingly safe. Have you ever seen a fire at a pump? However Hydrogen is dangerous even to trained professionals who handle it. I think that hydrogen powered cars have a lot of hurdles to tackle before they become feasible.
Current car engines are horribly inefficient.
Have you seen a Honda Civic EX? That gets 38mph, which is remarkably good efficiency.
On the same note, Hybrid cars do not get nearly the efficiency that the EPA purports them to, and they have nasty batteries in them that are dangerous and pollutant when ruptured.
Anyway, I think that Tabbarok is a reactionary.

10

Henry 02.08.05 at 7:26 pm

bq. Anyway, I think that Tabbarok is a reactionary.

In general, I find him to be a very interesting and stimulating blogger – Marginal Revolution is one of my daily reads. This, however, read to me as a very bad post.

11

Henry 02.08.05 at 9:15 pm

bq. Anyway, I think that Tabbarok is a reactionary.

In general, I find him to be a very interesting and stimulating blogger – Marginal Revolution is one of my daily reads. This, however, read to me as a very bad post.

12

Andrew McManama-Smith 02.08.05 at 9:35 pm

Hey me too! I do read everything on MR, but I still think that Tabarrok is a reactionary:
http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2004/12/mirror_mirror_o.html

13

Luc 02.08.05 at 10:47 pm

If all SUV’s were substituted with Civics, then …

But, no, I’m not very knowledgeable on the specifics of hydrogen technology.

These days nano is the tech fashion word, so hydrogen storage has nano catalysts.

Oil companies and car manufacturers are investing in these companies, thus I think there’s a real chance that hydrogen cars can succeed.

As an aside, even the US is implementing Kyoto in part. It may not feel itself bound by any limit on CO2 emissions, but for example California has regulations to reduce CO2 output as an answer to climate change, with about the same argument as Kyoto, that is, to lead instead of to wait. And if the media are to believed several other US states are set to follow.

14

frankis 02.09.05 at 2:53 am

“The panel recognised that global warming must be addressed, but agreed that approaches based on too abrupt a shift toward lower emissions of carbon are needlessly expensive. The experts expressed an interest in an alternative, proposed in one of the opponent papers, that envisaged a carbon tax much lower in the first years of implementation than the figures called for in the challenge paper, rising gradually in later years. Such a proposal however was not examined in detail in the presentations put to the panel, and so was not ranked. The panel urged increased funding for research into more affordable carbon-abatement technologies.”
http://www.eldis.org/static/DOC14898.htm

15

Eddie Thomas 02.09.05 at 3:52 pm

Lomborg favors the development of alternative energy sources as well, but thinks that an approach like Kyoto is the wrong way to do that because diminished economies would be less capable of serious investment in alternative energy research. Perhaps he is mistaken, but his position does not strike me as absurd.

I suspect, however, that ed is right. Alternative energy sources (other than nuclear) being discussed now don’t seem capable of scaling up to the demands of first-world economies.

16

jet 02.10.05 at 7:03 pm

Given that the IPCC admits it doesn’t use cosmic radiation theory in its warming models, how can anyone take it seriously? Good for Lomborg for calling the IPCC guide irrelevant.

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