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Thoughts On Global Warming

From Freeman Dyson. It's a long read but worthwhile (as always).

[Update late evening]

Dayo Olopade has an uncomplimentary review of Dyson's review.

FWIW, I don't think that GW skepticism is equivalent to Pascal's wager. But I don't have time right now to say why.

Hope I live to tell the tale.

 
 

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29 Comments

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Dyson's review of the first book reminds me of an argument I had with Jim Harris a month back. To rehash, I continue to believe that no special preparation at least by the government needs to be made for expensive oil (also known as "peak oil" by some). Part of the reason for my point of view is the discounting of future costs, much as is done in this book. It makes little sense to expend considerable sums now when you can expend those sums later. As I see it, expensive oil is a gradual thing.

Look at one of the startling conclusions from this book. Suppose the problem is pretty far in the future. Then staying on a "business as usual" approach is modestly weaker than the optimal approach for solving the problem.

Jim Harris wrote:

I continue to believe that no special preparation at least by the government needs to be made for expensive oil

Given that governments are some of the main market actors that are supposed to respond to prices, this is untenable. You might as well ask the Vancouver city government to make no special preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

As I see it, expensive oil is a gradual thing.

Obviously it hasn't been gradual, since the price doubled in one year. Regardless of the role of government, any economist can tell any market that oil gradualism is a big mistake. The short-term demand elasticity of oil is about 1/20, while the long-term demand elasticity is about 1/2. If you are an oil gradualist, then you are a fan of uncovered short positions.

Look at one of the startling conclusions from this book.

Actually, no one in this discussion is yet looking at Nordhaus' book, only at its review by Freeman Dyson.
Nordhaus knows what he's talking about and he certainly does recommend government action in response to global warming, the only question is what kind. In fact, Dyson mentions in passing Nordhaus' projection that the Kyoto protocol would have had a net positive utility of one trillion dollars, if the US had joined it. Sure, the Kyoto protocol has political weaknesses, but by Nordhaus' calculation, American withdrawal amounts to the fire volunteer who blames the fire department for not persuading him to help put out a fire.

Dyson is pretty set in his opinions, as you might expect from anybody who is 84 years old. He did brilliant work in physics 50 years ago, but he ought to acknowledge the distance between himself and current research, and unfortunately he isn't doing so. The only theory supported by the fact that he is cited here, instead of Nordhaus himself, is the theory of selection bias.

But Dyson does deserve credit for not issuing simple falsehoods like Bjorn Lomborg and Philip Chapman do. For instance, Lomborg cites Nordhaus as saying that the environmental cost of a ton of coal is $2, while Nordhaus himself says that it's $30. Lomborg also describes this as something that "we know", even though it is a highly speculative forecast. (The fact that Nordhaus' model is called "DICE" should have been a clue.) Chapman, for his part, took the monthly variation of global temperature in January 2008 and mischaracterized it as the annual trend for 2007. Then he mischaracterized one relatively cold year --- if there had been one --- as evidence of a coming ice age. It's sad that anyone might think of Lomborg and Chapman as the other side of a useful debate. They aren't, unless the debate is between doing your homework correctly and doing it wrong.

Jay Manifold wrote:
Dyson is pretty set in his opinions, as you might expect from anybody who is 84 years old. He did brilliant work in physics 50 years ago, but he ought to acknowledge the distance between himself and current research, and unfortunately he isn't doing so.

Wow, a nasty slam from the irony-free zone ... who'd'a thunk?

Dyson, unlike the Luddites screaming for the US to shut down its technological economy to appease an angry Gaia, knows that the technology of 2050 (or earlier) will deal with this "crisis" quite handily. The overwhelming effectiveness of the "low-cost backstop" option relative to any of the others dovetails perfectly with the technological projections of Drexler or Kurzweil.

The cost of ignoring technological advance and flagellating ourselves a la Gore, Kyoto, or Stern will be tens of trillions of dollars and the freedom of future generations. Dyson et al are the true liberals here. The Royal Society and its ilk have become a throwback to medieval notions of sumptuary laws and the sale of indulgences.

Chris Gerrib wrote:

The Dyson article was quite useful. I should point out that folks are right now working on the "low-cost" carbon solution. For example, see Gregory Benford's article about research he's trying to get funded now. The idea is that, when it comes time that we have* to do something, we know what to do.

*You can substitute "economically beneficial" for "have to" if you want to. Same difference in my mind.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Obviously it hasn't been gradual, since the price doubled in one year. Regardless of the role of government, any economist can tell any market that oil gradualism is a big mistake. The short-term demand elasticity of oil is about 1/20, while the long-term demand elasticity is about 1/2. If you are an oil gradualist, then you are a fan of uncovered short positions.

The price doubled in US dollars.

Second, I didn't get your comment about demand elasticity. Sure the demand for oil was relatively inelastic under the economic conditions in which those numbers were estimated. But as the price of oil continues to climb and substitute goods become more viable, demand elasticity will increase.

Sure, the Kyoto protocol has political weaknesses, but by Nordhaus' calculation, American withdrawal amounts to the fire volunteer who blames the fire department for not persuading him to help put out a fire.

We need to keep in mind several things, first, the net benefit of the Kyoto Treaty is global, the cost is primarily to the US. So yes, why shouldn't the US balk? Second, that the cost/benefit is as stated. Third, a trillion dollars isn't that much benefit. The US economy pumps about that much into the rest of the world every 2-3 years.

Jim Harris wrote:

The price doubled in US dollars.

Okay, if you want to nitpick about currency, June 2007 oil closed at $65 or 48.3. June 2008 oil closed at $129 or 82. In dollars, oil went up 98% in 12 months, and is part of a huge run up from $11 in the late 1990s. In Euros, oil "only" went up 69% in a year, and also came on top of a huge run up from maybe 13. This price history lends absolutely no support to gradualism.

Sure the demand for oil was relatively inelastic under the economic conditions in which those numbers were estimated.

Short-term demand elasticity for oil is almost zero under a wide range of economic conditions and prices. Long-term demand elasticity is likewise much higher under a wide range of conditions. That makes a very strong case for long-term planning and hedging.

First, the net benefit of the Kyoto Treaty is global, the cost is primarily to the US.

That is an exaggeration, if "primarily" means a majority of the cost. But to the extent that it is true, it explains the real dispute. Most of those who insist that Greenland won't melt, that it's just an anti-capitalist scare story, actually don't care whether it will melt. Why should we care if South Asians get flooded by our actions, if they can't afford to pay us to stop?

Second, that the cost/benefit is as stated.

Either Nordhaus is reliable or he isn't. If he's not reliable, why does Dyson read so much into him? (I won't ask about Lomborg since he doesn't even read Nordhaus correctly.) Anyway the truth is that while computer models of the world economy are worthwhile --- I won't say that Nordhaus is wasting his time --- they are generally less reliable than computer models of the physical world. Those who insist that global warming mitigation will wreck the world economy are the true hysterics who are overreacting to unproven science.
Although again, the dire warnings are mostly a pose; most of the real sentiment is environmental apathy.

Third, a trillion dollars isn't that much benefit.

That is the argument by arrogant ratio. Yes, a trillion dollars isn't much compared to the entire world economy. But it is an enormous sum --- a trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money. Kyoto isn't the be-all of worthwhile mitigation either.

mz wrote:

If Dyson had something worthwhile to criticize about the science, why doesn't he target the scientists?
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/05/freeman-dysons-selective-vision/

the net benefit of the Kyoto Treaty is global, the cost is primarily to the US. So yes, why shouldn't the US balk?

Interesting. Assuming the above is true, isn't it the same thing as saying that others are suffering from US emissions, while US gets the benefits.

Dyson, unlike the Luddites screaming for the US to shut down its technological economy to appease an angry Gaia

A gem. :)

mz wrote:

Hmm, one of my statements above contained a logic error.

Reformulated:

the net benefit of the Kyoto Treaty is global, the cost is primarily to the US. So yes, why shouldn't the US balk?

Wouldn't this be true if US polluted the world a lot and still got the benefits like electricity from that polluting, while others would have to pay the cost?

Bob Hawkins wrote:

Nordhaus pulls the same dirty trick as Bjorn Lomborg. He takes "the science of global warming" seriously. Both find that, when they do so, they do not reach the accepted conclusions. As a result, they are treated as hardly better than common denialists.

It's almost as if the accepted conclusions are the important thing, and "the science of global warming" is just a poorly thought out rationalization.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Okay, if you want to nitpick about currency, June 2007 oil closed at $65 or �48.3. June 2008 oil closed at $129 or �82. In dollars, oil went up 98% in 12 months, and is part of a huge run up from $11 in the late 1990s. In Euros, oil "only" went up 69% in a year, and also came on top of a huge run up from maybe �13. This price history lends absolutely no support to gradualism.

Sure it does. You're starting with an abnormal low (in the wake of the Asian currency crisis). For a ten year period after 1975 or so, oil was around $40 per barrel. Adjusted for normal inflation measures (like CPI or the GDP deflator) that's almost no rise in the cost of oil from around 1985 (maybe a quarter increase over more than 20 years). We have yet to see what will happen once alternative technologies put more oil onto the market.

That is an exaggeration, if "primarily" means a majority of the cost.

What makes you think the US isn't taking a majority of the cost of the Kyoto Treaty? What I see is that the US was at the time responsible for around a quarter of the emissions of carbon dioxide and had a less efficient economy (in terms of GDP per ton of CO2 emitted) than the other developed countries (except Australia who has also declined to sign the Treaty) that would have to restrict their carbon emissions. Plus, the US doesn't significantly benefit from a stable sea level or the other near term hypotheticals from stopping global warming.

The high value of property on the coasts is more due to an aberrant subsidy by government flood insurance than genuine economics. My take is that a prudent flood insurance policy at the national level would greatly reduce the US's exposure to global warming. Over several decades, we can move the more valuable real estate (like Manhattan Island, for example) inland at fairly low cost just by discouraging new construction (through higher flood insurance rates).

So as I see it, the US takes more of the sacrifice for less of the benefit. What's in that for the US?

Long-term demand elasticity is likewise much higher under a wide range of conditions. That makes a very strong case for long-term planning and hedging.

Why don't you think this long-term planning and hedging is occuring? It's not government's job to run our lives and businesses for us. And there's plenty of smart people out there.

Either Nordhaus is reliable or he isn't. If he's not reliable, why does Dyson read so much into him?

He makes conclusions that are useful regardless of the environmental situation. The Kyoto Treaty is under the optimistic assumptions of Nordhaus, slightly more beneficial than "business as usual". Suppose the assumptions underlying the Kyoto Treaty are (as a number of us here believe) exaggerated? Then that slim benefit can easily turn into a net cost.

Those who insist that global warming mitigation will wreck the world economy are the true hysterics who are overreacting to unproven science.

The solution here is two-fold. First, we wait while satellite data generates a solid foundation for climatology. Second, we stop proposing bad economic ideas. Recall one of Nordhaus's conclusions was that the optimal strategy is simply to weight each ton of carbon emissions with a steadily increasing cost reflecting the externality of that unit of carbon dioxide. No carbon emissions caps or less serious ideas like ethanol pork or costly environmentalist rituals.

Dyson is pretty set in his opinions, as you might expect from anybody who is 84 years old.

Jim, what's your excuse? I keep hearing the same noise out of your corner. You routinely bring up certain topics (eg, "losing the Iraq war" talking points) even on irrelevant threads. People who disagree with you are routinely dismissed in a similar fashion as poor Dyson above. You often employ various logical fallacies.

I think you bring up many useful points and aside from the fallacies you have excellent debate (and google) skills. But I really hate debating you through the filter you have set up. I long ago learned that I am in error. The question is how much and how long it'll take me to change. With respect to global warming, I'm taking a deliberately conservative approach. There aren't any significant near term consequences to global warming. Even forecast sea level increases aren't significant over the next century.

The economic side has always seemed to me to be already solved. Going to the "peak oil" example, I see, as the price of oil increases, people make decisions that use less oil and start to employ new technologies that either use oil more efficiently or forgo it altogether. Even a factor of ten increase in price in ten years (or more like a quarter increase in twenty five) is adequately slow in my view. US society can adapt to that. Sudden price shocks can be cushioned with the strategic oil reserve as they occur. And considerable resources have long been through at alternate goods.

To summarize, Nordhaus through Dyson brings up two fine points with respect to global warming and other long term problems. First, we already know what the optimal economic solution to global warming is. Increase the cost of emitting carbon dioxide to match its externality. Such things as the Kyoto Treaty fail to address this. Second, laisse fair is good as an interrim strategy until manifestation of the problem is near at hand (within 20 years).

Mike Borgelt wrote:

Karl Hallowell: Increase the cost of emitting carbon dioxide to match its externality.

Could someone enlighten us all as to the the external costs of extra CO2 please?

mz wrote:

http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg2.htm

Mind you, I haven't read all of this.

Fletcher Christian wrote:

I am not a fan of economic arguments for or against action, where global warming is concerned. Not at all.

First of all, the economic arguments do not take account of individually low-probability (but somewhat higher probability, collectively) consequences of global warming. These include a rapid excursion into places where the climate has not been for hundreds of millions of years, caused by rapid and irreversible release of gigatons of methane currently weakly locked into ocean-floor clathrate deposits; the near-total shutdown of the ocean ecosystem in tropical seas caused by ocean acidification and consequent inability of phytoplankton to create shells; stagnation of the ocean bottoms caused by the shutdown of convection; the shutting down of the Gulf Stream (caused by greatly increased iceberg claving in Greenland) sending most of Europe into subarctic conditions (at best); enormous and unprecedented hurricanes and tornadoes caused by the greater amount of heat in the atmoshphere; ultimately, a possible result is the conversion of earth into another Venus.

Any of these, and any others I've forgotten, would be a catastrophe almost without precedent in history, and with precedent only matched deep into geological time. I suspect that the expected loss (probability x consequences) of these, collectively, dwarf the costs of action against AGW.

Economic arguments also miss the point in another way. To a first approximation at least, environmental degradation and loss of habitats and biodiversity are not part of the calculations at all; simply put, the health of the ecosystem and the very existence of hundreds of thousands of species are of no consequence because it's difficult to attach numbers to them. You may not care that hundreds of obscure animals are going to become extinct, of course; but the health of the ecosystem is essential to the continued existence of humanity. In other words, continue abusing Gaia and sooner or later she is going to turn around and bite you in the arse.

What was that saying? Oh yes. "Only after the last tree has been cut down; only after the last river has been poisoned; only after the last fish has been caught; only then you will find out that money cannot be eaten".

Never mind all this environmentalist crap though; just stop reading this and go for a burn down the highway in your gas-guzzler.

mz wrote:

I don't really think all that earth becoming Venus is very probable.

But just warming 3 degrees is a serious business.

I think Dyson is underestimating the scale difference of the problem. On one hand you have coal plants that put straight CO2 to the atmosphere. You could switch them to some other style of power generation like nuclear. That has some cost, but we know how to do that.

On the other hand, you have CO2 in the atmosphere mixed in very thoroughly in a concentration of less than one per thousand. It requires massive efforts to get that back once you've mixed it in, since the atmosphere is so big.

He proposes not doing the first but doing the second thing. To an engineer like me, it seems backwards. First release massive amounts of pure CO2, mix it well in the atmosphere and expect your grandkids to gather it back in.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

It's foolish to ignore the economics. While 4% per year adjusted for inflation may sound high, world GDP grew by an estimated 5.2% ("real growth rate") in 2007. So yes, the strategy of passing on some long term problems to your grandkids is a good strategy. They end up wealthier because of it.

mz wrote:

Let's assume for the sake of some numerical argument that it is 1000 times harder (energy usage) to remove CO2 from ambient air than avoid emitting it.

Then extrapolating with a constant 4% growth rate for two hundred years seems quite overconfident to me. 4% is about 20 years for a doubling. Ten doublings yields the factor of one thousand.

Ie we put this stuff in the air so the grandkids' grandkids' grandkids can then take it out when they are a thousand times richer than us and can produce genetically engineered super-trees to multiply the earth's biomass and reverse the total carbon flow. If they aren't and can't, well, they will of course still survive (the effects have kicked already earlier anyway), it might just not be so nice.

bbbeard wrote:

Jim Harris wrote: That makes a very strong case for long-term planning and hedging.

Your commentary is thought-provoking. Let's accept as a premise that risk assessment and strategic planning are good things.

I have to wonder about the historical precedent and what it means for your thesis. Let me use 2006 dollars and the price histories from "I feel lucky" googling. In 1973, oil prices nearly tripled, going from under $15 to over $40 per barrel. Then again in 1979, oil prices went from under $33 to over $65 per barrel. I have to suspect that, had you been advising the Carter Administration in 1979, you would have been a strong advocate of buying heavily into alternative energy research, say, and moving away from petroleum, in the belief that oil would only continue to get scarcer and more expensive. As you say, "Obviously it hasn't been gradual, since the price doubled in one year.... If you are an oil gradualist, then you are a fan of uncovered short positions."

But... the price of oil dropped steadily for years after 1979, and then more or less stayed under $30 per barrel until 2002. So would it have really been the best use of our societal resources to treat petroleum as if it really cost $70 per barrel? In other words, what does a rational "long-term" strategy for dealing with petroleum really mean, if not letting the market provide signals to producers and consumers?

Suppose you were the energy czar in 1979 -- would you have bet $1 trillion that petroleum would be more expensive in five years? Do you, Jim Harris, really have a crystal ball that tells you that oil prices will be higher in real terms in 2013 than they are today? If you do, could you send us a JPG? Some of us would like to make some risk-free money in oil futures....

BBB

Jim Harris wrote:

For a ten year period after 1975 or so, oil was around $40 per barrel. Adjusted for normal inflation measures (like CPI or the GDP deflator) that's almost no rise in the cost of oil from around 1985 (maybe a quarter increase over more than 20 years).

You're just making an arithmetic mistake, either by taking the peak price as the ten-year average or by multiplying by inflation twice instead of once. After adjusting for inflation, current oil prices are more than twice what they were in 1985.

http://www.theoildrum.com/uploads/12/oil_price_historical.gif

What I see is that the US was at the time responsible for around a quarter of the emissions of carbon dioxide and had a less efficient economy (in terms of GDP per ton of CO2 emitted) than the other developed countries (except Australia who has also declined to sign the Treaty) that would have to restrict their carbon emissions.

Your economic argument is backwards. You talk as if it's easier for a slim man to lose weight than a fatso. Besides, the Kyoto accord had variable reduction targets. The target reduction for the US was not nearly as severe as for some of the European countries that happily signed it.

Why don't you think this long-term planning and hedging is occuring?

It's obviously grossly inadequate in the United States. Existing gas taxes do not even cover the government's expenditure on the road system, much less the military cost of protecting the world oil supply, much less any risk mitigation.

Even the partisan Republican economist Greg Mankiw has said that American gas taxes are too low.

Suppose the assumptions underlying the Kyoto Treaty are (as a number of us here believe) exaggerated?

Of course, peak oil isn't quite the same topic as global warming. But turning to that topic, there is no foundation at all for the belief that climate assumptions of the Kyoto Treaty are exaggerated, other than confirmation bias. In some key respects, the climate forecast has gotten a lot worse since Kyoto was drafted. We're a lot closer to destabilizing the Arctic ice sheet and the Greenland ice cap than we thought.

Meanwhile, this blog has been bouncing between celebrity caricatures of global warming warnings, and counterfactual skepticism. And that is worth criticizing. When Chapman lifts the wrong numbers from the Hadley Centre, or Lomborg lifts the wrong numbers from Nordhaus, it warps your intuition, even if you're told that the numbers aren't true.

Dyson, for his part, is a bright guy and he is entitled to his opinion. But again, pointing to him in particular is deep confirmation bias. There are a lot of other Nobel laureates out there and only a few agree with him at all. If they are younger and more active in research, and if their research is closer to meteorology than he is, then they are that much less likely to agree with him.

That really is the key difference between where I stand and where Freeman Dyson stands. Dyson wants to be a "heretic", but he clearly isn't one, he's an armchair contrarian. When I'm in an armchair, I'd rather be a good student of the scientific consensus than a contrarian, because frankly, it's 100 times more reliable.

The scientific consensus on this is explained very well at realclimate.org. Maybe that's why this blog passes over it in favor of Freeman Dyson.

Jim Harris wrote:

Would it have really been the best use of our societal resources to treat petroleum as if it really cost $70 per barrel?

Here is a primer on the importance of hedging against a short position. Let's say that I spend $40 per year on a long-term choice that reduces my oil consumption by 1 barrel per year. For instance, I might buy a more fuel-efficient car. If the next year oil is $20 per barrel, you might feel twice as smart as me. If the year after that, oil is $80 per barrel, I might feel twice as smart as you. But if you add the numbers, I am ahead by $20.

However, most consumers know very little about price risks, and typically they are in no position to plan carefully even if they have learned something about it. Now I know that Karl would say that that's their problem and there is no reason for the government to interfere. But what often happens is that the government accepts an unprotected short position as the will of the people, and then reinforces that bad decision with its own economic policies.

That is clearly what has happened with oil consumption. Now that oil is expensive, Dallas commuters in Denton can't trade I-35 for a subway. They can't pick up their town and move it 10 miles closer to Dallas. They were never in a position to make those planning decisions. It was up to the feds, Texas, and Dallas to plan for the future, and they blew it.

bbbeard wrote:

Jim Harris wrote: Here is a primer on the importance of hedging against a short position. Let's say that I spend $40 per year on a long-term choice that reduces my oil consumption by 1 barrel per year. For instance, I might buy a more fuel-efficient car. If the next year oil is $20 per barrel, you might feel twice as smart as me. If the year after that, oil is $80 per barrel, I might feel twice as smart as you. But if you add the numbers, I am ahead by $20.

Here is a primer on opportunity cost. Suppose I have an alternative investment for that $40. And suppose this investment gives a total return of 40% per year. (I can make up numbers too. Note 40% is much less than the 100% ROI you assumed in the second year). After two years, who has more money? You have spent $80 and saved $100, so you smugly have a cool $20 in the bank. I have invested $40 per year. After the first year, I have $56, but I had to spend the $20 for gas, so I netted $36. In the second year, I throw in another $40, earn 40% off the $76, giving me a total of $106.40. But then I have to pay $80 for my expensive gas, so I have $26.40 left. So after two years, you have $20 and I have $26.40 in the bank. Who is better off? After the third year, which one of us is better off depends strongly on whether gas continues at $80, drops back to $20, or moves to somewhere in between. Is your guess better than mine? [Purists will note I have not resorted to a present value computation in either case, which only makes the second investment option stronger].

Now that oil is expensive, Dallas commuters in Denton can't trade I-35 for a subway. They can't pick up their town and move it 10 miles closer to Dallas. They were never in a position to make those planning decisions. It was up to the feds, Texas, and Dallas to plan for the future, and they blew it.

You seem to be assuming that expensive oil is here to stay. You may be right. You may be wrong. But you didn't answer the question about whether the course of action you are now advocating would have been appropriate in 1979. I doubt that it would have. I doubt that it is now. If we had followed your hedging advice in, say, 1977, if might have paid off in 1979-1982, but it would have been a seriously underperforming investment from 1984-2002. But hey, you're back in the black again, so we appreciate your investment advice.... I'll tell you what: If the spot price for Brent Crude is higher on May 26th, 2013, than it is today (corrected for inflation in US dollars), I will buy you a Coke. You can buy me a bottle of 50-year-old Chivas, because you are clearly putting all your loose change into petroleum futures, right?

You also seem not to understand economic behavior at the margin. The city of Denton will not move (it never could have, federal mandate or no), but its residents are free to choose their own economic arrangements. The folks that feel strapped with gas over $4 a gallon will consider buying more fuel-efficient cars and may consider a rental in Grand Prairie. The folks that can manage the increased cost will consider those options but may opt for the lavish lifestyle of the Dentonite, albeit with one fewer trips to Chili's per month. What you seem to want to do is to force everyone's economic decisions, taxing everyone to suit your imagined ideal central plan, diminishing everyone's wealth because you, Jim Harris, the possessor of the one true ring, know what the future price of petroleum will be.

Best regards
BBB

Mike Borgelt wrote:

I asked about the external costs of extra CO2 and got a link to some bad science fiction from the IPCC.

In case anyone hasn't noticed not only have the models no skill at regional forecasts but they haven't any skill at global forecasts.

The global temperatures over the last 10 years were NOT predicted by the models and now we have predictions that warming will be halted until 2015. Any idiot can make "predictions" after the fact.

All the IPCC blather is predicated on the models being right. They aren't.

So does anyone have any *demonstrated* examples of the external costs of extra CO2?

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Your economic argument is backwards. You talk as if it's easier for a slim man to lose weight than a fatso. Besides, the Kyoto accord had variable reduction targets. The target reduction for the US was not nearly as severe as for some of the European countries that happily signed it.

Whatever the numbers were, projected GDP declines from the Kyoto Treaty for the US were significantly larger (as a fraction of GDP) than it was for European countries.

It's obviously grossly inadequate in the United States. Existing gas taxes do not even cover the government's expenditure on the road system, much less the military cost of protecting the world oil supply, much less any risk mitigation.

Road system isn't a direct oil subsidy. If we switched to electric cars, it'd still be there, for example. I'd rather switch to a toll system than a gas tax for road systems.

I do agree that there's substantial subsidies through the US military. But I don't think it's that significant relative to the current cost of gas. At a glance, we appear to be using somewhere around 150 billion gallons of gas a year. So a dollar a gallon means somewhere around $150 billion a year. Even if we assume the full amount spent on the US military (somewhere around $600 billion including the Iraq and Afghanistan efforts) is a subsidy for trade, oil still is a modest portion of that trade.

DaveP. wrote:

It is my personal wish that anthro-GW supporters follow their own logic and do their utmost to reduce Earth's pollution problem the very best way possible.

Hint, guys: Knives and drugs are carbon-intensive to produce and guns produce toxic gases, but if you jump off a preexisting tall place you'll be perfectly environmentally sound and carbon-neutral.

Jim Harris wrote:

Whatever the numbers were, projected GDP declines from the Kyoto Treaty for the US were significantly larger (as a fraction of GDP) than it was for European countries.

I don't know what projection you have in mind, but the ones that I have seen are all over the map. Some of them are deeply tendentious.

Road system isn't a direct oil subsidy.

It has certainly functioned as an oil subsidy up to now. But sure, gas tax, universal electronic tolls, whatever you prefer. For the most part, we have neither.

Even if we assume the full amount spent on the US military (somewhere around $600 billion including the Iraq and Afghanistan efforts) is a subsidy for trade, oil still is a modest portion of that trade.

What you're missing is that a disproportionate part of our military entanglement goes to protect oil specifically, not trade in general. Al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center to get the US to remove its bases from Saudi Arabia, and those bases were there to protect oil. (They succeeded, by the way.) It would be nice if the Iraq War were paid for with a gasoline tax instead of borrowing the money. It would be a way to end the war.

Anonymous wrote:

Jim Harris wrote: "Dyson wants to be a "heretic", but he clearly isn't one, he's an armchair contrarian." -- I don't know much about the man but that seems a little unfair. I read an interview of him a while back (couldn't find a link) in which he claimed he had studied atmospheric CO2 decades ago, and his Wikipedia entry states (with citation) that he proposed using forestation programs as a means of offsetting CO2 increases in the atmosphere as long ago as 1976, well before the current AGW craze began. (In fact, wasn't it Global Cooling that was making the Chicken Little rounds at that time?) It hardly sounds like he could be accused of engaging in mere contrarianism.


With regard to the Keeling graph, I wonder if anyone has ever lined it up with a graph of total world acreage of forests. Based on Dyson's "only plausible explanation", it would seem obvious that there would be a correlation between atmospheric CO2 levels and the total tonnage of trees in the world. Does anyone know of a study examining the contribution of deforestation to CO2 levels? Or an economic analysis of the feasibility of managing forests rather than fossil fuel consumption to reduce CO2?


In any case I find it hard to get worked up over any of this when the basic science is so deeply flawed. Stephen McIntyre of Climate Audit has posted a written version of a presentation he recently gave at OSU, in which he -- while taking no position on the theory of AGW -- thoroughly discredits the scientific underpinnings of the studies that lead to and later sought to shore-up the famous "Mann" hockey stick graph used in AlGore's movie. It's a little steeped in statistics in places but not hard to grasp if you take your time with the graphs. Overall it's not a difficult read and it exposes some amazingly shoddy practices with regard to statistical methods, data collection and documentation on the part of Mann and his colleagues.
http://www.climateaudit.org/pdf/ohio.pdf

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Anonymous, I can't find the link, but I found a website back in the late 90's that discussed carbon accounting of the time. Deforestation was at the time considered to be almost as big a contributor as industrial society. Maybe 2 parts to 3. Currently, industrial society has grown while many parts of the world have run out of places to deforest. So I think industrial processes have a greater share now.

Jim Harris wrote:

Dyson's Wikipedia entry states (with citation) that he proposed using forestation programs as a means of offsetting CO2 increases in the atmosphere as long ago as 1976, well before the current AGW craze began.

That's about right: he made up his mind about global warming 30 years ago, when he was in his mid 50s. I have every reason to believe that back then he was an enlightened senior scientist. Now, 30 years later, he's pretty set in his ways. There has been a lot of science done between then and now, and as Karl says, the actual environmental

In any case it makes no sense, except as an exercise in confirmation bias, to view Dyson as Nordhaus' interpreter. Nordhaus speaks for himself on his own web site. Nordhaus is fine; in fact he speaks against the doom-and-gloom warnings that we can't afford to mitigate greenhouse emissions.

Stephen McIntyre of Climate Audit has posted a written version of a presentation he recently gave at OSU, in which he -- while taking no position on the theory of AGW

That is a nonsense description of Stephen McIntyre. In his own account, he wandered into climatology from the fossil fuel industry because he doesn't like the political response to AGW. That is what he says on page two of the link that you provided. So of course he's taking a position.

The idea that McIntyre showed that "the basic science is flawed" is likewise a wild exaggeration of what he has accomplished. He offers a mixture of valid points and obfuscation pertaining to a small handful of the papers on global warming. You see the same thing with the creationists in their attack on evolution. They go fishing for mistakes and confusing points. McIntyre is not doing any constructive science himself, he's just sitting on the sidelines with a fishing pole. Among other habits of obfuscation, he veers toward monthly averages when annual averages would be better.

Again, if you skip over the vast range of interesting things said at realclimate.org and jump straight to McIntyre's spaghetti logic, that's a great example of confirmation bias.

notanexpert wrote:

That is a nonsense description of Stephen McIntyre. In his own account, he wandered into climatology from the fossil fuel industry because he doesn't like the political response to AGW. That is what he says on page two of the link that you provided. So of course he's taking a position.

Hmmm. I wasn't trying to describe the man but what he wrote in his presentation. And the page you referenced does not support your statement. A plain reading of it is that what piqued his curiousity was the apparant contradiction between what he thought he knew about climate history with claims he was hearing in the news about the 1990's being a millenial peak of global temperature. The fact that the Canadian government was debating Kyoto is the reason given for why it was in the news, but nowhere does he state, or even imply by my reading, that he was concerned about the politics of it. On page 5 he gives further hints as to his original motivataion, but again, he makes no mention of politics or of any particular opinion about AGW.

The idea that McIntyre showed that "the basic science is flawed" is likewise a wild exaggeration of what he has accomplished. He offers a mixture of valid points and obfuscation pertaining to a small handful of the papers on global warming.

Well, let me start by admitting that I did somewhat exaggerate my point, though not wildly, in the sense that one could infer I was speaking of all of climate science. I was not; what I really meant was the basic science underlying the Mann paper, which is the subject of McIntyre's presentation.

And here, I think you've grossly misrepresented the importance of his work. Mann's papers and those of his colleagues supporting his work may indeed be a "small handful" numerically, but their significance in terms of public opinion and government policy debates is enormous. It was Mann's hockey stick graph that became the icon of AGW through its appearance in Al Gore's movie. The ensuing Oscar and Nobel awards for Gore then greatly raised the public awareness of the AGW claims. I think it can fairly be said that Mann's work was pivotal in creating the consensus for AGW that seems to exist today. Mann himself has testified before the US Senate in support of his hockey stick hypothesis on at least one occasion.

Furthermore, it is untenable to assert that McIntyre's work amounts to nothing but a "few valid points and some obsfuscation." He claims that the dominant data sets used in Mann's paper are weakly correlated with temperature. He claims that those same data sets were poorly sampled in the first place and that no attempts have been made since to repeat the data collection. He claims that the statistical method used by Mann to massage his data into a hockey stick shape was of no significance, that he had been able to use the same methods to coax a hockey stick out of white noise. He claims that the papers subsequently written to support Mann's work did little more than recycle the same flawed data through the same invalid technique.

Now, McIntyre may be wrong. He may be a shill for the oil companies, as you imply. He may even be a complete lunatic -- I have no idea. But if he is right, then the work of Mann et. al. are not just flawed but fatally so, and the famous hockey stick (of Doom) a complete fabrication. And that would certainly have major implications about the entire field of climate science.

PS I neglected to fill in the Name field in my previous post, and hence became "Anonymous."

Jim Harris wrote:

Mann's papers and those of his colleagues supporting his work may indeed be a "small handful" numerically, but their significance in terms of public opinion and government policy debates is enormous.

This is a key misinterpretation of what's going on. McIntyre found some ways in which Mann 1999 was unconvincing --- some of which were acknowledged from the beginning --- but he has very little on the 9+ other studies that also show a hockey stick.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:1000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png

It would be one thing if each of these studies were as debatable as Mann 1999, but they aren't. That's the way that science works. Maybe the first picture was blurry and unconvincing, but new teams invariably move in and take better pictures. Often it becomes clear that they were right the first time.

Not surprisingly McIntyre knows about this Wikipedia page --- he's not stupid. But what he mostly says about it is that the authors of these other studies have closed ranks in favor of global warming and against him. He's just taking potshots. No, it does not have major implications for the entire field of climate science.

If McIntyre thinks that he has special wisdom about global warming, then he should do some fresh research instead of trying to tear down this or that paper. You only get so far by just criticizing everybody else.

He may be a shill for the oil companies, as you imply.

When I said that he wandered in from the fossil fuel industry, I didn't mean that he's necessarily a shill. (Although maybe he is, I don't know.) What I meant is that he thinks of AGW conclusions as an attack on his line of work. Maybe he's sincere rather than paid, but it's still entirely partisan.

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