The Problem of Denial

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Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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25 Responses

  1. I like how there’s not a single mention of how the damage from climate change would be distributed in terms of burdens. Sure, a 3% reduction in global GDP seems like small potatoes but we also have to remember that something in the order of 90% of global GDP is concentrated in a small number of countries. A 3% reduction in global GDP may be “economically insignificant”, but when we regard 3 trillion dollars for the global south, then this becomes a significantly greater amount of resources.

    And who will be paying the price? Probably not the high-tech, developed nations that have the lion’s share of world GDP.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Here is a couple of questions that, until you can answer them well, will result in not a whole lot of change.

      “Why should I care about your kids more than I care about my kids?”
      and the followup:
      “Why should I care about the kids half a world away more than I care about my kids?”

      Until you have a satisfactory answer to those questions, the discussion will probably remain gridlocked.Report

  2. Avatar Francis says:

    Four key points that JM continues not to address:

    1. The consensus impact of climate change has, to date, been consistently too conservative. The most notable examples are the loss of ice volume in the Artic ice cap and the melt rate of Greenland and certain Antarctic glaciers. It may be several years yet before the global climate models accurately reflect the synergystic impacts and feedbacks of climate change.

    2. GCMs are, at least, based on actual physics, but GCMs regularly get insulted around the internet for their lack of credibility. I have yet to see the level of analysis that GCMs receive applied to global economic models. Just how sure are we of the accuracy of those models?

    3. As Nob pointed out, the first countries to feel major impacts of global warming are among the globe’s poorest. Bangladesh, Viet Nam and various Pacific island nations likely will be the first to bear the brunt of seawater intrusion in aquifers, rising sea levels, and changes in weather patterns. Do the economic models accurately reflect the cost of displacing millions of people? What about the risk of war? More bluntly, is it a moral thing to do for industrialized and industrializing countries to destroy their homes and livelihood?

    4. 2100 is an arbitrary stopping point. Last I checked, the grandchildren of people alive today are planning on living in that century, so it’s not like we can’t identify with these people. When, precisely, is the human species planning on getting a handle on CO2 and equivalent emissions? Continuing to burn coal now makes that job ever more difficult.

    There’s no real doubt that we have to stop adding net carbon to the atmosphere really soon, or we will bake into the oceans truly catastrophic increased heating. We may have 80 years, we may have zero years. Asserting that we can defer the problem to our descendants because they will have the wealth to solve the problem seems, to me, to be both arrogant and insulting. What if we’re wrong? And why should they have to clean up our pollution?Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Francis says:

      Nob, Francis –

      I’m short on time so I can’t do justice to your excellent responses, but if you get a chance, Manzi has written about this stuff pretty extensively at The American Scene and at Cato Unbound. I believe he’s also done a few recent Bloggingheads episodes on climate change. Here’s a good starting point:

      http://www.cato-unbound.org/2008/08/11/jim-manzi/keeping-our-cool-what-to-do-about-global-warming/Report

    • Avatar Zach in reply to Francis says:

      Building on those points, the carbon-based energy supply is finite. We are going to burn through it at some point; within the next few centuries following the business as usual trajectory. Almost certainly between now and then, the cost of carbon-free energy (likely solar and nuclear) will fall below the increasing cost of extraction. We are going to switch away from oil, coal, and natural gas eventually – the question is whether we do it now or in a hundred years or so.

      I’ve also never seen the benefit of keeping cheap energy in reserve included in these analyses. In the event of war, natural disaster, alien invasion, etc, it will be nice to be able to burn cheap coal to produce lots of power quickly.

      On the 2100 point, it’s worth keeping in mind that atmospheric CO2 increases are irreversible on about a 1000-year timescale. We could scrub the air, but that would cost a lot more than not emitting the stuff in the first place.

      I do think Friedman’s wrong on this, though. Not that that’s unexpected. If implemented, cap-and-trade will largely result in decreased consumption… not some amazing deal for the American green industry. We already have the technology needed to meet the goals of cap-and-trade, and companies who’ve already taken a stake will profit.Report

  3. Avatar Jim Manzi says:

    Francis:

    Thanks for the comments. Quick responses keyed to your numbers:

    1. This is often claimed, but hard to believe when the most fundamnetal measure, actual global tempoerature increase, is running well below predicted trend. Now, I believe there is excellent evidence that this is noise around trend, but what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander – you can’t claim that when indicators run below trend that’s “noise” that doesn’t change our causal conclusions, but when other indicators run above trend, that is clear evidence that we need to change our causal models.

    2. Not sure at all, in my view. However, if you argue that we can’t translate temperature change into dmaage estimates with any reliability at all, then I think you have a hard time arguing that we should care a lot about X degrees of temperature change. I go into this at length here: http://theamericanscene.com/2009/07/07/models-models-everywhere-and-no-one-stops-to-think

    3. I go into this at length here: http://theamericanscene.com/2009/06/30/money-is-not-the-measure-of-all-things

    4. I didn’t choose 2100, the IPCC did as the most distant projection they believe can created rationally.

    You say that:

    “There’s no real doubt that we have to stop adding net carbon to the atmosphere really soon, or we will bake into the oceans truly catastrophic increased heating. We may have 80 years, we may have zero years.”

    Please provide evidence. I’ve directly cited the formal governing IPCC Assessment to support my contrary assertion that we should expect enough warming over the next zero to 80 years to generate damages worth less than 3 percent of GDP. What is your source for your statement?Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Jim Manzi says:

      Jim, thanks for the response.

      A quick question: What’s the definition of “developing country” according to Goklany? Whether or not you include China and India into the equation would significantly change how the expected median income would be under the estimates. From what I recall most of the current predictions/economic models classify these two states as developing.

      Do we have models where we include and exclude China and India as factors in developing country GDP impacts?Report

    • Avatar thingsbreak in reply to Jim Manzi says:

      I’ve directly cited the formal governing IPCC Assessment to support my contrary assertion that we should expect enough warming over the next zero to 80 years to generate damages worth less than 3 percent of GDP.

      I’m trying to track this down. It looks like it ultimately goes to WGIII 20.6. Is this correct?

      If so, I’m curious as to why you claim your number (<3%) is an accurate description for the cost of "warming over the next zero to 80 years". In the SPM, it looks like that only applies to warming of up to 4°C, and I'm not aware of finding in the AR4 that says unchecked emissions growth will be limited to a maximum of 4°C. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the cost to global GDP by even your preferred economists (e.g. Nordhaus) rises non-linearly with the amount of warming. For example, at 6°C (below the "likely" upper end of AR4 projections for end of century warming), the cost jumps to ~8-11% of global GDP according to the same Nordhaus model, doesn't it?

      According to recent analyses, for 2.5% of GDP, we can stabilize at 350ppm. Seems like a n0-brainer to me, even granting your not entirely convincing (to me) premises.

      Thanks,
      TBReport

      • Avatar Jim Manzi in reply to thingsbreak says:

        Sure.

        Forecast of expected warming of 2.8C by 2100 under Scenario A1B (typically used as a reference case): IPCC 4AR WG1 SPM Table SPM.3. (As a note, no marker scenario projects warming beyond 4C by 2100.)

        Forecast of economic damages from 4C warming of 1% – 5% of GDP: IPCC 4AR WG2 SPM page 17.

        All economic projections consistent with such a reference scenario call for increases in per capita income over this period.Report

        • Avatar thingsbreak in reply to Jim Manzi says:

          Sure.

          As in you agree that it’s a no-brainer to mitigate at a lesser cost than your <3% figure? Glad we can agree!

          no marker scenario projects warming beyond 4C by 2100.

          The “likely” range for warming in the A1FI scenario is 2.4-6.4°C.

          Global surface temperature has not increased in a decade (once again, this is in the context of a 150 rise). That’s what I mean about below trend.

          I’m curious as to what analysis has lead you to make this claim. In terms of a simple linear regression of the past 10 years of temperature data, this is false by every temperature record, satellite or instrumental. In terms of the rankings of decades, the 00s are the hottest on record, followed by the 90s, followed by the 80s. You’ve also been made aware more than once that claims about “a decade” of temperature are insufficiently short to be meaningful in the first place, so I’m curious as to why you keep bringing it up. You’ve made great pains to disassociate yourself from the denialists, so why traffic in their false, unscientific memes?Report

          • Insufficiently long, obviously.Report

          • Avatar Jim Manzi in reply to thingsbreak says:

            Sure, if the exepcted present value of the costs is less than the avoided dmaages, we shold do it.

            I was typing in combox, so didn’t reiterate what I have many times, which is that the EXPECTED warming does not exceed 4C in any market scenario. Note that there are six market scenarios that are considered equally plausible, and the most extreme has in the upper reaches of its distribution potential warming greater than 4C.

            I think the conclusion that “AGW has stopped” is unscientific. I think the statement that temperatures have not had an avergae increase over the past tren years is not, and is in fact a straight read of the data. There is noise around trend, and there is no compelling evidence that this is not all we are seeing right now.Report

            • Avatar thingsbreak in reply to Jim Manzi says:

              Note that there are six market scenarios that are considered equally plausible, and the most extreme has in the upper reaches of its distribution potential warming greater than 4C.

              There’s only one scenario which actually reasonably tracks what’s happening in the real world, and that’s A1FI. And the real world growth of emissions has equaled or actually exceeded that “most extreme” scenario (Raupach et al. 2007). More recent work than the AR4 using basically the same economic methodology (e.g. Annan and Hargreaves 2009) finds that the most realistic values for a doubling of CO2 are ~4°C and 4.5% GDP loss (using Nordhaus’s DICE 2008 model). Needless to say, absent mitigation we’re on track to do a lot more than double CO2. They likewise find that DICE shows a loss of more than 10% global GDP for a warming of 6°C.Report

            • Avatar thingsbreak in reply to Jim Manzi says:

              I think the conclusion that “AGW has stopped” is unscientific. I think the statement that temperatures have not had an avergae increase over the past tren years is not, and is in fact a straight read of the data. There is noise around trend, and there is no compelling evidence that this is not all we are seeing right now.

              That’s not what you originally said. Your original claim was “Global surface temperature has not increased in a decade”. In fact the uncertainty is greater than the trend meaning that at worst you can say that the warming trend is not statistically significant for the last ten years, which is not the same thing. Either way, it’s been pointed out to you over and over that this is a climatologically meaningless window through which to look at surface temperature. It’s a denialist meme that has zero merit in any serious climatological discussion. Yet you continue to bring it up- why?Report

    • Avatar Francis in reply to Jim Manzi says:

      JM: I don’t have time today for a detailed response. Here are some quick thoughts:

      1. When you write that temp is “below trend”, what’s your start date? Using 1998 is cherry-picking. Also, you’re mixing apples and oranges — my point is that irrespective of the short-term trend, the impact of climate change has been greater than expected in the earlier models. Temp changes /= melt rates.

      2. I read that article in detail. I reiterate that the work done on GCMs appears to me to far outweigh the work on GEMs. I also understand, from reviewing what California is doing about AGW, that regional climate modelling is still in its infancy. This ties into point 1: our own climate is showing us that it is more sensitive than was earlier expected. We should be becoming more cautious, not less.

      3. As recent work has established, inundation of low-lying areas is only one element of the expected impact of climate change. Other important ones include changes in rainfall patterns, loss of glacier-supported river flows and saltwater intrusion into low-lying aquifers. You also still fail to address the moral issue of whether it is “just” for our generation to dump our problems onto the future.

      4. That’s a BS response. Atmospheric carbon isn’t going to start falling in 2100 just because we’ve stopped modelling out that far. How long will it take the planet to move to a zero-carbon emission economy, starting today? 30 years minimum? 50? As China, India and Africa electrify, humans are building an ever-larger carbon-emission-based infrastructure. Every year we delay starting makes matters that much worse.

      5. My evidence? The Long Thaw, and Six Degrees: Our Future on a Warmer Planet.

      in summary, you are arguing that the future wealth of the planet is so sure that we can continue to dump a known pollutant into the atmosphere. I argue (a) that’s morally wrong, (b) that’s extremely risky, and (c) starting the process of capturing the externality will at least show us how expensive decarbonizing the economy will be.Report

      • Avatar Jim Manzi in reply to Francis says:

        Quick replies:

        1. Global surface temperature has not increased in a decade (once again, this is in the context of a 150 rise). That’s what I mean about below trend. The central scaling parameter, that I’m aware of, for these effects is cliamte sensitivity (roughly, how much temp should increase per doubling of CO2 concentration). It was estimated as 3C +/- 1.5C in the Charney Report of 1979, and has remained unchanged through 20 years of IPCC AR1, AR2, AR3 and AR4. If you mean that we have consistently underestimated the damage caused per unit temperature increase, that would be very interesting to see supported with evidence, as it is exceedingly difficult to do causal attribution for anything that has happended yet.

        3. How is it “dumpting a probelm” on future generations to refuse to take actions now that would make them worse off? If my analysis is correct, this is exactly what would happen. So really, the question depends on the predicate of the cost-benefit analysis.

        4. You’re refusing to see the other side of the coin. Avoiding economic growth today will also make people in the future worse off. One has to consider the net effects on welfare of emissions mitigation, not just the gross effect on reducing AGW damages.

        5. You’re kidding, right? I’m citing peer-reviewed research as vetted through the most serious global effort to do this, and you’re citing partisan, popular books. Why don’t I start citing Heritage Foundation reports?Report

  4. Avatar Alex Knapp says:

    Manzi doesn’t consider other burdens of increased CO2, such as ocean acidification (http://www.hereticalideas.com/2008/07/ocean-acidification-another-carbon-challenge/), diminished crop nutrition in staple crops, toxicity to other staple crops, and the physiological effects on humans of increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere (http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/jun252006/1607.pdf).

    Of course, nobody else looks at the sum total of effects, either. So it’s not like Manzi is making an egregious error, but the problems with CO2 emissions go well beyond climate change. CO2 ITSELF is a problem.Report

  5. Avatar conradg says:

    Denial is only a problem if what is being denied is true. If it isn’t true, or is greatly exaggerated, denial is a virtue. And associating denial with political troglodytes such as Inhofe and Santorum is a way of denying the reality that many deniers are not of that political orientation, but come from all sides of the spectrum. That right-wingers have tended to latch onto one side of the issue, and leftists to the other, is due to the nature of the solutions being offered, and not because one side or the other has a greater interest in the underlying truth. The fact is, even broken clocks are right twice a day, and even Inhofe and Santorum are occasionally right on something, if only by random chance.

    I’m in the odd position of being a liberal progressive who believes strongly in all kinds of environmental causes (Whale Wars is a TV favorite of mine), but I simply don’t believe in the catastrophic climate change arguments. I’ve looked into the science about as far as I can as a layman, and I am deeply unimpressed with the catastrophic arguments. As far as I can see, the denialists actually have stronger arguments. Others disagree, of course, but it’s not as if there’s only one side of this argument that is based on rationale science.

    As Manzi points out, even the “scientific consensus” as it currently exists does not support catastrophism or the major economic changes that are being suggested we need to make to avoid it. The catastrophists twist the evidence to create scary projctions that fuel rhetoric designed to short circuit rational thought and create a rush to judgment. As someone who opposed the Iraq invasion because I didn’t believe the scary tactics and projections used to justify that war, this is a kind of deja vu experience, made even worse because it comes from people on my side of the political spectrum. I’m a huge Obama supporter and a near-socialist on a number of issues from health care to financial reform, but it actually matters to me to be right about the underlying issues. I have no desire to see some kind of global economic restructuring occur on the basis of a falsehood.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think the climate change science is a hoax. It’s just wrong, and will be demonstrated to be wrong more and more over time. The scientists who have originated these theories and tried to support them with evidence are simply human, which means they can make mistakes, and as is human, compound those mistakes by trying to make them seem to be facts. This sort of things happens far more often that one would think in science, it’s just that the stakes have never been quite this high. Those who claim that “the science is settled” are in as grave danger of being discredited by future events as those neocons who claimed the evidence for WMDs in Iraq was a “slam dunk”.Report

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