Things we won’t hear in the big climate speech tomorrow

By now all but the hopelessly stupid or deliberately ignorant understand the basics of climate change. Increasing the amounts of a few gases in the atmosphere traps heat and make the planet’s equilibrium temperature higher. The big three are methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and mainly carbon dioxide (CO2): humans are pumping these gases out like there’s no tomorrow – more precisely, as though we were all leaving the planet in a few decades.  CO2 is the big one, and it mainly comes from burning coal, oil, natural gas, and forests: if we want the planet to be habitable for the big 2076 parties, that’s what we have to stop doing.

These gases are, in effect, pollutants like the gunk in automobile exhaust that made the air in LA brown until we put a stop to it, or the phosphorus in your dish soap that makes algae grow in lakes and rivers, but they have two tragic and pernicious qualities that our familiar pollutants don’t have. First, because they last a long time in the air, and the atmosphere is well mixed with winds, their effects aren’t felt only in the legal jurisdiction in which they are emitted, but everywhere, by everyone. Second, because the processes are slow and easy to miss in the normal variation of weather, Exxon and Consolidation Coal can pay politicians and TV weather reporters to say it isn’t happening, and doing the right, expensive things about climate will not show results we can see before the next election or the one after that.

The California government, after some back and forth with the feds, had the capacity to control smog in CA from cars in CA, and the citizens of California compared their benefits of clean air to their costs for cleaner cars, found the former larger, and made themselves better off.  People in Singapore are just now enduring smog beyond the worst weeks in the bad old days in Los Angeles; why don’t they fix it?  The Singapore government is not diffident about  authority: what the Singapore leadership want Singaporeans to do, they do.  And they understand economic externalities very well: if you leave a bowl of water on your terrace, in which a mosquito might make a family that transmits dengue from one of your neighbors to another, you will get a very unpleasant taste of government action.  But the air in Singapore is not being befouled by Singaporeans: it is being befouled by Indonesians burning down their forests (yes, lots of global warming underway there too) for palm plantations. Indonesia will not see the benefits of clean air in Singapore and Malaysia if it stops, but it will certainly see the costs of selling less palm oil.

Maybe some bilateral diplomacy will put the fires out; maybe Singapore can take Indonesia to the World Court; maybe Singapore can just pay Indonesia to stop burning the forest.  Unfair as the last option seems, depending on the price it might still be a good deal for them.  But global warming isn’t just a bunch of bilateral externalities across a strait between two neighbors who have each others’ phone numbers, it’s everywhere from everyone, and Prof. Coase would be the first to point out that private deals won’t butter this parsnip.  California has put in place a largish set of policies to help stabilize the climate, and I’m proud we’ve done it.  But the good we do is immediately diluted about 1:200 [about one human in 200 lives in California], and it’s really hard to find policies with a benefit/cost ratio of two hundred to one, which is what they need to make Californians better off by implenting them.  For China and India, it’s easier (but still hard); for my home town, which only has about 1/60,000th of the world’s population, there’s no climate policy that’s net beneficial (unless it has  associated payoffs like less traffic or less traditional pollution), and for my family, fuhgeddaboudid.

Climate change is a multi-actor prisoners’ dilemma: for almost all the jurisdictions in the world, taken one-by-one,  it’s better on a cold self-interest basis to do nothing about climate, whether you think the rest of the world will step up or you think all those other governments will make the same calculation and do nothing. The Easter Islanders didn’t decide in a town meeting to cut down all their palm trees; they decided tree by tree that “there are lots of palm trees left, cutting down this one won’t hurt much” and then “if I don’t cut down this palm tree and use it, someone else will and I’ll be out of luck…they’re going pretty fast.”

Finally, it’s just so unfair.  Burn less coal, and miners with no good economic options in poor areas of West Virginia and Kentucky will be out of work, and these are hardworking people who never wanted to put a bunch of Bangladeshis  (or East Side New Yorkers) under water, they just wanted to make an honest living giving folks warm showers and light at night.  It’s totally unjust that the Chinese and Indians, just climbing out of poverty, should be denied the industrial century the west got rich in.  Unfair.

Climate stabilization advocates, members of my intellectual and political tribe, are often so discouraged by the foregoing, and so desperate about the feckless response to the disaster we are bequeathing our children, that they point to this or that town whose economy was saved by a windmill factory or some such thing: “green business is good business!”  Others are rather desperately clinging to foolishness, like using land we will increasingly need for food and storing carbon in forests to grow motor fuel. I myself desperately want there to be a policy that will fix the climate with no actual heavy lifting by anyone. (And of course the completely cynical or terminally stupid, like John Boehner, will say “let’s not do anything while there’s unemployment and the economy is recovering” today and “let’s not risk our prosperity” when times are better tomorrow.)

If I thought it would work, I might join this chorus and preach that we will all get rich making windmills , but it won’t fly.  The facts, that will make themselves known willy-nilly, are that climate stabilization will be very expensive, independently of the asymmetry of costs and benefits (if we go on as we are the Swiss will have to learn to grow coffee and oranges, but those Bangla Deshis will have to find a whole new place to live in a crowded neighborhood).  We will have to liquidate enormous capital investments in car-dependent suburbs and coal plants, and we will have to learn to live with less stuff of every kind, and we will deny people who never got to drive cars a future they have every right to.  Then we will have to buy enormous amounts of expensive stuff like a smart electric grid and trains.  Habits and aspirations that almost reach the level of identity definition will have to be abandoned, like driving wherever we want alone and parking free when we get there, and living in a big house with rooms we hardly ever sit in.

The only future more expensive and painful than a carbon-free one is the only other one on the table. The honest framing of Obama’s speech tomorrow – which may not be the most useful or effective one – is that of Churchill’s ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ address, and, my fellow Americans, we may do our best and pay a lot of dues and still lose the battle, whether because the old men who run China are more afraid of street riots this year than world economic collapse after they are dead, or because the Koch Brothers and their pals have oil in the ground they haven’t sold yet, or because our broken Congress can’t stop obsessing about abortions and hating Obama. Can you say the words existential threat?  Well, climate change is an existential threat to human civilization, which is pretty serious – but climate stabilization is an existential threat to the wealth and status of very powerful people, and now you’re talking consequential, baby.  Existential threats are toxic to thinking straight.

Damon Runyon was partly right: everything in life is six to five against…but some propositions have much worse odds.  Climate change is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, not only technically (that’s actually the easy part) but also  politically, psychologically, economically, and morally.  It’s unfair in many ways, but mostly because it’s come upon us before we have developed the institutions that would enable us to confront it.


Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

45 thoughts on “Things we won’t hear in the big climate speech tomorrow”

  1. I am sitting waiting for a public hearing to open where the sprawl lobby is likely to win approval to blow $700M or more on an auto sprawl promotion gigantic bridge project here in beautiful downtown Salem, Oregon, where we are cutting libraries, fire service, and have no transit service in evenings and weekends. Oregonians typically indicate being reality-based on climate disruption … But the Chamber of Commerce and the CH2M-Hill lobby care not a whit about climate disruption. They believe, with the hubris of the rich, that they will be able to buy their way to safety. Alas, when they are proved wrong, it will be when they take the rest of us down.

  2. Why are so sure that we can never have clean-enough cars that we can keep sprawling, at least somewhat? Is it the building efficiency argument?? (Ie, stacking people like wood saves energy?)

    ‘Cause I gotta say — if super density is the future, I may be okay with never living to see it. No matter how nice you try to make it — and around here, no one even bothers with that — it’s not what I call life on Earth.

    1. how are you thinking of making the electricity for those clean cars, NCG? And halving all transportation emissions is only one of seven “wedges” needed to stabilize climate. It’s a BFD.

      1. I agree that climate change is a BFD. I have no idea how to save all those emissions. Some combo of natural gas and … who knows. I don’t.

        It just seems to me that a lot of the people out there romanticizing smart growth don’t actually live in multi-family housing. For a reason. And I agree with them. It’s great in your 20s, but most people get tired of it. It’s part of why we don’t all live in Manhattan.

        1. Hi NCG, but I currently live in about as free and low density a place as you can imagine, on about 2/3 an acre, for 16 years now, and the neighbors… No covenants. Lots of income diversity. How much space is required for your happiness? I’ve lived in multifamily housing in a variety a cities, downtown, in my younger years, and the reason I’m not there now, is cost. Cost only. I’d move back to downtown SF, for instance, only the apartment that was quite a refuge for me 20 years ago now goes for 4x (nominal) what I was paying then. I pay about half now, of what I paid then, for 2200sf and a number of cool features. But the neighbors…

          Matthew Yglesias is wrong on a number of things, but his focus on the artificial inflation of housing costs in the central districts of US cities is not one of them.

          1. Sorry for the delay, my schedule got derailed this week.

            I don’t need that much dirt to garden in. Just some. Container gardening just isn’t the same thing. And I wouldn’t want a huge house, I’d just fill it with cr*p. I don’t think I disagree with either you or Value Thinker (except maybe about Yglesias — I haven’t read his book – I think he wrote one — but his Slate stuff seems glib and unpersuasive to me.) I think maybe you two live in places where the smart growth greenwashing hasn’t started yet. You’ll see what I mean, and I doubt you’ll be convinced either. It’s a fad.

            Nor is there necessarily anything horrible about MFH. If it’s well-designed, it can be quite nice. Like say, a 2 or 3 story courtyard apartment. But around here, those don’t get built anymore. I really don’t know anyone not in their 20s who *wants* to live in a highrise. Not that they won’t do it — if they can’t find anything else. But it’s not what they actually want.

        2. NCG

          Look at London. Multi-unit dwellings are still not the norm– probably only c. 50%

 (that’s the implication of p3 of this document). Given the standalone houses would on average have more people (than single flats) more than 50% of the population probably lives in standalone dwellings (terraced, semi, detached).

          So you can have a city of 9 million people whose inhabitants still (to an extent) live in houses. The trick is how you lay those houses out– if you pack 16 to a hectare and have limited road allowances you can still get high population densities– this is exactly what the Victorians did.

          Such densities then justify the economics of public transport.

      1. Ii suppose he just wanted to point out that, far from being “the big one”, CO2 can not cause dangerous warming without assumed massive amplification from H2O, (The most powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.) and that the poorly understood changes of behavior of water in the atmosphere in response to TRIVIAL changes in temperature induced by “the big one” is the whole game. I suppose he wanted to point out that this ISN’T a simple physics problem, where only a failure gets the answer wrong, but a very complex modeling problem in the absence of complete understanding, where the difference between projected “eh, whatever”, and the end of the world, lies in modeling decisions not really driven by basic physics, and coming increasingly into doubt.

        Or maybe he was just making a joke, you never know.

        1. And the complexity should make us *more* cautious about continuing an uncontrolled experiment in atmospheric chemistry, not less cautious.

          Because we don’t know where this thing ends.

          We know the basic physics and if you just model the Earth with 30% black copper surface and 70% blue H20 surface your model tells you pretty precisely where you are going if you add CO2 and other GHGs. The ‘complexities’ raise your risk, not lower it.

          After all we can afford to spend 5% of world GDP being overly aggressive in reducing emissions, what we can’t afford to do is be wrong and turn out that the world is going to heat 10 degrees C, not 2-4. 10 degrees C not even the developed world, alone, could survive. Let alone on a planet with c. 10 billion people and dozens of countries capable of producing nuclear weapons.

          This is like slavery. Or child labour. Or votes for women. Or civil rights for black people. It will come, the switch will flip and it will become morally unacceptable to destroy the planet in the way we are doing.

          Let’s just hope we make that decision sooner, rather than later, because of the geometric way the damage can grow, and before the process gets out of our ability to control (that latter may already have happened, which is why geoengineering is beginning to be a serious topic).

          1. That’s true: We don’t know. We don’t know if the added CO2 is going to turn the world into a sauna, or if it’s the only thing holding off the ice age we were gradually sliding into prior to the industrial revolution. We don’t know if your 5% of world GDP will save us or doom us. We. Don’t. Know.

            And, no, no, no, no, NO, it is NOT just ‘basic physics’, that is utter, damnable BS.

          2. Brett: the Earth goes round the sun, microbes cause disease, and burning carbon cooks the planet. We do know what and we do know how. As the man from Papua New Guinea said to the US delegates at a climate conference in Bali in 2007, “If you won’t help, please get out of the way.”

          3. You realize that you have just identified yourself, to anybody who knows anything at all about this topic, as ignorant? Right, it has nothing to do with detailed response of plant species to CO2, what heights clouds form at, and so forth. Don’t need a super computer running millions of lines of code, you can do it on a scientific calculator. Heck, any high school student can get the numbers right.

            Go ahead, demonstrate this for us. Be sure to show your work!

          4. It is basic atmospheric physics.
            And now with Obama’s edicts it becomes basic economics:

            The administration recently changed the way it estimates the social cost of carbon, which it uses to calculate the costs and benefits of climate rules. Regulators now assume it is worth about $36 per ton to avoid emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, compared with the $22 per ton they used before.

            That is why we won the last election.
            And that is why we must push Hillary to the top of the mountain in 2016.
            Not only because it is the correct path, as “valuethinker” affirms up above in that wonderful litany of the “correct” side of history…
            But because too, watching the right-wing climate deniers pout in comment threads is worth every penny.

          5. There is nothing basic about the atmospheric physics involved in these computer models, which must incorporate numerous things besides the behavior of gasses. The models are chock full of parameters which have to be fitted to data, not one of them is fully derived from the physics.

            If you do an analysis just on the physics of the gasses, you get a trivial amount of warming from the CO2 change. The scary predictions are all dependent on atmospheric H2O amplifying the CO2 based warming, and the models for how that happens are irreducibly complex.

            “It’s just basic physics” is just a throwaway line to be used on people who don’t understand the subject well enough to know they’re being snowed. Maybe the two of you fall into that class?

        2. Brett’s: “CO2 can not cause dangerous warming without assumed massive amplification from H2O, (The most powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.)” is at least consistent with what he’s said in the past. Brett has often argued that: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” The two arguments have the same structure, and suffer from the same logical fallacy.

          1. “Brett’s: “CO2 can not cause dangerous warming without assumed massive amplification from H2O, (The most powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.)” is at least consistent with”

            The blasted science, that’s what it’s consistent with. The simple point, which you apparently don’t like, is that Charles was correct to identify water as both the most abundant, and most important, greenhouse gas. In fact, it is only by influencing water that CO2 matters, and all the argument is not about physics, but modeling assumptions as to the sensitivity of humidity to CO2 changes.

          2. By this kind of reasoning, we shouldn’t have any compunctions about leaving our kids in a car with the windows up on a hot summer day. I doubt that the greenhouse effect added by the car is more than a small percentage of the total greenhouse effect.

            And by the way, SF6, I believe, is the most potent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. If you’re going to chop logic, please use words more carefully.

  3. Winston Churchill is a good analogy: ‘I promise you blood and sweat and tears’ but the alternative is the end of western civilization.

    The right tends to own religion, not the left. But in the history of great moral movements, that’s not always the case.

    There’s another quote, though
    , besides Mr Churchill:

    ‘By the water of the lillies Christ was born from Galilee
    As he died to make us holy let us die to make men free’

    That’s Julia Ward Howe’s original penning in The Atlantic, not ‘fight to make men free’ but ‘die to make men free’, having seen the wounded after Antietam, the bloodiest single day in American history. Die to make men free not fight to make men free. The ‘tea party’ radical Abolitionists had found their battle hymn that would carry them on to victory. Radicals who brooked no judicious compromise, no centrist position, who were inconciliable in the singlemindedness of their demands. We still sing it, forgetting from whence it came.

    Bill McKibben is right. This is a moral fight. As Pacala (Pacala and Socolow 13 Wedges fame) muses in Elizabeth Kohlbert’s ‘Field Notes from a Catastrophe’ it’s a bit like child labour and slavery. At some moment, these became socially unacceptable to the majority of humanity, and there were significant financial and human costs to ending them, including America’s bloodiest war. But ended they were.

    There’s also an element of the suffragettes in this– we await the day when a young bomb making terrorist throws herself in front of the King’s horse at the races, and dies, and well dressed society women unleash their hammers on the glass shop fronts of Regent Street, but that day, too, will come. Public sentiment would turn on those acts– if a woman would die in front of the King’s horse, then this impossible thing would be done- women would have the vote. When seemingly ordinary citizens show themselves willing to die in the cause. And there’s a song for that one, too, the suffragette’s rallying song:

    ‘And did those feet, in ancient times, walk upon England’s mountains green?
    And shall we not then build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land’

    I’ll know we are turning this thing when the preachers get up on Sunday and tell us it is our moral duty to stop it. When the cold and judicious rooms of negotiation are replaced by the words of men and women of faith. And the unreasonable and impossible suddenly becomes necessary and urgent.

    I believe that sometime in the 2020s or 2030s, in the midst of the next heat wave as the North Atlantic circulation cycle reverses, that we will see that kind of thing arise, from the masses a cry of ‘enough’.

    Whether that will be too late (it already may be, according to James Lovelock) remains to be seen. But I believe that moment will come, with all the terror and disruption that such grassroots movements always create.

    Call it the Third Awakening, the Third Great Revival (or the Fourth). But it will come, and it will come from streetcorners and pulpits.

    And it will bring with it its own song.

    1. A third song. Irish independence had seemed impossible for generations. Ireland was as inextricably part of the United Kingdom as Algeria was a department of France. And yet

      And we’re all off to Dublin in the green, in the green
      Where the helmets glisten in the sun
      Where the bayonets flash and the rifles crash
      To the rattle of a Thompson gun

      In 1916 the Easter Rising was a farce. In 1921 Ireland was an independent republic. India was in the Empire forever, but in 1949 the Union Jack came down, forever.

  4. “.. climate stabilization will be very expensive.” Nick Stern has revised his intitial estimate o fits cost up po 2% of world GDP, once (but repeated as you resume growth at the lower level); far less than the cost of the financial crisis. McKinsey have pointed to the large crop of low-hanging fruit – cerbon-reducing investments that are profiatable today, especially in energy efficiency. The total bill is high, but it’s mostly a shift in a large amount of investment that will have to happen one way or another.

    Another point to bear in mind is that the Germans have already paid for lowering the cost of solar PV to world grid parity. In wind, the same story with more fairy godmothers, including the USA and Denmark. From now on, there is very little real economic burden in increasing renewable electricity to 50% or so as in Denmark, just transitional costs in shutting down coal plants early.

    It’s true that just now the second half of the CO2 cuts looks more expensive. But it’s 15 years ahead. There’s every reason to think that with the right incentives and pump-priming the needed technologies will be available in time: EGS geothermal, cheap electric vehicles, grid storage, electrically generated synfuels, smart buildings – and gigaton sequestration. The obstacle lies not in our ingenuity but our institutions and can’t-do attitudes. One of these is fatalism.

    1. James

      Stern definitely underestimated the cost of ‘doing something’- -I remember there was a big debate. 5% of world GDP is a good baseline, and it could be 10% or 20%.


      – as we converge on the solution that cost will drop. Consider the case of condensing boilers in the UK: 90% efficient (SEDBUK ‘A’ rated) vs. 70-80% max for the older generation of boilers. When it was still legal to install the lower efficiency boilers (note to readers: UK houses use an ‘indirect’ system, ie hot water and radiators are run off separate circuits from the same heat producing unit) condensing boilers were at a 40% price premium. Once the A rated boilers became mandatory, the price dropped down to close to the price of the lower efficiency boilers previously offered.

      Or consider the drop in cost of LED lightbulbs over the last 2-3 years: as much as -70-80%. Compact Fluorescents are now almost a curiousity for many fittings, LEDs have gotten so good.

      – we are probably not talking about more money than it cost both sides in the Cold War, for us to win the Cold War. Ie 5-10% of GDP of the major powers from 1950 to 1990 (and steadily falling in that time), and somewhat less than that for their allies. (Soviet Union was spending more like 20% along with Cuba, North Korea etc.). And we will cost fewer lives than lost in Korea, Vietnam, Angola, El Salvador etc.

      Not many people view the 1950s in America (or even in Britain) has a horrible time to grow up and to live.

      As you know from the energy efficiency literature (see the special edition of Journal of Economic Perspectives) the actual *outcomes* on energy efficiency are usually much worse than what engineering ‘bottoms up’ studies like McKinsey would predict. Typical energy efficiency retrofits (or newbuilds) in construction for example miss designed performance by 30-40%.

      And you have the rebound effects.

      It’s the old conundrum. The first -40% say will be relatively easy (close coal fired power stations, juice up efficiency of buildings and cars). The next -50% (from baseline) will be a lot harder. Actually reducing the CO2 level back to say 350ppm will require technology we don’t have yet.

      But it’s interesting to watch. 2000 the world has c. 1 GW of solar photovoltaic, 2012 has over 100 GW. Wind the numbers are something like (?) 30 GW to 300 GW in the same time frame. Of energy produced the numbers are less impressive– barely registering on the dial. But all that capacity isn’t going anywhere– it will last 25+ years for the solar, and at least 20 for the wind. Watching a technological revolution in real time.

      A deep attempt to quantify costs is probably pointless, as you imply. The economy in 2030 or 2050 will look so different than we can imagine that what we have to do is set a goal on carbon emissions, and let the economy and society adapt to that (the hard one will be air transport).

      The British government undertook detailed cost forecasts before WW2. When push came to shove, I remember the British Ambassador in Washington cabled Churchill ‘we are out of money, what do we do?’ and Churchill replied ‘keep spending’. He could not foresee the exact nature of Lend Lease, but he knew Roosevelt would find a way to conjure it up.

      Just as they could not anticipate the Manhattan Project (1% of US GDP for 2 years?), the jet fighter, or even the P51 and the B24 and B29, let alone the T34 and Sherman or all the other great innovations introduced during WW2, (the German SG44, the prototype of the AK47 at least by repute, comes to mind– the weapon which would end colonialism), so we cannot anticipate what our science and technology will come up with– once we close with the enemy.

      1. You say Stern underestimates the cost of mitigation, but all your examples support a lowball estimate!
        BTW, I don’t think extrapolating standard experience curves (>50 years in the case of nuclear (up) and solar PV (down)) counts as making a bet in conditions of radical, Pascalian uncertainty. Cheap renewables are a very good percentage bet, and many prudent capitalists like Warren Buffett are making it now. The energy transition is an order of magnitude easier than victory in WWII and the Cold War.

        1. James

          On the total cost, I think there is something in what Vaclav Smil notes: changes in energy use proceed *very* slowly.

          I agree with you re learning curves. BUT the scale of what we are trying to do with the economic is titanic (and you are always fighting the very strong headwind of rebound effects). And we have to do it with the 6-9 billion people (some not yet born) who are currently ‘not first world’ as well– they too will want electric lights, air conditioning, private motor vehicles etc.

          I suspect then, and I remember a debate about Stern’s methodology (which I’d have to go back and check– it rather got obscured by the debate about his 1% discount rate), that 2% is a lowball, and 5% is probably low too. But in a sense it doesn’t matter because in effect we are engaging in Fogel type counterfactuals ‘what if the USA had canals and not railways?’ In doing this we will transform the whole nature of the economy, the ‘cost’ will be irrelevant in that.

          I doubt it will be an order of magnitude cheaper than the Cold War nor WW2. With luck, it won’t have the destruction of WW2 (I fear it will, or worse). But if we thought defeating communism was worth, say 5% of GDP 1950-1980, then surely defeating global warming is worthy of at least that effort?

  5. Bret Bellmore claims he doesn’t know the answers. For once I agree with him. He doesn’t know and continues to pontificate from the hole into which he has stuck his head.

    1. Along these lines, there is something morally and intellectually repugnant about those that will use the Cheney doctrine when it serves them:

      If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.

      And then use the complete opposite argument (cowering behind uncertainty) when it doesn’t.

      1. It’s the Pascal’s Wager thing again. If we do nothing and the uncertainties come out against us, we will have lost civilized life on the planet. But if we do something and the uncertainties would have come out for us, we will have lost a lot of rich people’s easy money.

        1. OTOH, if we do the wrong thing, and get the ice age all that CO2 may have been delaying, that’s a pretty bad worst case scenario, too.

          But that’s the thing about the ‘precautionary principle’; Those who use it typically stack the deck by picking what you’re taking precautions against in advance of applying it.

          1. There’s some speculation that Columbus’ arrival in the Americas triggered the little ice age.

    2. “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” Stephan Hawking.

      1. The argument from authority, eh? Not unsound, if your authorities are qualified scientists. You might then care to think about Hawking’s actual opinions on climate change. He said in 2007:

        We foresee great peril if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change.

        He said it again last year.

  6. “But the air in Singapore is not being befouled by Singaporeans: it is being befouled by Indonesians burning down their forests (yes, lots of global warming underway there too) for palm plantations.”

    Just another externality of a government mandated renewal energy production.

    1. CharlesWT

      Although the risk from biodiesel is quite real, the vast majority of palm oil is still used to make consumer products: soaps, makeup, edible foods etc.

      Palm oil is an industrial scale food and household product additive. That was true before any biodiesel standards were mooted.

      1. The Malaysian government has required that diesel used in some regions of the country be at least 5% biodiesel. Plans are to make a 10% requirement countrywide. Look for more rainforest to go up in smoke.

      1. And: Thank God, at last he’s off the fence! He can’t walk back from “Invest, divest”: it’s a declaration of war on the Kochs and their toxic ilk.

  7. The problem is the ‘we’ – if California does something which will be of benefit to the world and only slightly of benefit to California, this will not shame China into action. China will act when it is convinced that it is in its own interest – and even there, Beijing ministries may believe in the value, and local satraps may thumb their noses at them. My guess is, everything which is cheaper than solar to burn, will be burned. Only hope of change is to make solar cheaper. Or nuclear.

  8. What stupendous self absorbed arrogance to say that only the hopelessly stupid or deliberately ignorant don’t know the basics of climate change. That so arrogantly ignores the real world. Most people are not engaged with much beyond their own lives. Your Angry Young Man snottiness undermines your credibility

    1. [O]n the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased…

      The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change

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