Carbon Brewing

The Wall Street Journals’ bloggers have shared their pessimism about  rising global GHG emissions.  Here is their piece’s last paragraph;

“But the fact remains that all that lies between us and “a long-term global temperature increase of more than 3.5 Celsuis with dangerous consequences for the global environment and human welfare,” is a hoped-for technological miracle.”

But, for those of you who are cautiously optimistic about our future, there are some things you can point to.  California’s ARB will roll out its Cap & Trade program soon.  I believe in the “green guinea pig” effect. California’s regulatory effort will provide a field experiment that will teach us whether “negative NPV” carbon reduction investments truly exist.  McKinsey’s optimism will have its day in court.

Also, don’t forget about adaptation!   When you see a punch coming at your face, do you duck or do you take it on the chin?  We can (and we will) see the punch coming.  UPDATE: Here are two examples from Texas:  Example #1 and Example #2 on cattle migration.

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

19 thoughts on “Carbon Brewing”

  1. We’ve seen the punch coming for over a decade, but the right wing noise machine is more interested in free market unicorn sex. The, if you look at that decade, there is a direct proportional relationship between increasing evidence proving them wrong and their diminishing moderation. At this point, the best we could hope for is *less* evidence – maybe *that* would make them less insane.

  2. Yeah, I dunno about seeing the punch. There are plenty of people who have a lot to gain from saying there is no fist, not to mention its trajectory.

  3. “When you see a punch coming at your face, do you duck or do you take it on the chin?”

    If I duck a punch, I don’t actually get hurt. Even with clever adaptation global climate change is going to hurt… even more than getting punched in the face actually.

    A better metaphor might be a patient suffering from diabetic necrosis. Yes, the doctor has been telling him to alter his lifestyle for a very long time. Yes, the impact could have been minimized if the patient had sought treatment at the first signs of necrosis. At this point the question is identifying the least worst option. We can continue to take a wait-and-see approach (lalalaaaaa) or lop off some toes and accept that from now on we will be walking with the assistance of a cane. It is better than the alternative but still a very unhappy outcome.

  4. We’ve seen this punch coming since the work of Svante Arrhenius. An economist’s “adaptation”? Heh. I’m reminded of the fight Herman Daly had when he wanted to put a boundary in a diagram, representing the earth and its atmosphere, around a box representing the “economy” and someone at the World Bank wouldn’t allow it because, “That’s not the way to think about it.” Well, yes it is. And as for ducking, you might as well duck the earth as it rises up to smack you in the face when the parachute fails…

  5. “We can (and we will) see the punch coming.”

    Yes, but our broken political economy and vested interests will likely continue to prevent us from acting until it is too late to result in much pain.

  6. The highest-leverage climate change mitigation strategy is contraception.

    Support Planned Parenthood.

  7. From one of Mr. Kahn’s links:

    Interviewer:

    A lot of the campaigns by the environmental movement, if you like, try to appeal to people’s better nature, I guess. They say to them, “Reduce, reuse, recycle. Think about your kids.” But you’re thinking more in terms of appealing more to the basic incentives, more monetary incentives, if you like.

    Professor Kahn:

    I’ve studied both ends of that. In some work with my wife, we had data for a California electric utility on everybody’s electricity bills, and we were able to merge, by street address, political party of registration. All else equal, people registered in the Democrat and Green Party consume less electricity. Liberal environmentalists walk the walk. They do engage in voluntary restraint. But most people need some sort of price to avoid being a polluter…

    Ayn Rand was correct about one thing: Superior people do exist…

    1. Yes, people can value other things besides monetary value. Like feelings of superiority. As to whether they are actually superior or not, opinions differ.

      1. Exactly. These little ‘slips’ in the end explicitly betray Kahn’s implicit intent: a narrative migration, a ‘slippage’ intended to put the power of ultimate determination of action on this issue, like all others, where it really belongs – with the Lords of Finance, and their Randian sycophants. “…most people need some sort of price to avoid being a polluter…”? “Most people”? Really? Thomas Friedman much, Matt? You mean, people like you, and those devoted to promotion of puerile arrested social development?

  8. It’s unnecessary to wait for the results of the Californian cap-and-trade law. The European emissions trading system has been up and running for six years. The Wikipedia page links to professional evaluations, but it’s pretty obvious that the costs of the scheme have been limited, and the differentiated woes of the euro area are 100% explained by finance and 0% by cap-and-trade. Germany and Sweden ( the latter outside the euro but inside cap-and-trade) are doing fine, Ireland and Greece badly.
    Generally speaking, you want to study innovation in advanced countries, not backward ones like (in this area) the USA.

  9. You seem to put a lot of stock (hah!) in examples like the cattle exodus. Do you ever study, or address publicly, what happens in less ideal circumstances? With poorer people constrained by close borders, with more fragile social orders? Or does your (repeatedly professed) faith in human adaptability assure you that nothing can go wrong in, say, the Horn of Africa or Sahel?
    The other possibility, of course, is that you simply don’t give a damn about poor foreigners.

  10. “You seem to put a lot of stock (hah!) in examples like the cattle exodus. ”

    It’s worse than that. Matthew discussed this, without every discussing costs. That’s pretty bad, and for an economist, it’s beyond malpractice.

    1. I may have mentioned this before, but a few years back I was privy to some data on a private project for moving a small forest, some thousands of mature trees. The cost (under much easier circumstances, since it was a short move) was one the order of $10K per tree. Anyone can do the math from there. (And yes, to preserve species and habitat, you’d have to move at least some mature trees, because the rate of change is wrong for attempts to plant new forests at the appropriate altitudes and latitudes and let them grow to maturity in time for all the other species involved to migrate or be transplanted.)

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