The 2 degree threshold

I’ve never really written about the 2 degree threshold before, largely because I don’t really have particularly strong views about it. Scientifically, it’s a little odd to try and characterise what is clearly a very complex system with a single number. A single number can’t really tell us much about other fatcors (like ocean acidification) that are also relevant. My personal, clearly naive, ideal is that we should be able to discuss the complexities of something like climate change in more detail and shouldn’t need to focus on a single number.

On the other hand, I can see that from a policy perspective it’s beneficial to have some kind of target, so that we can then focus our policy goals on achieving that target. Even that has its drawbacks though. Some argue that the 2 degree threshold isn’t really a dividing line between safe and dangerous. This is probably true, but – in my opinion – rather irrelevant. I suspect most would agree that there is some level of warming that would probably be catastrophic. I don’t know precisely what it would be, but somewhere between 4 and 5 degrees is probably a reasonable estimate. Given that we don’t want to get close to this, a target of staying below (or close to) 2 degrees seems reasonable.

There are others who argue that even 2 degrees is too high and that we should be doing all we can to keep the warming at an absolute minimum. I have quite a lot of sympathy with this view. The problem I have, though, is that the evidence suggests that there’s little we can do now to avoid reaching 2 degrees. It’s possible that we can still do so, but quite likely that we’ll not achieve this. Arguing that we should be staying well below 2 degrees when the best we can do is – maybe – to not miss it by too much, seems a little counter-productive.

At the end of the day, I don’t have particularly strong views. I certainly see climate change as presenting risks that we should be doing our utmost to avoid. Done properly this would achieve the goal of preventing the temperature rise from reaching levels where it becomes more likely that climate change has extreme consequences. Of course, I realise that realistic policy probably requires some kind of target and so I have no issue with the 2 degree limit, I just don’t have any particularly strong reason to defend it or attack it. One reason I thought I would write this was as a prompt to get others to express their views through the comments. As usual, I might learn something.

For other views, there are a couple of interesting RealClimate posts. In the latter post, I tried to engage in a discussion with Roger Pielke Sr about determining the radiative imbalance using ocean heat content data (he hasn’t responded yet). Unless I misunderstand him, he appears to not understand the difference between an average rate of change and an instantaneous rate of change.

I thought I’d end this post with a video of Marc Hudson interviewing Kevin Anderson. Kevin Anderson makes, in my view, a number of very valid points.

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198 Responses to The 2 degree threshold

  1. “The impacts of 2°C are more serious than previously thought, and consequently the 2°C guard-rail lies in far more dangerous territory. If the logic of defining 2°C impacts as dangerous is to hold, the more recent impact analysis suggests 2°C represents the threshold between dangerous and extremely dangerous, rather than between acceptable and dangerous climate change”
    Prof. Kevin Anderson –Fmr. Director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research
    http://www.whatnext.org/resources/Publications/Volume-III/Single-articles/wnv3_andersson_144.pdf

    “So two degrees is not a good compromise! It is the dividing line between dangerous and catastrophic climate change”
    Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber – Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
    http://universitypost.dk/article/two-degrees-warmer-may-be-past-tipping-point

    “The stated goal of the UNFCCC – avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate – is in fact unattainable, because today we are already experiencing dangerous anthropogenic interference. The real question now is whether we can still avoid catastrophic anthropogenic interference in climate.”
    Prof. John Holdren, Fmr. Director The Woods Hole Research Centre, Fmr. President, American Association for the Advancement of Science and now Chief. Scientific Adviser to the U.S.
    http://www.climateemergencyinstitute.com/uploads/holdren_challenge_full.pdf

  2. I see the ‘2 degree limit’ as rather like a speed limit on a road – both are set by policymakers on the basis of a number of considerations.

    On the roads, the main issues are safety, fuel economy and journey time. Regarding safety, driving at 5mph under the speed limit does not automatically make the journey ‘safe’, and exceeding the limit by 5mph does not automatically make it ‘dangerous’. Clearly, all other rings being equal, the faster one travels the greater the danger from an accident – but you also want to go fast enough to get to your destination in a reasonable time. The level of danger at any particular speed depends on many factors, such as the nature of the particular road, the condition of the car and the skill of the driver. It would be too complicated and unworkable to set individual speed limits for individual circumstances taking into account all these factors, so clear and simple general speed limits are set using judgement and experience to try to get an overall balance between advantages and disadvantages of higher speeds for the community of road users as a whole. Basically, a simple limit is practical and workable.

    I see the climate policy focus on global mean temperature (eg. 2 degrees C) as playing a similar role – a simple indicator for policy purposes, and as basis for discussing pros and cons of different policy choices, but not to be taken too literally as a real threshold. Despite what we sometimes hear, there is no clear, scientifically-based threshold for ‘dangerous anthropogenic climate change’. Clearly the stronger our influence on climate, the greater the risk of exposing ourselves to conditions we are not used to and hence unprepared for (eg. heavier rainfall, higher storm surges, longer or more intense heat waves). Staying below (say) 2 degrees does not mean these things won’t happen, and exceeding (say) 2 degrees does not mean they’ll suddenly happen all the time. Specific regional climate changes are not strongly linked to any particular level of global warming – there are many factors which affect the relationship between global mean temperature and regional climate and weather. Moreover, the level of ‘danger’ from such things also depends on how resilient society is – whether adequate flood provision exists, for example. There’s so many complex factors that it’s impossible to truly say what the ‘dangerous’ level of global warming is. However, a simplistic indicator based on global mean temperature does at least give some focus for discussion.

    [I originally posted this on twitter via Twitlonger last night, but thought I may as well put it here as well to see what people here think]

  3. Regarding targets, the reason many policymakers were/are keen to adopt various numerical targets (450 ppm, 2 degrees, 80% reduction etc) is that they slot perfectly into the managerial, target-driven form of governance popular in the West since the 1990s. Sustainable development is far less amenable to such numerical targets; a not insignificant reason for it being usurped by climate change in the environmental policy space. Classic paper on the subject here: http://79.125.112.176/sspp/departments/geography/people/academic/demeritt/globalenchangepaper.pdf

  4. tg,
    Thanks. That related to the arguments made by those who object to the 2 degree threshold being too high. I broadly agree, I’m just not sure what we can do to avoid it other than hope that climate sensitivity is low.

    Richard,
    Thanks, I almost commented on that in the post. I had a few thoughts, but need to do the school run so have to dash. I’ll try and comment later.

  5. verytallguy says:

    the clear answer from climate science is: “The more the better, the sooner the better, and whatever we actually do is apt to be less than what is really needed, though worth doing nonetheless.”

    Two degrees is not some magical limit; a rise of <2C would be a relief, but even if we can't do that, any reduction at all is better than nothing, as damages not only rise but rise rapidly beyond 2C,

    h/t willard

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/10/the_wall_street_journal_and_steve_koonin_the_new_face_of_climate_change.single.html

  6. Richard: clearly there is a trade-off. Two degrees is highly symbolic and fairly easy to understand, but very blunt. I have on my desk, DEFRA’s “sustainable development indicators in your pocket 2009”, which is very fine-grained, but spread over 150pp. This may help explain why SD has become climate change’s poor relation in recent years (see above comment).

    Regarding the substance of the 2 degrees limit/guardrail etc, the key point is that an indicator should be controllable and only measure what is the responsibility of the manager (Jackson, 1988). When thought about in this way, it is not entirely surprising that some people liken climate politics to world government (albeit a rather ineffectual one). Even if we assume we have some control over emissions, the exact relation between the emissions and the temperature is too uncertain – or at least ‘lumpy’ – to be of much use to policymakers.

    Of course, a ‘retreat’ from 2 degrees will be seen by some to be a powerful policy symbol in its own right, and may have some material consequences. However, I would hope that there could be a better way of doing policy then what we have at the moment. As the saying goes, I wouldn’t start from here…

  7. andrew adams says:

    To repeat what I said in the previous thread –

    I think of the 2C target a bit like eating your “5 a day”. There’s no scientific basis for that particular threshold, and to be really healthy we probably need to eat more than that, but in general eating more fruit and vegetables is beneficial and having that target does focus some people’s minds and encourage them to eat more healthily. And, importantly, for most people it is achievable.

    But Richard’s point about speed limits is fine as well.

  8. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    There are two problems with the 2 degree target.

    First, it reflects the preferences of a handful of middle-aged, white, rich Germans.

    Second, it can’t be met — unless you’re in the Nic Lewis / Dick Lindzen territory of climate sensitivity. Setting a target that can’t be met will eventually lead to a backlash.

  9. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    German males, of course.

  10. jsam says:

    A higher limit might suit a handful of middle-aged, white, rich Texans.

    2C could be met. It’s a choice. But, if we decide not to try than we have tacitly accepted that adaptation must be less arduous than mitigation. The data does not appear to support that decision.

  11. Rachel M says:

    Richard,

    Second, it can’t be met ….

    Isn’t this partly your job? To find a way to meet this target?

  12. Richard,

    Second, it can’t be met — unless you’re in the Nic Lewis / Dick Lindzen territory of climate sensitivity. Setting a target that can’t be met will eventually lead to a backlash.

    I broadly agree that it probably can’t be met, which may have consequences. Of course, from what I’ve seen, one of the reasons that it is unlikely to be met is because of the actions of people like yourself and because of the activities of organisations like the Global Warming Policy Foundation. You must be very proud!

  13. Rachel,
    You might think that. I get the impression that Richard thinks his job is essentially to find ways to ensure that it isn’t met.

  14. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    Wotts/Rachel
    Nothing to do with me.

    The latest IPCC report shows what needs to be done to meet the 2K target. If you think that can be done …

    In my model, the task is as follows. Expand the EU ETS from half of Europe to the whole world; raise the price 10 fold; between now and 2015. Good luck with that.

    In some other models, you would need to raise the price of carbon such that more than 100% of income is paid in taxes.

    In some models, we’d need to build 4,000 new nuclear power plants before 2030. (There are 400 at the moment.) We’d also need nuclear power plants in such countries as the Central African Republic.

    In all models, we need negative carbon energy on a massive scale, combining three immature technologies (biomass electricity, carbon capture and storage, electrified transport), two of which are unlikely to be socially acceptable.

    Oh, and we need to convince China and India not just to stop building coal-fired power plants, but to abandon the ones they recently build.

  15. jsam says:

    Oddly enough, lots of people don’t agree with Richard. I wonder why?

  16. WebHubTelescope says:

    Roy “Felton” Spencer has written another completely misguided blog post

    http://www.drroyspencer.com/2014/10/our-initial-comments-on-the-abraham-et-al-critique-of-the-spencer-braswell-1d-model/

    Get a load of this quote to end his piece:

    “It will take time to address such issues, and we are now under a new DOE contract to do climate model validation. “

    How can these denialists keep on shooting air-balls while bureaucrats maintain the funding stream?

  17. Tom Curtis says:

    Richard Tol, everything to do with you. You are known by the company you keep, and the company you keep campaigns relentlessly, using disinformation to do so, to prevent any effective policy on climate change.

  18. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    jsam: this is not a popularity contest. please have a read of the WG3 report and see whether the deep mitigation scenarios strike you as plausible

  19. I’m sure the 2C threshold seemed very achievable when it was first mooted and, as other’s have noted, it’s been largely as a result of RSJT & Friends that it now seems so much less so. There’s also the point that whatever threshold is now suggested, if we carry on as we are, at some point that will no longer be achievable either. So it’s 2C.

    By the time we pass 2C, although I’ll be probably pushing up daisies, it will surely be very clear to everyone else that climate change is real, human-made and potentially catastrophic. So there will be none of the backlash that RSJ Tol warns of. So I’m guessing it will still be a target, though by then one we’ll be desperately trying to get below.

  20. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    Tom C: Don’t pretend you know who I have lunch with or talk to on the phone.

  21. Tom Curtis says:

    If understand this correctly, it is:
    1) Absurd to suppose global temperatures might reach the 2 C target within 22 years under TCP 8.5; but that

    2) Far to late to prevent it reaching that target, so we may as well not even try.

    It seems to me the global warming inactionists are simply pushing contradictory lines of reasoning, and hoping nobody notices their shell game.

  22. jsam says:

    I’d have thought the Stern report worth consideration.

  23. Tom Curtis says:

    Richard Tol, you are an academic advisor to the GWPF. It is well known. Pretending otherwise merely gives people a good idea of your level of honesty.

  24. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    jsam
    Mitigation in the Stern Report stops in 2050.

  25. jsam says:

    I don’t think Tom needed to peek at your diary to determine the company you keep. :-))
    But if it embarasses you so much we shan’t dwell on it.

  26. jsam says:

    RSJT – you’ll excuse me if I consider the starting date for mitigation more important.

  27. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    Tom C
    I advise many organizations.

  28. Tom Curtis says:

    But are happy to lend your name to giving denier organizations credibility, and loath to correct them when they publish rubbish. Now, either you agree with the rubbish (or support the ends towards which it is published) and have not provided them with contrary advise, or you have not bothered to advise them that their rubbish is rubbish (in which case your name in their advisory council is dishonest resume padding), or you have advised them to the contrary and they simply ignore you (in which case any person of integrity would resign, and state publicly why they have resigned). There is no way that you can avoid the logic on this. Your attempts at evasion merely show unwise it is for people to take you at our word.

  29. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    jsam
    Mitigation starts slow and accelerates over time. Stopping in 2050, the Stern Review omitted all the heavy lifting. And atmospheric concentrations cannot be stabilized by 2050.

  30. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    Tom C
    Fine. Disregard me. Have a look at IPCC WG3 instead.

  31. Tom Curtis says:

    Richard Tol, I will, and I did. And estimated cost in consumption growth rate of 0.06% per annum to remain below 2 C is not the impossible target you make it out to be.

  32. Can the 2C target be met?

    Let’s look at that in a couple of ways.

    1) Can we describe a world that meets the target?
    2) Can we describe a world with well-being comparable with the likely BAU path, and meeting the target?
    3) Can we describe a realistic way of making all the decisions that reaching that target requires, and where those decisions are also put in force?

    For (1) the answer is certainly Yes, for (2) probably Yes, for (3) I would say that the answer is with likelihood No.

  33. OPatrick says:

    Despite what we sometimes hear, there is no clear, scientifically-based threshold for ‘dangerous anthropogenic climate change’.

    I appreciate Richard Betts’ significant toning down of his comment from the previous Bishop Hill version, but I wonder if anyone can show where we might hear this? It’s certainly not the impression I get and I can’t think of anywhere that it’s been suggested that there is strong scientific evidence for 2C being the threshold.

  34. jsam says:

    Were I to accept your evaluations of both Stern and WG3 I would then ask what would you actually have us do?*

    *I don’t actually accept your evaluations, but I’d be interested in hearing your alternative.

  35. BBD says:

    Richard Tol sez:

    I advise many organizations.

    The GWPF *alone* would be sufficient to destroy someone’s credibility, but you advise De Groene Rekenkammer as well.

    I’ve said it before, Richard, but I’m happy to keep repeating it: you have burned through a career’s worth of credibility in the last year alone. As you will discover in due course.

  36. Doug Bostrom says:

    Re Tol’s victimization, GWPF needed to be restyled to work better within the more tractable and bulkier portion of the community responsible for formulating policy than where it previously found its center of mass. Getting GWPF away from Lawson’s risible book and thereby improving cosmetics was clearly a mandatory step.

    Making nothing happen is fairly easy in Western democracies but it surely helps to hedge the bet; adding just a touch of plausibility has a disproportionately positive effect on influence. Cue the plausible makeup job.

    I feel sorry for the lipstick smeared on the pig. The lipstick’s CV is at odds with this role.

  37. anoilman says:

    Essentially the problem with delaying action is that it makes it harder and harder to achieve our goals. Or rather, more painful.

    2C was a dead simple target anyone could meet. But we kinda started and failed with Kyoto, Now here we are years later fretting over it. Food prices are rising in Canada. (And we’re supposed to be the bread basket of the world. Hmmm…)

    I think we’re needing a few more environmental disasters to trigger action. Perhaps breaking the 1998 temperature record will help.

    In the mean time we have a lot of addicts not wanting to kick the oil habit, like the GWPF and its mouth pieces.

    Do I need to point out what Amy Winehouse died from?

  38. Richard,
    Let me get this right. I make an uncomplimentary (well, maybe not to you) comment about how missing the target will be partly the result of people like yourself. You respond with a comment pointing out how nothing will work and “but India”, “but China”. You then comment on how you advise many organisations. So, your advice is presumably “nothing will work”.

  39. Joseph says:

    My view, similar to ATTP is that the target might be met if the industrialized world puts the right incentives in place for the private sector to develop the more efficient next generation of low carbon and energy efficient technologies. Which we can in turn give to the developing world so they can reduce their emissions. Unfortunately, this takes political will and support from diverse political interests. So I don’t how we are going to get it done now with the polarization that the issue produces.

  40. Richard Betts,
    I broadly agree with your speed limit analogy. It’s clear that it is simply a guide and not some kind of well-defined boundary between “safe” and “dangerous”. On the other hand we don’t actually know if it separates “safe” and “not as safe” or “dangerous” and “more dangerous”, or something in between.

    There is, however, an extension to your analogy. One could argue that the correct analogy is one in which we’ve set the speed limit to be much higher than the top speed of any car today, because we know that cars will continue to get faster and faster. We, therefore, wouldn’t actually know if the assigned speed limit were a sensible safe limit or not, until cars were actually able to reach those speeds.

  41. Steve Bloom says:

    DoE, Web? Wasn’t their prior funding from elsewhere, i.e. NSF or NASA? I’m recalling those conferences Sandia held recently-ish that involved Petr Chylek. Some connection there, or maybe budget intervention from Alabama’s congresscritters? IIRC and FWIW DoE primarily does climate model work out of Livermore.

    Maybe John Mashey would have some insight?

    It should also be possible to locate the contract and see its actual scope. And what of their prior funding?

    Christy and Spencer are not a happy example for anyone (reasonably) expecting that Tol’s comeuppance is a done deal. Yes, their reputations are blown to smithereens, but somehow they sail on.

  42. Warren,
    As regards your first comment, I agree that this is probably related to our desire to have targets and may explain my reluctance to embrace such a target. It’s certainly my view that our target driven culture does more harm than good.

    As regards this, though,

    Even if we assume we have some control over emissions, the exact relation between the emissions and the temperature is too uncertain – or at least ‘lumpy’ – to be of much use to policymakers.

    I think this illustrates a misunderstanding (on your part, or the policy makers part, or both). We have estimates for the likelihood of crossing the two degree threshold for different emission pathways. Consequently, we can use that to determine what emission pathway we should follow if we want – for example – a 90% chance of staying below 2 degrees. That wouldn’t guarantee that we would stay below as there would still be a 10% chance of failing, but it would be a fairly specific pathway. Now, however, we are probably unable to follow such an emission pathway (well, not without rapid and quite extreme emission reductions) and the best we can probably do is follow a pathway that gives us something like a 50:50 chance. Again, however, this could be quite specifically determined.

  43. Steve Bloom says:

    Excellent comment, Anders. I was about to write something similar. I’ll add that speed limits are often broken in order to avoid minor inconvenience. Re “faster and faster,” note the existing mismatch between speed limits (in most places) and the much higher speeds that most car models are capable of sustaining. Unfortunately, these points just make the analogy even more apt.

  44. Steve Bloom says:

    Joseph: “the polarization that the issue produces.”

    There’s *nothing* inherent in the issue, although one could note that overlapping interest groups also oppose environmental, health and safety regulation of all sorts and proceed to try to manufacture as much polarization as possible in order to avoid those regulations. So perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to the polarization that greed produces.

  45. WebHubTelescope says:

    Steve Bloom, I have seen some creative book-keeping whereby one gov’t agency will manage the funding of another agency. For example, the Dept of Interior will manage DARPA funding! So Dept of Energy could be handling it for some other body in Felton Spencer’s case. Bad move on their part, whoever is responsible.

    If Spencer is proposing to do validation, let’s hope it is not validating his signing of “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming”

    http://www.cornwallalliance.org/2009/05/01/signers-of-an-evangelical-declaration-on-global-warming/

  46. Eli Rabett says:

    The amusing thing about the 2 C target is that all the IAMs agree that beyond 3 C no one can figure out how bad the damage will be but everyone including Dickie agrees that it will be catastrophic. Treating 2 C as a soft target that cannot be met therefore is saying that we ARE going to fall off the end of the Earth and good luck to you and yours.

    FWIW, the US government appears believe that 3C is the new 2C

  47. Steve Bloom says:

    Adopting 3C as an effective new target (not limit, sadly) makes perfect political sense. It’s also batshit insane.

  48. > [The 2 degrees target] can’t be met — unless you’re in the Nic Lewis / Dick Lindzen territory of climate sensitivity.

    Wait, Richard: are you talking about the same Nic Lewis that wrote a report for one of the organizations to which you advise? Let me see if I can find it. Yes, here:

    In this report we suggest that the new observationally-based ‘likely’ range could be 1.25–3.0◦C, with a best estimate of 1.75◦C.6

    http://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2014/02/A-Sensitive-Matter-Foreword-inc.pdf

    Now, let me get this straight:

    P1. The only way to meet the 2 degrees target would be for the CS to be in the lukewarm territory that is being sold by the GWPF, an organization that has Academic Advisory Council on (?) which you sit:

    http://www.thegwpf.org/who-we-are/academic-advisory-council/

    P2. You claim that this degrees target can’t be met.

    What should we conclude from these two premises, Richard?

  49. BBD says:

    Web

    In that list of signatories to the CA crap, we find a “Jeffrey Mahn (Principal Member of Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories)”.

    But no doubt he’s just a little guy.

  50. It would be nice if the 2 degree limit would be complemented with a long term goal. If we stabilize at 2 degrees more, sea level rise would still continue as well as the destabilization of large ice sheets and species loss. Thus an additional long term goal should be a zero degree limit or something similar.

    That the 2 degree limit is not directly applicable for a bureaucrat is no problem. The international treaties convert this into CO2 emission reductions for every country. That is what the national politicians and administrators can work with.

  51. Marlowe Johnson says:

    +1 Pekka’s comment. sad but true at the moment.

    suggest the rest of you leave BIg Hair alone. he’s busy trying to figure out how to include the impacts of ocean acidification in FUND in such a way that doesn’t completely dissolve his previous results…

    #OpenSourceDamageFunction

  52. WebHubTelescope says:

    The DOE funding that Felton Spencer may have his hands on:

    http://www.naturalgasintel.com/articles/100150-university-of-texas-to-lead-58m-methane-hydrate-research-project-in-gom

    ” The University of Texas at Austin (UT) is leading a research consortium that is getting $58 million to study methane hydrate under the Gulf of Mexico (GOM).
    The grant is made up of $41.27 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with the remainder coming from industry and research partners. It is one of the largest grants that UT has received, the university said.

    Estimates vary on the amount of energy that could be produced from methane hydrate worldwide, but the potential is thought to be huge. In the GOM, where the researchers will be taking samples, there is estimated to be about 7,000 Tcf of methane in sand-dominated reservoirs near the seafloor. That is more than 250 times the amount of natural gas that was used in the United States in 2013.”

    You know why these emission goals will not be met? Because the goons in charge are toddlers playing with fire. What next, extracting the oil shale under the Green River basin?

  53. Steve Bloom says:

    That’s the reasoning that led to the 350 ppm limit, Victor (which I notice in the 2009 article linked above Schellnhuber says came out of PIK — I hadn’t thought so), although it seems that 325 ppm might be a better choice. Regardless, the upshot is that we’re already well into overshoot.

    One very confusing aspect of this discussion (to me anyway, since I don’t see how to make the numbers work) is the association between the trillion-tonne business and 2C, which Myles Allen has (informally IIRC) further associated with 350 ppm. The 350 ppm figure itself seems defensible enough scientifically, being based on not substantially melting the ice sheets while not allowing a slide into another glaciation (although, again, perhaps a bit high — unfortunately we don’t have a ~ 350 ppm ~ equilibrium climate state in the paleo record), but relative to it 2C seems clearly into dangerous territory and the trillion tonnes seem certain to take us far past the latter.

  54. Steve Bloom says:

    For those unfamiliar with Tol’s past, you will perhaps be unsurprised to learn that his comment about middle-class white German males has a history in the competition between von Storch’s institute and Schellnhuber’s (and Rahmstorf’s) institute, the former of which is where Tol began his career and the latter of which is the one that gets listened to in Berlin (by a government led by a notably non-male person with a hard science research background).

    Tol has a hard, hard shell, Marlowe.

  55. Tom Curtis says:

    @Victor Venema and Steve Bloom, a 450 ppmv peak, 0 net emissions target would deliver, over the course of time, and with no geo-engineering, an approximately 365 ppmv long term outcome. That corresponds to a probable long term temperature rise (Earth System Sensitivity) of 1.5 C, with an associated long term rise in sea level of 15 meters. Uncertainties are, of course, large. I think it is also the best we can hope for politically.

  56. Tom Curtis says:

    I also agree with Pekka @6:34 pm. However, the probable political impossibility of implementing a 2 degree C target is not intrinsic to the target. It is the consequence of the political actions of organizations like the GWPF and of people like Richard Tol. In particular, Tol’s claim that the 2 C target is effectively impossible helps to make it so. The proper response is to keep up pressure for that target, and to sheet home the blame for the difficulty in achieving agreement to those like the GWPF and Tol. The alternative is that we will find that even a 3 C target becomes politically unachievable, and we will slide to the worst outcome by default.

  57. OPatrick, October 23, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    I can’t think of anywhere that it’s been suggested that there is strong scientific evidence for 2C being the threshold.

    Try Item 1 of the Copenhagen Accord of the UNFCCC, which says

    recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius

  58. Do I remember well that according to Judith Curry we do not have to do anything because the time we will pass the 2 degree Celsius limit is still so far away?

    Maybe Richard Tol can first talk to her.

  59. Steve Bloom says:

    That Copenhagen phrasing isn’t equivalent to Opatrick’s. For one thing, a “view” isn’t “strong … evidence.” Diplomats choose their words carefully.

    Uncertainties being what they are, no specific GMST increase can be associated with a particular degree of danger. That would be easier to do with atmospheric CO2 levels, of which GMST is only one consequence, which is probably why diplomats have avoided it like the plague. That any given GMST limit will only be broken some years into the future makes it an even better choice from their POV. The broken ppm limit is irritatingly in the past.

    I don’t especially blame Schellnhuber for this outcome. Twenty years ago a sane response to a 2C limit might well have worked out reasonably. Probably he didn’t imagine that it would take fifteen years just to get to an in-principle commitment to pay attention to it.

  60. Here’s item 1 in full:

    1. We underline that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We emphasise our strong political will to urgently combat climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. To achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, we shall, recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius, on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development, enhance our long term cooperative action to combat climate change. We recognize the critical impacts of climate change and the potential impacts of response measures on countries particularly vulnerable to its adverse effects and stress the need to establish a comprehensive adaptation programme including international support.

    Here’s item 2:

    2. We agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required according to science, and as documented by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report with a view to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity. We should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries and bearing in mind that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries and that a low-emission development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development.

    http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/cop15/eng/11a01.pdf

    Our emphasis.

  61. Eli Rabett says:

    What Pekka and Tom said.

  62. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    Pekka: (3) is indeed the biggest problem, although there are also issues with (1 – this is true for smooth models only) and (2 – this is true for smart regulations only).

    Wotts: My advise is always the same. Replace all climate policy with a carbon tax. Let it go up over time.

    Steve: Do have a look at someone’s CV before commenting on someone’s career.

    Marlowe: Do have a look at someone’s publication list before claiming that they haven’t done something.

  63. Richard,

    My advise is always the same. Replace all climate policy with a carbon tax. Let it go up over time.

    Really? You don’t seem to say this very often.

  64. Steve Bloom says:

    Did I misremember your career path, Richard? Apologies if so. I must have confused you with someone, but I can’t imagine who.

  65. verytallguy says:

    The “climate tax is best” approach seems to me a very theoretical way to solve the issue.

    Many other ways to manage scarce resources (in this case CO2 emissions) have been tried in the past.

    Some successful examples:

    1) Landscape and habitat protection. National Parks rely on regulation to prevent development. They have been an outstanding success. We don’t tax development in national parks, we regulate it.

    2) CFCs. We didn’t tax the production of CFCs, we agreed not to produce them

    3) Food. We didn’t increase tax on food in WW2, we rationed it.

    There are also, of course, many unsuccessful examples. Fisheries policy springs to mind.

    It is not at all obvious to me that the economically pure approach is optimal in the real world. I suspect elements of both regulation and pricing will be necessary to effect significant emissions reductions.

  66. BBD says:

    VTG

    It is not at all obvious to me that the economically pure approach is optimal in the real world.

    That is because you lack faith my son. Faith in the invisible hand.

  67. verytallguy says:

    BBD,

    indeed. Perhaps I should characterise myself as a “sceptic”. I must add that often well-regulated markets do provide thes best solutions, a view heavily influenced by briefly working in a nationalised industry. Not a happy memory.

  68. BBD says:

    Well-regulated markets are invisible hands with gloves on. You can see what they are doing. They cannot so easily pick your pockets and steal your keys.

  69. BBD says:

    Or throttle you in the dark.

  70. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    Wotts
    And that is exactly the problem. You have a blog filled with innuendo but little fact. Even basic facts go wrong here, witness Marlowe’s “Tol’s never published on ocean acidification”, Bloom’s “Tol’s first job was in Hamburg” or Halpern’s “Tol’s first permanent job was in Sussex”.

  71. Andrew Dodds says:

    It is interesting when you look at some of the figures.. Bearing in mind that this is the energy industry, and your chips start at $10 billion ($100bn if you are a serious player).

    cf. Given a breakeven price of $20/barrel and 50 billion barrels of oil extracted, the North Sea, a distinctly average oil province, has absorbed c. 1 trillion dollars. So when someone says that they are investing, say, $2 billion in renewable energy, do bear in mind that this is basically a ’rounding error’ size of investment.

    Given this, replace 7,000 coal fired power stations with Nuclear (perhaps 10k in that time frame)? Well, given a proper, coordinated effort to come up with a mass, factory-produced design, that target looks trivial. Seriously. The only reason it doesn’t look trivial is because people are conditioned to think of a billion dollars as a lot of money.

  72. Richard,

    You have a blog filled with innuendo but little fact.

    I don’t think it’s filled with innuendo. My comment was based on what you’ve chosen to say here and what I’ve read you say elsewhere. Your typical argument appears to be “we can adapt” (which has even included, IIRC, a suggestion that because people live in the Arctic people can live anywhere) and that mitigation won’t work (as you said in an earlier comment here). Simply saying that you suggest a rising carbon tax when challenged, doesn’t really provide much evidence that this is what you actually say, since when choose to speak publicly about this topic that does not appear to be what you’re suggesting.

    Marlow actually said

    he’s busy trying to figure out how to include the impacts of ocean acidification in FUND in such a way that doesn’t completely dissolve his previous results…

    which seems a slightly more nuanced statement than “he’s never published on ocean acidification” and the “dissolved” was clearly intended to be slightly amusing.

    Maybe your first job wasn’t in Hamburg but your CV suggests that you did work there and started in 2000 – only a few years after finishing your PhD. Maybe that’s not strictly “starting your career” there, but it’s pretty close. Plus Steve’s point was more about the conflict between Hamburg and Potsdam, than about specifically where you started your career.

  73. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    Wotts
    I was an associate professor in Amsterdam and Pittsburgh before I moved to my first chair in Hamburg. Do careers start when appointed full professor?

    There is no conflict between Hamburg and Potsdam. Potsdam started as an appendage of Hamburg and now there is symbiotic relationship, with strong personal ties, lots of migration, joint projects, and co-appointments.

  74. Andrew Dodds says:

    VTG –

    It all comes down to feedbacks..

    Markets provide a feedback. Which is fine when the feedback is fast and accurate. The problem happens when the timescale of market feedback is too long – i.e. cutting R&D in tech-heavy industry is a classic, it gives you short term profits at the expense of long term decline. Plus, if bad decisions don’t affect sales for years ahead, then companies can be dominated by political infighting, because the consequences don’t show up quickly enough.

    Nationalised industries also need feedbacks – to some extent this comes from voter/politician pressure. They should also be completely open and transparent, for some reason managers in all enterprises tend to resist this..

    Anyway.. market forces are a good local optimizing function for the majority of economic processes, when market signals are reasonably clear and market participants haven’t bought off the politicians. The don’t work well when investment timescales are very long, market signals weak (Healthcare being a good example), market consumers are not well-informed, or cases where professional judgement can do better than the wisdom of crowds.

    (In my more cynical moods, I’d also say that the goal of training economists is to get them to read the above and see only ‘Teh Markets Rulez’. But that would be uncivil)

  75. Richard,

    I was an associate professor in Amsterdam and Pittsburgh before I moved to my first chair in Hamburg.

    Yes, I know. I looked at your cv.

    Do careers start when appointed full professor?

    If it’s 3 years after your PhD then, essentially, yes.

    If you say things like this

    First, it reflects the preferences of a handful of middle-aged, white, rich Germans.

    surely, you expect a bit of flack. Saying stupid things is fine. I do it all the time. Saying stupid things while expecting to not be called on it, however, seems slightly naive.

  76. I listed three levels for the question, whether 2C target is achievable. I could have added a few more. While many have agreed on the three, I expect more disagreement on the additional levels that fall between the second and the last, which gets the number (5) after the addition.

    1) Can we describe a world that meets the target?
    2) Can we describe a world with well-being comparable with the likely BAU path, and meeting the target?
    3) Can we describe a path that leads from the present state to the target state without a severe loss in well-being taking into account, what that requires about the timing of the actions?
    4) Can we describe the policy decisions that would lead to the path of (3), if they were actually made?
    5) Can we describe a realistic way of making all the decisions that reaching that target requires, and where those decisions are also put in force?

    While I answered the two first in the affirmative, I start to have great doubts on the third, greater on the fourth, and very likely No for the last.

    I do not think that these problems are largely due to the organizations like GWPF. I see these organizations rather as concrete manifestations of the reality that would exist without them.

    Churchill stated famously:

    Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

    We could state similarly

    Market economy is the worst form of economy, except for all the others. (I mean market economy as we have it, not as the libertarian ideal.)

    The combination of the faults of democracy and of market economy (and the worse faults of the alternatives) are the basic reasons that make (4) and (5) much more unlikely true than (3).

    I have many times observed that commenters have (consciously or unconsciously) concluded that democracy and markets cannot get the desired results leading them to effectively to give up these foundations of western societies. They seem to do that without realizing that the most likely winner in the non-democratic alternative is not what they wish to have.

  77. BBD says:

    Richard Tol sez:

    There is no conflict between Hamburg and Potsdam.

    In broad, general terms this may be true. But when we narrow the focus to HvS and Schellnhuber and their respective groups, then it is not true.

  78. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    Wotts
    The 2K target was dreamed up by a committee of the German government in 1995. It was elevated to an global target by default — no one ever proposed an alternative — rather than by deliberation and discussion.

  79. BBD says:

    Pekka

    5) Can we describe a realistic way of making all the decisions that reaching that target requires, and where those decisions are also put in force?

    This has been true for many human endeavours. It is emphatically not an argument for inaction nor a guarantee of failure. It’s just how things are. Sometimes I feel that you let the perfect be the enemy of the possible. Sometimes you have to just get on with it.

    No plan survives contact with reality anyway. The best strategies are often those that evolve over time.

  80. Paul S says:

    Rule of three, Pekka 😉

  81. Andrew Dodds says:

    Richard Tol –

    I have no idea who this ‘Wotts’ person is?

    The origin of a 2K target doesn’t really matter; assuming we are to have a simple target, then 1K is trivially unachievable and 3K far too dangerous; a return to Pliocene conditions would mean writing off a large chunk of world capital investment to-date, never mind the human cost. So 2K falls out by default. I’m not sure what else there is to argue about it, the uncertainties involved make any more significant figures a bit of a pointless exercise.

  82. Richard,

    The 2K target was dreamed up by a committee of the German government in 1995. It was elevated to an global target by default — no one ever proposed an alternative — rather than by deliberation and discussion.

    I have no idea that this is true or not, but it still doesn’t mean (as your earlier comment implied) that the 2 degree target simply reflects the preferences of a handful of middle-class, white, male Germans. Okay, it might reflect their preference but that doesn’t mean that this is the reason that it still exists. It might still exist because it would be better to avoid crossing the 2 degree threshold, than not. Maybe people really are concerned about the possible risks associated with climate change. Maybe people really do think that we should do something to avoid much more than 1 degree more warming relative to today. Maybe people would actually like it if the world in the future were a place where people could live and prosper and would rather not risk the alternative. Maybe trivialising this target – as you appear to have done – is one reason some people give you a rather hard time. Maybe if you actually put some effort into communicating pleasantly, thoughtfully, and with some consideration that those who disagree with you aren’t all idiots, others might treat you differently. Maybe not, but you’ll never know unless you actually try. Of course, you should feel free to continue thinking I’m an idiot, there’s only so much that can be expected 🙂

  83. Andrew,

    I have no idea who this ‘Wotts’ person is?

    It’s me. The blog used to be wottsupwiththatblog and referred – as you can guess – to Anthony Watts’s blog. Most of what I did initially was point out errors in posts on WUWT and Richard is simply trying to remind me (and others) of that association. I will acknowledge that it is rather embarrassing to have been associated with Anthony Watts, but I’ve learned my lesson 🙂

  84. Joshua says:

    ===> “3) Can we describe a path that leads from the present state to the target state without a severe loss in well-being taking into account, what that requires about the timing of the actions?”

    This seems to ignore the fundamentals of decision-making in the face of uncertainty.

    Can we describe a path that leads from the present state to that target state without any possibility of a severe loss in well-being? I would say no, but in the very least the answer is problematic. The issue is quantifying that probability, with an eye towards the long-term potential for more severe loss in well-being absent policies made in the face of uncertainty.

    I agree that the problems are not likely due to organizations like the GWPF – but I do think that the tendency to ask that question, with a serious expectation that it should be answered in some categorical manner, may well be the crux of the biscuit. A big part of the problem is that it is human tendency to ask make unrealistic demands of policies – i.e., that they should address problems with no possibility of failure – that they don’t align with ideologically.

  85. My advise is always the same. Replace all climate policy with a carbon tax. Let it go up over time.

    This is a common advice of economists found also in IPCC WG3 reports (at least in some of them, if not all). While some think that Cap&Trade is essentially equivalent, many studies have reached the conclusion that carbon tax is much more efficient, because its much more predictable as basis for making concrete investment decisions. Some studies have found a huge difference between these alternatives. My own judgment is also that the difference may be very large, but how large it will ultimately be depends on unpredictable factors. The sign of the difference is, however, virtually certain.

  86. Pekka,

    I do not think that these problems are largely due to the organizations like GWPF. I see these organizations rather as concrete manifestations of the reality that would exist without them.

    Yes, I agree. It isn’t the fault of organisations like the GWPF. They have every right to exist and I am all in favour of their existence. I can see no good reason why we would want to live in a society where such organisations were prevented from existing. None of that, however, negates my democratic right to criticise them.

    If I were to lay the blame at anyone’s feet, it would be at the feet of our policy makers some of whom seem to actually take notice of what organisations like the GWPF say and somehow think that what they say is more likely to be credible than what is said by thousands of actual experts. That, in my opinion, is the real problem. To be clear, though, I have no issue with organisations lobbying policy makers. I just wish that policy makers would also consult actual experts to try and establish if what these organisations are saying actually makes any sense.

  87. Andrew Dodds says:

    Pekka –

    If someone had said, in 1941, that the USA could, in the next 4 years, produce 100,000 tanks, 2.4 million military trucks, 163 Aircraft carriers, etc, etc.. no doubt many economists would have declared it impossible without abandoning democracy.

    But it was done – and it’s a matter of record that the western democracies managed it better than the totalitarian regimes.

    And fixing global warming is not as big a problem. So we can indeed say that we’ve fixed proportionately bigger problems in the past, without the sky falling in.

  88. BBD says:

    RSJT sez:

    Replace all climate policy with a carbon tax. Let it go up over time.

    If there is a carbon tax, its initial level will have to be set. The timing and size of increases will have to be set. How exactly are these crucial decisions not ‘climate policy’?

    Does this statement actually mean anything?

  89. verytallguy says:

    Andrew Dodds

    But it was done – and it’s a matter of record that the western democracies managed it better than the totalitarian regimes.

    Indeed. But note that it was NOT done via a purely market mechanism.

    Entire industries were simply commandeered and ordered to produce different things. The govt didn’t simply offer money for tanks and wait for the market to provide.

    And the more desperate the situation (eg UK) the more command and control was invoked (eg rationing)

  90. Joshua says:

    I can only imagine what the reactions might be, from our much beloved “skeptics” as a group, if they were around to apply their ideology to U.S. policies such as rationing, the GI bill, the WPA, financing the building of an interstate highway system or national railroads, etc. My guess is that they would be condemned as certain failure due to the heavy hand of government interfering with the invisible hand of the mythical free market.

  91. verytallguy says:

    Compare and contrast

    The 2K target was dreamed up by a committee of the German government in 1995. It was elevated to an global target by default — no one ever proposed an alternative — rather than by deliberation and discussion.

    to the conference where this target was agreed:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference

    noting particularly

    Earlier proposals, that would have aimed to limit temperature rises to 1.5 °C and cut CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 were dropped.

  92. Richard S.J. Tol says:

    BBD: Indeed. Replace all climate policy (subsidies, mandate, cap&trade, targets, etc) with a new climate policy (carbon tax, and carbon tax only).

    Wotts: It is no surprise that you, a rich white male with left-green leanings, agree with other rich white males with left-green leanings – even if they are German. But you agree on a global target. The average person on this planet is not rich, not white, not male.

  93. Richard,

    It is no surprise that you, a rich white male with left-green leanings, agree with other rich white males with left-green leanings – even if they are German. But you agree on a global target. The average person on this planet is not rich, not white, not male.

    How do you know I’m a rich, white male? Also what’s a suitable response to that? “It’s no surprise that a Professor of Economics with right-wing, libertarian tendencies thinks we shouldn’t bother doing anything until the magical free-market kicks in because that’s what would suit the wealthy backers of the organisations with which he’s associated”? Actually, no that’s not really fair. It should be “It’s no surprise that Richard Tol does his best to cast those with whom he disagrees as being selfish and not interested in the fate of others, because he’s completely incapable of engaging in a good faith discussion and is completely incapable of considering that those with whom he disagrees may – sometimes – make a valid point.”

    The average person on this planet is not rich, not white, not male.

    Yes, I realise this. That’s why I’d rather we didn’t risk making the regions of the planet where most people live uninhabitable, just so that a few already wealthy people can make some more money selling, and using, oil and gas.

  94. izen says:

    An analogy like the speed limit for the climate 2degC target can be stretch beyond its breaking point, but it does provide a good example of a common failing in such target driven public policy.
    It is applied to the wrong participants.

    The exhortation to the general car user to drive within the speed limit and taxing/fining them if you detect they exceed it is demonstrably ineffective. As with the five-a-day and other targets aimed at the behaviour of the end user they try to modify the bulk population, in the case of speed limits the 30million car drivers, and penalise the end consumer.

    An alternative would be to target the producers. This is not impossible as is seen with fuel economy targets which have been a much more effective means of reducing vehicle emissions than taxing fuel at the point of use. Or at least they have been more effective when imposed by governments which are not subject to regulatory capture by the producers who block such regulatory initiatives.

    It is obviously much easier to prevent speeding by ensuring that producers do not make cars capable of exceeding the target limit, but unfortunately this is not politically acceptable with an economic system that favours the free actions of business and the regulation and taxation of people rather than the producers that enable sensible targets to be transgressed.

  95. Andrew Dodds says:

    RSJT –

    Middle class white Europeans are relatively immune from the effects of climate change. Personally, 2K won’t affect my immediate environs much.

    Whereas – if you look at the areas due to be inundated, desertified or rendered unsuitable for agriculture – they tend to be inhabited by people who are poor and/or non-white.

    By your somewhat dubious reasoning, this implies that you consider the 2K target to be too high.

  96. BBD,
    I’m not arguing for inaction. Every time I have made statements on immediate action it has been in favor of carbon tax, and also in favor of a carbon tax that’s initially moderate, but has some mechanism that leads in a predictable way to a gradually higher taxation.

    If it’s impossible to agree on harmonized taxation with a wide enough coverage, I’m ready to accept Cap&Trade, but only reluctantly.

    Trying to speed up the change with too high taxes or with a too tight cap will lead to unwanted side effects. At some point these side effects make the whole process counterproductive.

  97. verytallguy says:

    he’s completely incapable of engaging in a good faith discussion and is completely incapable of considering that those with whom he disagrees may – sometimes – make a valid point.

    Tol’s first Law: Tol is right
    Tol’s second Law: Everyone else is wrong
    Tol’s third Law: Tol’s behaviour, however distasteful, is justified by the first two laws.

    References:
    ESRI
    Ackerman
    Gelman
    Nordhaus
    Cook

    Go google them.

  98. OPatrick says:

    Richard Betts, I can see why you would argue that the UNFCC Copenhagen Accord fits your statement:

    Despite what we sometimes hear, there is no clear, scientifically-based threshold for ‘dangerous anthropogenic climate change’.

    However, I would say that their wording is also entirely consistent with a probability distribution function that has 2C as its central peak, or indeed at some other point. Does this then constitute a ‘threshold’? I interpret ‘threshold’ as something akin to a tipping point, but maybe others think otherwise. I’d be interested to know.

  99. vtg,
    Are you proposing Tol’s 3 laws of social interaction? A worthwhile addition to Kepler’s 3 laws of planetary motion and Newtons 3 law’s of motion?

  100. Richard,
    I’ll comment on this

    But you agree on a global target.

    Actually, if you’d read the post and my comments, you’d note that I don’t specifically agree on a global target. Admittedly, I also don’t object to a target. My basic point was that given that 4 to 5 degrees is probably going to be catastrophic, if what we do isn’t going to keep overall warming close to 2 degrees, then we should probably do something different. If a rising carbon tax could keep overall warming close to 2 degrees, excellent. If we find that it isn’t having much effect, maybe we should think of something else, or something in addition. Of course, my feeling is that a carbon tax alone will not be sufficient, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that we should be imposing one, as I do think that we should. On that, at least, we seem to agree.

  101. verytallguy says:

    A worthwhile addition to Kepler’s 3 laws of planetary motion and Newtons 3 law’s of motion?

    Most certainly. As the pre-eminent economist, climate scientist and econometrician (and probably neurosurgeon for all I know) of his time, a set of his own laws are the very least he deserves.

  102. jsam says:

    I shouldn’t pile in. It isn’t civil. But. In the 1984 release of Gremlins the rules are No water, no food after midnight, and no bright light.

  103. The average person on this planet is not rich, not white, not male.

    The developing countries would indeed like to see a lower limit than the 2 °C limit.

  104. jsam,

    It isn’t civil.

    It isn’t I guess, so I’ll do my best to stop too 🙂

  105. GSR says:

    Would it be wrong to construe anything from Pielke Sr’s silence?

    Ooops too late! I’ve just gone and construed all over the floor.

  106. GSR,
    To be fair, Pielke Sr and I had a discussion about something related last year in which I thought he was making a fairly basic mistake. He eventually decided that he wouldn’t talk to me anymore unless I told him who I was. Since I think it is reasonable for him to decide not to talk to me unless I tell him who I am, and reasonable for me to decide not to do so, I would not make too much of his silence.

  107. Eli Rabett says:

    We didn’t tax the production of CFCs, we agreed not to produce them”

    Sort of. What happened was that production was phased out, but even today there are hefty taxes on residual stocks. At least in the US

  108. Eli Rabett says:

    GSR, PS has chimed in over @ Real Climate in the comments.

  109. GSR says:

    Fair enough. I’m sure the Piekles are thrilled to bits that your sabbatical was so brief.

    Usually rich white guys take 3 months off.

  110. Eli,
    Indeed he has, but I don’t think (unless I’ve missed it) responded to the point I was making. I always worry when someone with Pielke Sr’s credentials appears to make a silly mistake, so maybe I’m the one who’s wrong.

  111. Eli Rabett says:

    Pekka, there appears to be a belief that a carbon tax cannot be played while carbon markets can. This, as was seen in China with freon production, is not the case. There are wise guys everywhere.

    The concern about a carbon tax is that unless global it will simply move energy intensive industries to countries with no tax. Thus Eli’s Simple plan, for an emissions added tax at every point including an import tariff.

  112. GSR says:

    I note that Sr refrained from demanding Dr. Rahmstorf’s long-form birth certificate over @ Real Climate.

  113. Eli

    Carbon leakage is a problem, but it’s no less a problem for Cap&Trade.

    There have been many proposals to make the final users pay the cost to counteract carbon leakage, but I don’t think that any of those proposals has been developed to be ready for deployment.

    Cap&Trade is at the moment the only solution one in wider use (mainly in EU). EU has just decided on a lower cap for 2040, but the details have not been decided, and there’s still the possibility that the decision will be reversed after the UNFCCC Paris meeting.

  114. Willard says:

    I have yet to see one reason why a carbon market would not lead to trade regulations.

    Just like mitigation and adaptation, it’s an invention for the rule of three to prevail.

    Goldilocks for the win!

  115. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Pekka,

    As a practical matter C&T can handle leakage easier than a straight tax because emission allocations can adjusted for trade exposed industries more easily than import tariffs. see here for example.

  116. Williard,

    You know, how difficult the WTO negotiations have always been. For that reason there will certainly be strong opposition against special rules related to carbon trade. Agreeing, how to determine the allowable penalization of carbon content of the products will certainly also be difficult.

    From that does not follow that nothing can be done, but that’s a real possibility.

  117. MJ,
    Emission allocations can be adjusted. Similarly are reduced tax rates for specific industries a possibility, but in a sense both mean that international leakage is reduced by allowing leakage within each country separately.

  118. Willard says:

    Pekka,

    My point is simply that we’re using two archetypes to argue for a middle way. In both case, there are regulations, and a taxing scheme. The two will be required. There is no way out.

    Taoists use that rhetorical trick since the dawn of times.

  119. I still fail to see fully, what Williard is writing about. Perhaps we could compare that to the discussion about free markets. Almost everyone is likely to agree that much of our economic system is based on the market. The market solves well enough a huge number of the details, all attempts to do that by planning and control have failed. The market has also failures, and that leads to the need of regulation, which has a better change of succeeding, when it is applied only a small number of issues.

    All solutions proposed for mitigation involve some regulation. The market of cap&trade is not fully natural, but must be created by regulation. Introducing taxes has also regulatory aspects. Now the question is, whether a single tax rate, or a single cap (both combined with technical rules of implementation) is enough. Are some additional regulations needed? I would add at least support for R&D, but not necessarily much more as far as we are discussing only high-income countries.

    Applying the same tax rate or the same market price in cap&trade to the poor countries is likely to lead to problems. A price that’s high enough to influence our decisions may be far too high for the poor. That’s related to the big difference in the foreign currency exchange rates on the market and the rates based on purchase power parity of the poorest populations. Combining these observations with the need to stop carbon leakage is a very difficult problem.

  120. Apologies for twice misspelling Willard (might that have something to do with both those comments going first to moderation).

  121. Willard says:

    > I still fail to see fully, what Williard is writing about.

    That’s because I make no sense, Pekka.

    Let’s try with a Wegmanian formula: solving the CO2 problem = trade regulations + taxation scheme. To say that we need to choose between cap and trade and a CO2 tax is a false dilemma. To say that we need to do nothing is worse than that. And to say that we need to Sierra Leonize all states is even worse.

    We will have to mitigate and we will have to adapt. We will have to tax, and we will have to regulate. [Whether] this will be done before the facts compel us to do so is up to us.

    ***

    Taxation is complicated. In New York, the law ruling what is a sandwich is as thick as a phone book:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/07/18/332612643/episode-554-how-the-burrito-became-a-sandwich

    But like democracy, taxation is the best thing we have to regulate side-effects.

    There will always be an arms race between agents who regulate and those who seek a competitive edge.

    ***

    Oh, and there’s a market for Ebola going on:

    http://fortune.com/2014/10/22/glaxosmithkline-moving-forward-with-ebola-vaccine/

    Beware that more Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola.

  122. izen says:

    Cap and trade or a carbon tax transfer costs to the end user. This is politically acceptable within the present economic system, but is unlikely to be applied sufficiently strictly to be effective. The EU discussing C&T levels for 2040 is a case in point, that could be four years after we have exceeded the 2degC.

    Tax and cap and trade schemes can be gamed, it is unlikely that nation states will globally agree or enforce effective cap and trade while they STILL regard the mineral rights they can sell to the fossil fuel industry as a form of national wealth they can exploit.

  123. Eli Rabett says:

    Beware that more Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola.

    It was more fun.

  124. Steve Bloom says:

    Pekka: “Trying to speed up the change with too high taxes or with a too tight cap will lead to unwanted side effects. At some point these side effects make the whole process counterproductive.”

    That you continue to have this emphasis is revealing, especially as the evidence is clear that what we really have is too-low taxes and too-loose caps, and while you oddly seem to want to ignore the existence of direct regulation, too little of that as well. At *this* point analysis paralysis (masking pure self-interest) *is* making the process counterproductive. Do you think a transition to a Pliocene-like climate will be a walk in the park? I would think a physicist would take the recent determination that the WAIS has lost its stability as a hint that we need less debate and more action.

  125. Pingback: The Climate Change Debate Thread - Page 4440

  126. Steve,

    Even if you think that something must be done is of little help, if you cannot get it done. Changes required to reach anything like the longer term goals that many consider essential are very large. Reaching them requires persistent political support and efficient solutions. Going along lines that fail or that lead to situations people find unacceptable backfires.

    It’s necessary to be realistic on, what can be done and what can be maintained.

    The recent post of William Connolley presents many related points that must be taken seriously.

  127. Marlowe Johnson says:

    I’m equally puzzled by this Pekka. Can you be more specific about these claims? What sort of ‘unwanted side effects’ do you have in mind that become so significant that they make the whole process counterproductive?

    Can you cite any examples? Otherwise this strikes me as handwaving in service of the perfect….

  128. Joshua says:

    Willard – died from ebola or contracted ebola?

    Keep in mind, that at least prior to yesterday, half as many Americans have contracted ebola than have married Larry King.

  129. Joshua says:

    I think that Pekka has appealed to the ever convenient law of unintended consequences – as if any action is immune from unintended consequences.

    Yes, there might be unintended consequences from a “path that leads from the present state to the target state” Those unintended consequences might lead to a “severe loss in well-being.”

    My question is, what’s the alternative to a path that might led to “severe loss in well-being?”

  130. The most certain unwanted effect is that rapidly increased economic incentives lead to large resources being wasted in solutions that are ultimately much less cost-efficient than some others, but that are for some reason the easiest ones to implement rapidly. It’s also a general rule in economics that a strong measure implemented to reach a specific target turns out to offer opportunities to those, who are not interested in the target, but can figure out various holes in the rules that they can take advantage of in ways that are not in public interest.

    We know also that the economies are quite sensitive to disturbances. Reaching good results requires that the economies are not disturbed too strongly. Increasing the strength of the incentives gradually at a rate below some critical level allows for economies to adapt to the changing conditions. It allows also for adjusting the rules to keep in control the misuse of the incentives. Failing to keep the economies relatively stable is a sure way of loosing support for the policies, it backfires and is likely to stop the progress.

    It’s wasteful and of very little value in the long run to implement at large scale immature technologies that have much more cost-effective alternatives a few years later. While people tell, how important it’s to reduce emissions immediately, it’s much more important to reduce them effectively over somewhat longer periods. Therefore supporting R&D of a wide range of technologies is perhaps the most important factor. That does not mean that nothing should be deployed immediately, but it means that the funding of R&D should not be only a tiny fraction of the cost of immediate deployment.

  131. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Pekka P +1

  132. Vinny Burgoo says:

    OPatrick: You asked where you might hear claims that there’s a ‘clear, scientifically-based threshold for “dangerous anthropogenic climate change”’ (Richard Betts).

    Such claims aren’t as widespread or frequent as they they were in the runup to COP15 (few such things are) but they’re still around. Michael Mann’s SciAm feature article in March this year, for example:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-will-cross-the-climate-danger-threshold-by-2036/

    Then there’s the ever-reliable Christian Aid:

    http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/Taken-by-storm-climate-change-report-march-2014.pdf

    “Beyond a 2°C rise, the science says, we could enter a world of climate chaos.”

    And David Burwell of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

    ‘This 2 degrees limit is not a random number. It is the limit beyond which settled science says we risk a 50-50 chance of severe planetary harm.’

    (A garbling of a particular ppm giving a 50-50 of 2 deg C?)

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-burwell/keystone-xl-danger-ahead_b_1150812.html

    And many, many more.

    Here’s a useful example from before the pre-COP15 frenzy:

    ‘The science dictates the limit of temperature rise to avoid dangerous climate change and specifies the greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions required to achieve that end.’

    http://www.bath.ac.uk/management/cri/pubpdf/Research_Reports/19_Ian_Peter.pdf

    Ian Bartle and Peter Vass, University of Bath School of Management, 2007. A long (TLDR) discussion of carbon taxes and cap & trade that’s relevant to several threads on this blog. It also includes this statement:

    ‘In terms of economic efficiency in the economics literature the choice between [carbon] taxes and [cap & trade] permits has been described as “easy”: carbon taxes are best.’

    If anyone ever reads the whole thing, I’d be grateful for a summary.

  133. Steve Bloom says:

    Efficiency is relative, noting that in the face of overwhelming negative consequences even the most inefficient of solutions becomes appealing. In the U.S. at the outset of WW II, e.g., notably inefficient cost-plus armaments contracts were resorted to with little controversy. How could it be? IOW, Pekka, I suspect you of poor physical intuition regarding the problem.

  134. Joshua says:

    Pekka –

    When I read your comment:

    ==> “The most certain unwanted effect is that rapidly increased economic incentives lead to large resources being wasted in solutions that are ultimately much less cost-efficient than some others, but that are for some reason the easiest ones to implement rapidly. It’s also a general rule in economics that a strong measure implemented to reach a specific target turns out to offer opportunities to those, who are not interested in the target, but can figure out various holes in the rules that they can take advantage of in ways that are not in public interest.”

    I wonder how it applies to countries such as South Korea or Singapore. Don’t you think that those countries have thrived, quite specifically, because of rapidly increased economic incentives and strong measures implemented to reach specific targets?

    If so, what is your guiding principle that distinguishes the economic incentives and strong measures (to reach specific targets) implemented on those countries from those that you think bring an unsustainable risk of negative consequences?

  135. Steve,

    If you don’t have any better argument than comparing with WW II, then you have no argument.

  136. Pekka,

    If you don’t have any better argument than comparing with WW II, then you have no argument.

    Why do you regard that as a bad argument? Godwin’s Law? Surely there are plenty of examples of non-optimal technologies being implemented and then replaced.

  137. > The most certain unwanted effect is that rapidly increased economic incentives lead to large resources being wasted in solutions that are ultimately much less cost-efficient than some others, but that are for some reason the easiest ones to implement rapidly. It’s also a general rule in economics that a strong measure implemented to reach a specific target turns out to offer opportunities to those, who are not interested in the target, but can figure out various holes in the rules that they can take advantage of in ways that are not in public interest.

    More than that: the most certain unwanted effect of any economic activity is that large resources will be wasted because no economic system known to mankind are optimally organized, whether they are implemented in the short, middle, or long term (Rule #3 strikes again!), in which case every solution can be considered as failing some unknown CBA, which does not even apply to this kind of problem anyway.

    It’s a general rule of ClimateBall ™ that raising concerns about the possibility that people may profit from opportunities rules may bring omits that people already profit from opportunities a lack of rules already bring.

    Any way you slice it, Pekka, you’ve just rehearsed the Goldlocks argument. Twice in two sentences.

  138. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Pekka,

    Sorry, but I’m underwhelmed by your platitudes. yes the world would be wonderful if it was run by physicists and economists in possession of crystal balls.

    Sadly we don’t live in that world.

    I’m still puzzled that you seem to put the risk of doing too much too quickly on the same footing as doing too little to late when it comes to mitigation.

    When you’re dealing with a problem that involves a fixed budget, there’s a significant penalty associated with procrastination…

  139. Steve Bloom says:

    You seem devoted to missing the point, Vinny. The 2C threshold is a scientific view of something that can’t be determined with precision, and in a strict sense can’t even exist (other than in policy form) since it’s not a tipping point and bad impacts start (have started) well before it can be reached. Even so, taking it seriously is a very good idea. As noted, if you want a real, scientifically-determined limit, I commend to you 350 ppm CO2.

    I’m starting to think of libertarians as an evolutionary dead end. The question is whether they’ll manage to take the rest of us, along with a good chunk of the biosphere, with them when they go.

  140. BBD says:

    Pekka

    The most certain unwanted effect is that rapidly increased economic incentives lead to large resources being wasted in solutions that are ultimately much less cost-efficient than some others, but that are for some reason the easiest ones to implement rapidly.

    What do you have in mind here?

  141. Steve Bloom says:

    The WW II U.S. cost-plus contracting example is very apposite because it was implemented abruptly and on a large scale, to say nothing of by people who under normal circumstances would never have done such a thing. But then, as now, circumstances weren’t normal.

    Anders, Pekka couldn’t possibly be calling Godwin given his recent citation to that wacky Finnish enviro. But probably his reaction is because accusing a physicist of having poor physical intuition is a rather deep cut. I don’t retract it.

  142. > Tax and cap and trade schemes can be gamed [.]

    Of course they can, and they will. Every game can be gamed, and will be. There ought to be a scientific study of gamesmanship — which I call Gaming Theory, because I can.

    Here are two interesting stories about gamesmanship. The first is that ontological questions are a matter of life and death to whole economies:

    Protecting U.S. trade means following an incredibly elaborate set of rules spelled out in a giant book that’s more than 3,000 pages long. Michael Cone, a customs and international trade attorney in New York, calls it “the book of everything.” Its official name is the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States.

    The book lists the tax that importers have to pay on approximately every single thing in the universe — including, of course, T-shirts. They’re right there under heading 6109: T-shirts, singlets, tank tops and similar garments, knitted or crocheted.

    The average tax rate on stuff coming into the U.S. is around 2 percent. The tax on T-shirts is much higher: 16.5 percent. That’s what we’ll be paying on the Planet Money men’s shirts, which were made in Bangladesh. But the Planet Money women’s shirts were made in Colombia — and those, according to the book of everything, come in duty-free, with no tariff at all.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/12/06/247361423/the-giant-book-that-creates-and-destroys-entire-industries

    This Giant Book may very well be the Devil’s Bible. But there’s even better. Here’s how the American police use a law against drug warlords to seize properties, by taking action on the stuff itself:

    And I am passing over the last financial crises. It would be unfair. Too easy to show gamesmanship in a world void of basic regulations. American judges still at deciding if we’ll sue the bankers.

  143. Joshua,
    The kind of support schemes that I see most problematic combine very high subsidies with effectively unlimited scale of deployment. That kind of schemes can be very wasteful, because the total amount of support funding grows very large, often to unanticipated levels. My view is that this has taken place in a couple of the European renewable energy support schemes.

    Modest support without limitation on the scale of deployment may be an effective form of starting an activity essentially faster than it would otherwise reach the critical volumes and genuine profitability.

    High support levels may also be justified when the volume is restricted to demonstration or pilot installations of sufficient scale for testing the technical solutions.

  144. Vinny Burgoo says:

    BBD: ‘What do you have in mind here?’

    Unwise solar subsidies in regions with low insolation, perhaps?

  145. Joshua says:

    Steve –

    You go from someone disagreeing with you to accusations at the personal level, and then add on an overly self-important refusal to “retract.” Your comment says far more about your level of analysis (physical intuition, if you will) , IMO, than it does about Pekka’s – FWIW (which I realize in your view ain’t much) I rather he suspect that your personal criticism of Pekka has left not even a flesh wound, let alone a “deep cut.”

  146. BBD says:

    Vinny

    Let’s let Pekka answer for himself.

  147. Simple. I don’t pay attention to what Tol says cuz he never says anything interesting from a scientific POV. Yet, I will follow a climate denier on the chance that they will score an interesting #OwnGoal. Latest confirmation — watch what Pielke Senior et al are doing on RealClimate.

    Keep it up #TeamDenier !

  148. Joshua says:

    Again, Pekka – I think that neither Singapore nor Korea would have sustained their recent history of economic growth had they applied your reasoning in a strict fashion. I recognize the theoretical risks that you’re speaking of, but I think that there are specifics of circumstances that introduce important elements of causality.

  149. Steve Bloom says:

    Have I just been savaged by a dead sheep? I rather think I have.

  150. Joshua says:

    Dead sheep?

  151. One example of that were many early wind turbines built in Germany, where the location and the technology resulted in installations that are far inferior to what was possible already at that time. Many of those wind turbines were later dismantled before their technical life time. They were profitable, when the subsidized price was really high.

    Similar examples can be found in solar panels.

    I do not believe that these installations were of significant value even for technology development as equally good or better results were obtained in other countries at much lower total costs.

    I know that the value of the German RE programs is controversial, some agree with my judgment, while others present quite different views. I’m personally, however, convinced that, what I wrote above, is not very far from the truth.

    I cannot give examples from Finland, on which I would have more accurate data, because the support levels have always been more moderate and fallen essentially in either one of the classes that I consider more appropriate.

  152. Joshua,
    I have doubt’s on your conjecture that Singapore or Korea would have applied subsidies in a way that would clearly combine the subsidy level and the volume in the way that I have had in mind and tried to explain (I admit that I have not given any quantitative criteria for the thresholds, I have only implied that the early levels of German feed-in tariffs went over the threshold).

  153. Michael 2 says:

    Tom Curtis says: (October 23, 2014 at 11:00 pm) “In particular, Tol’s claim that the 2 C target is effectively impossible helps to make it so.”

    I am impressed by the respect and admiration you give Tol’s influence 😉

  154. Michael 2 says:

    WebHubTelescope says: (October 24, 2014 at 9:36 pm) “Simple. I don’t pay attention to what Tol says”

    Except for today of course 😉

  155. OPatrick says:

    I have only implied that the early levels of German feed-in tariffs went over the threshold

    I always get the feeling that discussions of renewable subsidies are akin to discussions about climate predictions in that criticism seems to be weighted in one direction only. (Then again I just typed out the question ‘how often are subsidies criticised for being too small?’ and thought that probably my impression isn’t actually fair, there are criticisms of low or non-existent subsidies too.) But is it reasonable to expect those responsible for setting subsidies to pitch them at just the right level so future critics can look back with hindsight and say they had them exactly right? I know that in the UK it is generally accepted that the early FiTs for solar were too high and needed to come down faster than expected but it would have been difficult to predict this given the knowledge at the time.

  156. OPatrick says:

    Michael 2, Richard Tol does have disproportionate influence given that he is one of the few people with credentials willing to say what so many people want to hear. I can’t speak for WebHubTelescope, but his influence earns my contempt far more than respect and admiration. He has also convinced me recently that he is not arguing in good faith.

  157. Joshua says:

    Pekka –

    ==>I admit that I have not given any quantitative criteria for the thresholds,…

    Well, yes, that was my (unstated) reaction. The problem is in reining-in your descriptor of “unlimited” – which struck me as hyperbolic. In response to your point, I’d say that I doubt that we could really describe the incentives you think were ultimately counterproductive as “unlimited.”

    The incentives in Korea and Singapore were quite large by Western standards, and I would think serve as an example of the difficulty of applying some abstracted notion of economic rules of cause-and-effect (w/r/t incentives for less carbon-intensive energy) w/o specific consideration of circumstance. If we compared the carbon-related economic incentives in Europe to any variety of economic incentives in S. Korea or Singapore, I question whether we’d find some difference of scale (relative to the sizes of the economies, respectively).

  158. Joshua says:

    jsam –

    Thanks for that vitally important explanation. I wouldn’t have fully appreciated the depth of Steve’s dismissal w/o it. Excuse me while I go an weep uncontrollably.

  159. Michael 2 says:

    Willard says: (October 24, 2014 at 3:32 pm) “We will have to tax, and we will have to regulate. [Whether] this will be done before the facts compel us to do so is up to us.”

    Since it is clear that we are not going to do this (or it would have been done already), what else did you have in mind?

  160. jsam says:

    More to the point, what did you have in mind, M2?

    We’ll tax and regulate when it is all too apparent to all but the most hardened anti-scientist.

    (Joshua- you’re very welcome. My pleasure. I aim to inform.)

  161. Michael 2 says:

    OPatrick says: [re: Richard Tol] “his influence earns my contempt far more than respect and admiration.”

    If you read as carefully as I write, you’ll note that I am commending the attention being paid to him, not him personally or even his assertions.

    It would be trivially easy just to ban him but who would be more disadvantaged by it?

    RCP8.5 is “business as usual” and that includes an inability to impose a global tax, create world peace or eradicate serious disease. I doubt RCP 8.5 includes “running out of fuel” which would certainly solve the emissions problem. In my opinion it is quite impossible to have “business as usual” all the way to 2050 or 2100. There’s room for two more world wars and another Great Depression and Dust Bowl in there.

  162. OPatrick says:

    Vinny, Michael Mann’s piece is an interesting example. He does certainly seem to be expressing the view that there is a threshold for dangerous warming:

    Yet I have done some calculations that I think can answer those questions now: If the world keeps burning fossil fuels at the current rate, it will cross a threshold into environmental ruin by 2036.

    But this appears to be more of a personal opinion. He later says

    Most scientists concur that two degrees C of warming above the temperature during preindustrial time would harm all sectors of civilization

    which would suggest that he believes most scientists would agree with him, but he also says

    Furthermore, the notion that two degrees C of warming is a “safe” limit is subjective. It is based on when most of the globe will be exposed to potentially irreversible climate changes.

    which could be taken either way. I could emphasise the ‘subjective’ element, but it also implies that there is a firm scientific basis for this threshold.

    The Christian Aid report contains just a couple of sentences that overstate the scientific confidence in the 2C limit – the one you quote and this one

    What must be addressed is whether measures will be introduced to keep global warming below 2oC, the critical threshold for avoiding the worst climate chaos.

    although this latter one could equally apply to a political rather than scientific threshold. The report as a whole is not dependent on the claim about the scientific confidence being correct, take out that sentence and its impact would be entirely unaffected.

    Even your last example from the Huffington Post is ambiguous. David Burwell talks about a tipping point at 2C then immediately says “it is the limit beyond which settled science says we risk a 50-50 chance of severe planetary harm”, which doesn’t seem like a tipping point at all.

    These are certainly examples of claims that there is scientific evidence of a threshold beyond which we face dangerous climate change but I’m not sure how clear they are and of course your

    And many, many more.

    is an easy thing to write but experience has led me to be highly sceptical of it. As indeed I am of your claim that these examples were so much more prevalent in the past. What was your issue with the University of Bath School of Management report?

  163. Joshua says:

    I think that Michael 2 has a point. I actually find it hard to understand the level of attention that Anders (among others) pays to Richard Tol – who seems to me to be one of the more notably juvenile contributors to the blogospheric discussion of the science of climate change and the related economic issues. I understand that Richard has a relatively high degree of influence , but participating in discussions with him seems to me to be manifestly fruitless, as he doesn’t engage in good faith with anyone who criticizes his professional work or the inane comments he makes in online discussions. For some reason, it seems to me, Richard in particular gets under Anders’ (and others’) skin – and I wonder why.

  164. Joshua,

    I actually find it hard to understand the level of attention that Anders (among others) pays to Richard Tol

    Yes, I don’t really understand it either. I think I’m a little amazed by what Richard has managed to achieve (and that should not be seen as some kind of compliment). My sense of how I thought the world works has been challenged by Richard’s apparent successes.

  165. OPatrick says:

    Michael 2, I’ve carefully read what you’ve written and I still can’t make different sense of it. How am I supposed to interpret this: I am impressed by the respect and admiration you give Tol’s influence ?

  166. Michael 2 says:

    jsam says: “We’ll tax and regulate when it is all too apparent to all but the most hardened anti-scientist.”

    Not today, then. What a relief! Willard’s comment suggested we could just do it now; I did not realize we had a strategy in place so there will be no doubt as to its necessity. When things are really bad *then* we’ll spring a global tax on everyone and who could complain?

    I am shamed to admit this, but I don’t remember what we were going to do with all that revenue. Can you remind me?

  167. Joshua says:

    ==> “My sense of how I thought the world works has been challenged by Richard’s apparent successes.”

    Actually, I was just thinking that I had a similar reaction (but forgot to mention it).

    Despite thinking that I had no illusions about academia, I find that I’m amazed that someone of his stature would without much apparent thought, present such so many juvenile and facile arguments in these online discussions. I’m not surprised when I see that kind of input from mosher or the Chief – who have inhabited the private sector, but I am repeatedly finding that Richard is upsetting my preconceptions. In that sense, I guess he has done me a service in helping me to recognize my own unrealistic biases. I always criticize free-marketeers for the obvious of thinking that self-interest, fraud, etc., are (just coincidentally, of course) more prevalent in the academia – and Richard has helped me to see that I’ve suffered under a sort of illusion that Richard’s sort of behavior might be unsustainable in an academic environment.

  168. izen says:

    Recently there was a referendum in Scotland to decide on whether to become an independent State from the UK.

    One big issue of the campaign was the size of the residual oil and gas deposit in the North sea. Those favouring independence claimed that reserves were large and could finance the future of an independent nation. Anti-secessionist claimed they were running out and would fail to provide significant future wealth. People in other parts of the UK worried about the loss of royalty and tax payments to the UK parliament if Scotland went of with the oil and gas rights.

    At no point in the political debate did I hear anyone mention that the carbon not yet extracted from the North sea reserves might have to be left underground to meet the 2degC limit. It was NEVER an issue. the automatic assumption was that the reserves represented national wealth for someone.

    That fundamental outlook that spans from the general populace to government and the fossil fuel business does not indicate that acting on the 2degC limit is very likely. BAU seems the inevitable consequence.

  169. Eli Rabett says:

    Pekka

    The most certain unwanted effect is that rapidly increased economic incentives lead to large resources being wasted in solutions that are ultimately much less cost-efficient than some others, but that are for some reason the easiest ones to implement rapidly

    Ah yes, better faster cheaper, pick two. Given the threat and the relative richness of the developed world, Eli votes for better and faster, cause there is a problem.

  170. Eli Rabett says:

    izen is right. Consider the reaction to the discovery of new fields off Aberdeen. OTOH, we have Ms. Thatcher to thank for the destruction of the UK coal industry. IEHO the major contribution Germany could make would be to stop burning shit (aka brown coal)

  171. Eli Rabett says:

    A minor remark. Pekka is coming dangerously close to the Breakthrough Institute nonsense that the Technolgy God at precisely the last moment will deliver a clever cheap energy source solution. Development invariably requires waste at the start.

  172. > better faster cheaper, pick two.

    Frenchies can juggle with one more than that:

  173. Michael 2 says:

    Yes — what Joshua wrote!

    For decades what happens in academia stays there and what happens everywhere else stays everywhere else with neither group particularly interested in penetrating that invisible barrier.

    That is why I attempt occasionally to illuminate the existence of this barrier and its resulting bubbles which, in turn, produce faulty judgments regarding what you can realistically do outside your bubble.

    No democratic economy on Earth is for very long going to make its own citizens suffer. Not even the non-democratic nations accomplish it forever. Even if doom and disaster is inevitable it cannot be your FAULT; whereas if you impose taxes, the faulty person is easily identified and punished. You might look back and blame someone long dead for not taking action but it is weak. An example is Neville Chamberlain’s boast of “peace for our time” (just before World War 2). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_for_our_time

    A similar concept is “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”
    corporatevisions.com/blog/2007/06/11/no-one-ever-got-fired-for-buying-ibm/

    It’s SAFE. I could use Linux for nearly everything, it’s free and reliable. I do actually use it for quite a lot, but for certain sensitive application I prefer to use Windows. If anything goes wrong, which it will, I blame Microsoft. It’s an easy target for a sueball. But if I used Linux, then all blame goes to me rather than the thousands of volunteer contributors.

    So it is with the politics of these taxes. If disaster merely “happens” such as in Haiti, blame god or global warming or someone long dead; no single person is at fault. But impose taxes on the living by the living, the consequences of that ARE blamed on a specific person and/or party as Australia is now discovering.

    So, put global taxes on the same shelf with “Lord of the Rings” — a great fantasy loosely based on history. Your slice of the global “we” is pretty small.

  174. Doug Bostrom says:

    Joshua: …participating in discussions with [Richard Tol] seems to me to be manifestly fruitless, as he doesn’t engage in good faith with anyone who criticizes his professional work or the inane comments he makes in online discussions.

    Everything is information, even and perhaps especially inanity. It’s arguable that excitation of Richard Tol produces a useful, universally understood signal.

  175. Eli,

    A minor remark. Pekka is coming dangerously close to the Breakthrough Institute nonsense that the Technolgy God at precisely the last moment will deliver a clever cheap energy source solution. Development invariably requires waste at the start.

    People use optimism on technology developments to justify arguments in both directions. BTI in many connections and the Hartwell Paper very specifically have used such optimism to justify less regulation or incentives. Many on the other side use technology optimism to justify belief in strong incentives. I see wishful thinking on both sides.

    To get good results the incentives must not be too weak, but also not too high. Finding the right level, or more appropriately the right path of gradually changing incentives is a quantitative problem that should be decided using quantitative arguments in spite of the fact that models are highly uncertain and full cost-benefit analysis impossible.

    In discussions on this site Dana Nuccitelli and Richard Tol have both stated that they favor the idea of a gradually rising carbon tax. William Nordhaus proposes that as well in his publications including the book The Climate casino. Up to this point the agreement is pretty wide reaching. Where views do certainly differ are the actual values, perhaps more on the rate of increase in the tax rate, because this is more important in the long run than the initial value.

    My own proposal for the increase is that values are always fixed for the next five years (the fixed values may have a rising trend), and that the results and new knowledge is used at annually or biannually to decide the tax rate for the next year or two to add to the set of fixed tax rates. Some constraints may be given also for these adjustments. The idea of this approach is that it is predictable enough for the investors, but also flexible enough to react to new information. As an example the observation that warming is speeding up and projections about damages go up would lead to raising the tax rate more than expected without these observations. Similarly the experience on the effects on the economies and on the rate of deployment of mitigation measures would also affect the development. Clear guidelines should be fixed for the decision making on the new tax rates.

  176. Pekka,
    Except there’s a difference – in my opinion – between those who say “if we start doing something, we’ll find a solution” and those who say “don’t worry, we don’t need to do anything, someone in the future will solve this for us”. Those are both forms of optimism – one, however, is relies slightly more on magical thinking than the other.

  177. izen says:

    @- Eli Rabett
    ” OTOH, we have Ms. Thatcher to thank for the destruction of the UK coal industry. IEHO the major contribution Germany could make would be to stop burning shit (aka brown coal) ”

    The destruction of the UK coal industry was not motivated by any intention to decarbonise or transfer away from coal as an energy source.
    The reasons were ;
    1 the mining industry was strongly unionised with a long social history of political activism in opposition to the political ideals and actions of Ms Thatcher.
    2 the UK coal industry was a nationalised institutions, it was not part of the established fossil fuel business but a state run enterprise at direct odds with Ms Thatcher and her governments’ economic and political beliefs.
    3 removing the state coal industry opened up UK coal markets to cheaper coal from Europe supplied by fossil fuel business of the sort that produce the sort of brown coal Eli mentions with such disdain.

    Disputing the scientific validity of a 2degC target/limit, or its suitability as a policy motivator seems like an exercise in planning the seating arrangements on a larger ship when there is very little indication that any of the present political players would close a fossil fuel industry for better reasons than those that motivated the UK government in the 80s. Our present captains seem still focused on crossing the ocean as fast as possible, even if the sciences warns of ice.

    I doubt the Tol’s of this world do more than provide an implausible deniability for the inactions taken, rather than influencing the choices governments make.

  178. ATTP,
    The proposals are opposite, but when extreme enough both can be equally bad, or either one can be worse than the other.

    When the threshold is exceeded is a quantitative question that must be answered using quantitative arguments.

  179. Pekka,

    but when extreme enough both can be equally bad, or either one can be worse than the other.

    Sure, I agree. Typically, most extreme scenarios/views have similar flaws/problems. I’ll make a broader comment. I remember Bjorn Lomborg saying something like “we should commit 2% of global GDP to developing alternative technology for combating climate change” (paraphrasing of course). Lots of people seemed to think this is quite clever, but I don’t get this. How do we do this? Where does this 2% come from? Taxation? Do we insist that companies commit money for R&D while stating that we probably won’t allow them to implement their technologies for decades? As much as I think we should indeed be investing in R&D, I don’t see how we can do this without also incentivising it in some way.

    Yes, it’s quite possible that we will implement technologies before maybe we should have, but if we hadn’t done so would we have continued development. It just seems that reality is always going to different to the ideal. Of course, I have no problem with us reminding ourselves of what the ideal should be, but thinking that we can actually achieve it is probably naive, especially as we’ll probably only know it retrospect. It’s easy enough to criticise what we’ve done once we know it was the wrong thing to do. It’s not always clear – in advance – that it will turn out to be the wrong thing to do.

  180. The basic point of what I have written on here is that stating that we must do all we can to stop warming is not a really meaningful, because all we can is not well defined. I brought up Linkola to tell, how he interprets that kind of requirements. When others make the statement they have something else in mind, but everyone has probably a different meaning for that.

    For this reason I insist that constructive discussion requires that more specific description of the action is given that the elusive all we can. Then it’s possible to discuss the merits of the proposals.

  181. Pekka,
    I broadly agree that we must do all we can is ill defined. On the other hand, if we define some level of warming that we think would be dangerous and then we start a process of determining how best to reduce our emissions, but discover that we’re still heading towards dangerous levels of warming, maybe we should do something more. I guess I’m not convinced that there is some decision we can make today that would be the ultimate and final decision. So, we have to start somewhere and we have to have some kind of goal. I do agree with the concept of a carbon tax as being something that will help to properly price carbon and, consequently, make alternatives more viable. On the other hand, a carbon tax alone doesn’t guarantee that the result will be optimal in terms of minimising the impacts of climate change. So, my personal view is that although a carbon tax could be crucial, I don’t think it should be the only thing we do.

    In the same way that people think that maybe we’ll develop some really cheap alternative, it’s also possible that someone will develop a really cheap way to extract fossil fuels. If so, unless we’re willing to rapidly change the carbon tax in response to such developments, we can’t guarantee that a carbon tax will be effective at reducing emissions. I’m of course assuming that ultimately we want to reduce emissions. Others may disagree.

  182. ATTP,
    The question of, how to best advance technology development is important. Governments do that in various ways like
    – funding public research organizations (universities and other research institutes)
    – competitive research funding available to private and public organizations
    – funding demonstration and pilot programs
    – tax breaks to companies related to research spending
    – subsidies for deployment of new technologies

    Each of the approaches has its merits and limitations. What I criticized above are subsidy schemes for deployment under conditions that lead to very high cost relative to the results including both direct benefits from the investments and influence on R&D. My claim is that we have very bad examples of this kind of errors among the renewable energy support schemes of European countries. Billions of Euros (perhaps well over 10 billion) are spent on schemes that have in my judgment a value that a small fraction of that sum (like 20%). A wiser policy would have produced more useful results for much less. As I said, many agree on that judgment, but many others disagree.

  183. Pekka,

    My claim is that we have very bad examples of this kind of errors among the renewable energy support schemes of European countries.

    I’m sure this is true and I don’t dispute your basic point. My point is simply that we should also avoid the alternative which is to resist deployment until we believe perfection has been achieved. I’m sure we’re going to make lots of mistakes in the coming years/decades. None of the means that we shouldn’t be trying to find solutions.

    Overall, I suspect we broadly agree. I probably lean more towards taking chances and risking mistakes than maybe you do. Also, even though you argue that there are examples where schemes were implemented that had a much smaller value than what was invested, what was the ultimate economic consequences of those decisions. Did the employees spend their salaries? Did the companies who built the infrastructure make money? Sure, the consumer or taxpayer may have spent more than they might have on some product, but was it economically damaging in a major way, or simply a small inefficiency that had little negative impact. Of course, I’m not suggesting that this is a good thing to do, but am not convinced that the net effect is quite as drastic as might be indicated by something that ultimately only has a value 20% of its investment (to be clear, though, I would rather that we implemented energy technologies that didn’t cost people on low-incomes more than is necessary).

  184. BBD says:

    Well, long ago, I said to Pekka that we need to get on with it. Mistakes will be made and money will be wasted, but this awful, talky, anxious stasis – decision paralysis – is far worse. I repeat: no plan survives contact with reality. The best strategies evolve and improve in response to reality. This actually requires making mistakes and learning from them.

  185. BBD,
    I agree fully on what you wrote.

    What I want to add that it’s possible to design policies that have essentially similar initial influences but that differ, when things start to move in a wrong direction. My reference to unlimited volume is related to that. It should be possible to limit the volume effectively, if the costs seem to become excessive relative to results.

  186. BBD says:

    Pekka

    My reference to unlimited volume is related to that. It should be possible to limit the volume effectively, if the costs seem to become excessive relative to results.

    To be clear are you referring mainly to the deployment of wind and solar?

  187. Willard says:

    > for certain sensitive application I prefer to use Windows. If anything goes wrong, which it will, I blame Microsoft. It’s an easy target for a sueball.

    You are a powerful man, M2, or you bought sensitive applications with very badly written EULA.

  188. BBD,

    The past cases that I consider clear are wind and solar. In the case of Germany the early expansion of wind generators and then solar until the most recent reduction in the level of feed-in tariff based subsidies. Many bioenergy solutions have also led to highly questionable outcomes, but mainly for different reasons.

    Presently the subsidy levels are typically more moderate (there might be exceptions). Finding a level of support that both avoids creating excessive inefficiencies and leads to the desired level of reduction in CO2 emissions may become problematic in the future again. To what extent that happens remains to be seen.

  189. BBD says:

    Okay, thanks Pekka.

  190. Eli Rabett says:

    Hmm. So Germany adjusted the subsidies. As with everything, too fast a feedback loop leads to overcontrol and wild swings, too slow to undercontrol and bad following. Again, a physicist’s argument from Pekka (not meant to denigrate, but to label). Perfection is simply not available in political systems. As a practical matter we are arguing in which direction to err..

  191. Eli,
    Yes they have adjusted, but the have costs and commitments of tens of billions from the period of high subsidies. Germany can afford those, they can afford also the loans to Greece of comparable magnitude that will not be fully repaid.

  192. Willard says:

    Germany can also afford to pay student fees. Some might think it comes from saving on Italian wine:

    > Germans aren’t traveling so much to Italy and buying fine wines. And this is backed up by statistics. Turns out Germany is exporting much more than it’s importing. Rather than running a big deficit like many other European countries, Germany has a trade surplus – a big one. Jacob Kirkegaard says no developed country in the history of the world has ever been so successful and so frugal at the same time. And when you have a really big country not buying much of anything, that’s a problem.

    http://m.kunc.org/mobile/57145

  193. Eli Rabett says:

    Pekka, of course the lesson the German’s have not learned is that a large part of their catastrophic inflation of the 1920s was loosed by the need of paying WWI reparations to France, so having not learned they are doing the same to Greece, Spain and Portugal.

    Oh yeah, also Haiti and France. That one has still not been recovered from

  194. Rob Nicholls says:

    Personally, as a lay person whose understanding of IPCC WG2 and WG3 is even less than my shaky grasp of WG1, I think the 2 degrees C target seems a pretty good one and urgent, massive investment should be put into meeting it. That doesn’t mean I think it’s possible to say that up to 2 degrees of global surface warming is in any way safe. If I thought it was likely that we will meet a tougher target then I’d be pushing for a tougher target. However, given where we are, given the massive vested interests behind continuing to burn so wastefully these precious complex hydrocarbons that we’ve unearthed, given the institutional inertia and given the huge dearth of public knowledge about the urgency of the situation, I would be overjoyed if humanity manages to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees C.

    We talk a lot about the uncertainties around basic concepts such as climate sensitivity, but it seems to me that the uncertainties around how important things like human agricultural systems and the biosphere in general will react to a given level of warming are very large (I think these things are quite challenging to model). As with all uncertainty, it cuts both ways.

  195. Rob Nicholls says:

    I’d like to add that I’m very alarmed by the potential for a couple of degrees C of global warming to act synergistically with other environmental problems caused by our civilisation. As far as I know no other species has built quite the same kind of industrial civilisation that we’ve created recently, so I don’t think there’s much in the way of a precedent to guide us on this. I’m not confident that 2 degrees of warming, working in conjunction with some of the other environmental problems, won’t be enough to wipe out quite a large proportion of our planet’s species.

    I’m also alarmed that my (admittedly very superficial) reading of IPCC AR5 WG3 suggests that Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is seen as quite important to a lot of mitigation scenarios. e.g. the Summary for Policy Makers says “Mitigation scenarios reaching about 450 ppm CO2eq in 2100 typically involve temporary overshoot of atmospheric concentrations, as do many scenarios reaching about 500 ppm to 550 ppm CO2eq in 2100. Depending on the level of the overshoot, overshoot scenarios typically rely on the availability and widespread deployment of BECCS and afforestation in the second half of the century.” I’m worried that Bioenergy / afforestation may displace a lot of food production, worsening global food security.

    I think we have to do better than this if we possibly can. To leave the next few generations with a choice between much higher levels of malnutrition in the short term and dangerous / very dangerous climate change in the long term is not a good idea. To me, this makes the need for deep cuts in GHG emissions even more urgent.

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