The good, the bad, and the risky

Given that I was also wanting to comment on Matt Ridley’s recent article on the benefits of carbon dioxide, I thought I might steal part of Dana’s title. Only seems fair, given that he handed the reins of his Guardian blog to Eli 😉 . Ridley’s article is based partly on an apparently peer-reviewed Global Warming Policy Foundation Report. From what I can tell, their “peer-reviewed” is the same as my “thanks for proof reading”. Matt Ridley’s article also appears to have misrepresented the views of most of the scientists that he’s quoted.

I wasn’t really wanting to discuss Matt Ridley’s article in any depth. I’ve wasted enough of my time discussing his misrepresentations, and you can always read Dana’s article if you want to know more. I was wanting to make a slightly tangential observation. It seems that one of the common justifications for articles like that written by Matt Ridley is that mainstream scientists, and the mainstream media, tend to focus on the negative aspects of climate change and, therefore, that discussing some of the positives provides some form of balance. This, however, misses the entire point of what we’re trying to do. We’re not emitting CO2 so as to change our climate; it’s simply a by product of energy generation. Consequently, the goal is to try and understand the consequences of continuing to emit CO2. It’s fundamentally a form of risk analysis and, as such, it’s entirely reasonable to focus more on the negatives then on the positives [Edit: It might have been better if I’d used cost-benefit analysis, rather than risk analysis here. I’m simply trying to highlight that it should be an overall analysis, not simply a “some good things might happen” type of analysis.].

Essentially, if there are risks associated with continued CO2 emissions, you don’t balance those risks by showing that some of the consequences might be positive. The correct comparison is between the risks associated with continuing to emit CO2 and the risks/costs associated with reducing, or stopping, our emissions. Showing that there might be some positive benefits (as there almost certainly will be) doesn’t suddenly cancel out the negatives. This would be like arguing that it’s okay to go on a potentially dangerous school trip because some of the children will have a great time.

Now, you could argue that maybe we could show that the overall benefit would be net positive. However, that’s already implicit in the standard risk analysis – the risks/costs associated with mitigation could exceed the risks/costs associated with continuing to emit CO2. However, there are a few other things to bear in mind. We’re pretty suited to our current climate, so there’s no great need to change it. Our emissions are not explictly intended to change our climate, they’re simply a consequence of our current form of energy generation. If there was a cost effective way to avoid CO2 emissions, I don’t think we would continue to do so simply because of the possible benefits of a changed climate.

Also, if you wanted to make this argument, you’d need to actually show – pretty convincingly – that the benefits would be overall positive. Climate models today are mainly scientific tools that can be used to try and understand how our climate might respond to changes. They’re also clearly stronger for some things (warming, hydrological cycle) than they are for others (regional impacts), and are clearly not suitable for designing how we might change our climate. If people think climate models are not good enough to understand how our climate responds to changes, then they’re certainly not good enough to use for geo-engineering.

So, as far as I’m concerned, these articles that promote the possible positives of climate change, simply ignore that showing that there might be some positives, is not an argument against reducing our emissions. Of course, that Matt Ridley doesn’t understand the basics of risk analysis is no great surprise.

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60 Responses to The good, the bad, and the risky

  1. > This would be like arguing that it’s okay to go on a potentially dangerous school trip because some of the children will have a great time.

    But I *do* do that, in my own life. I go climbing in the mountains, even though there is potential danger, and it costs money. Because I’ll have a great time.

  2. WMC,
    Yes, but you still minimise the risks. I was meaning that you argue against minimising the risks *because* some of the children will have a great time. Actually, I thought I had the word “simply” before “because”, which I don’t.

  3. Actually, I suspected that my analogy would be criticised, which is why I try not to use them 🙂

  4. Willard says:

    > I *do* do that, in my own life.

    You still go on school trips?

  5. dana1981 says:

    Richard Tol (GWPF’s primary economics academic advisor) passed along a link to a recent working paper of his, which finds,

    In the long run, the negative [climate change] impacts dominate the positive ones. Negative impacts will be substantially greater in poorer, hotter, and lower-lying countries. Poverty reduction complements greenhouse gas emissions reduction as a means to reduce climate change impacts. Climate change may affect the growth rate of the economy and may trap more people in poverty but quantification is difficult. The optimal carbon tax in the near term is somewhere between a few tens and a few hundreds of dollars per tonne of carbon.

    Doesn’t quite mesh with the message of the GWPF report does it?

  6. Richard says:

    There are two immediate thoughts on why the narrative of ‘positive impacts’ is problematic.

    Firstly, in as much as this might be plausibly argued it would apply to only slight warming, but since the Ridleys of this world actually argue against any action to mitigate CO2 emissions, it would not stop at slight, and hence the issue (not a risk) is that the current path is towards high impacts of 3C or more.

    Secondly, ‘we’ means people and often economic models that include things we are able to quantify. So that excludes millions of other species, many of which we ultimately rely on and which cannot adapt to even mild climate change, let alone the current warming that is at ‘supersonic’ speed in an evolutionary context. What is the risk/ cost of decimating plankton in the oceans? Incalculable, therefore ignored!?

    Unfortunately, Matt Ridley has created his own little bubble of Simonesque optimism that we have reviewed many times before and which of course assume functionally infinite resources, limitless techno-ingenuity to overcome all hurdles, etc. … all refuted every day in numerous cases across the world. Boring in his terms, often publicly sponsored initiatives, are the basis of many of the major advances, but of course Governments and Environmentalists are the enemy to his narrative of market-led salvation. He cherry picks his social history as much as his climate science.

    But then, he may have another ‘optimistic’ book to market.

    We can’t let reality get in the way of this imagined world. Bad for business.

  7. Based on his recent book and this interview, Matt Ridley thinks that everything should simply be left to evolve. However, what struck me the most was his response to the 2008 crisis

    I was chairman of Northern Rock and when I saw that… I mean, it wasn’t ridiculously overdone, the regulation, but there was a lot of it and I spent a lot of time with regulators and they would ask me many, many questions about credit risk. And they never asked questions about liquidity risk, which turned out to be the risk we were facing. Now that gave me false reassurance. It shouldn’t have done. I should have been clever enough to see through that and say: Hang on, we’re running a risk that you’re not talking about…

  8. dana1981 says:

    Richard reminds me of this comment from Ridley that I didn’t have the space to address, but which really irritates me:

    The IPCC’s forecast warming range includes the possibility that we will still be enjoying net benefits by the end of the century

    I’m not sure from exactly where this assertion comes, but if true, that possibility is obviously in a scenario like RCP2.6 in which we take immediate drastic action to cut carbon emissions – the type of action that Ridley advocates against.

    It’s not the first time that Ridley and co. have cited the IPCC as saying the amount or consequences of warming by the end of the century might not be so bad, and therefore we needn’t take any serious action, while failing to note that the scenario involving minimal warming/consequences requires that we take serious action. It drives me nuts.

  9. Dana,
    Indeed. I’ve also seen Ridley appear to argue that the RCPs are all possible pathways that we could essentially follow by chance. He seems to avoid recognising that the pathway we actually follow will depend on the decisions we make, not on random chance. We can’t follow a low emission pathway if fossil fuels continue to dominate our energy sources, our economies keep growing, and we don’t develop, or implement, CCS. This may, of course, be related to his whole idea that everything – including our economies – simply evolve, without any kind of designer. That, in my view, is simply bollocks.

  10. semyorka says:

    Leibeg’s law of the minimum tells us it is the least abundant necessary nutrient that restricts plant growth. This is usually water, light or some nutrient other than CO2. Given that warmer air means faster evaporation, for many places the increase in CO2 may not do much for plant growth. With heavier rains likely to increase erosion of top soils made vulnerable by the removal of endemic vegetation for crops, I remain unpersuaded as to the benefits of a new eden in a CO2 enhanced world.

  11. semyorka says:

    “I go climbing in the mountains, even though there is potential danger, and it costs money. Because I’ll have a great time.”
    You make a choice for yourself based on your personal values and apatite for risk taking, this is taking an awful lot of people who have no say in the matter up a, metaphorical, hill of risks without their formal consent.

  12. semyorka,
    I think this article by Colin Prentice covers some of those issues.

  13. Magma says:

    Another annoying thing is that the skeptoptomists* mine the scientific literature for items they can misquote or take out of context while pretending that these are revolutionary new findings or that scientists working in relevant fields haven’t been aware of them.

    Earth ‘wobbles’ cause ICE AGES!
    CO2 helps plants grow, research shows
    Our Sun is a variable star – may explain ice ages, dinosaurs, clouds
    Earth had ice ages and warm periods before humans
    CO2 and methane occur naturally, scientists claim
    ICE FLOATS! Scientists stunned by discovery

    * The brighter, harder-working ones, anyway.

  14. > hill of risks without their formal consent

    You make it sound like the alternative is risk-free. It isn’t. And I don’t know what you mean by consent: if you’re talking about future generations, then no course of action or inaction we take can have their consent.

    At base, ATTP’s point: that trying to balance positives and negatives is wrong – just seems totally silly to me. So much so that I assume I’ve misunderstood, though I can’t see much room for misunderstanding.

    > you’d need to actually show – pretty convincingly – that the benefits would be overall positive

    This, too, is unclear. Why would you? We’re always doing things whose consequences we can’t predict. Requiring strong proof up front is a recipe for paralysis.

  15. Willard says:

    > then no course of action or inaction we take can have their consent.

    So now it is we who’s going mountain climbing?

  16. Willard says:

    I’ll also point at:

    [T]rying to balance positives and negatives is wrong – just seems totally silly to me

    and this:

    We’re always doing things whose consequences we can’t predict.

    That is all.

  17. matt says:

    > At base, ATTP’s point: that trying to balance positives and negatives is wrong – just seems totally silly to me. So much so that I assume I’ve misunderstood, though I can’t see much room for misunderstanding.

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood too, but I read this like WMC and agree with him.

  18. At base, ATTP’s point: that trying to balance positives and negatives is wrong – just seems totally silly to me. So much so that I assume I’ve misunderstood, though I can’t see much room for misunderstanding.

    Hold on, at it’s simplest level your basic risk assessment involves balancing what could go wrong with what you should do to avoid things going wrong. If you’re going mountain climbing, you consider all the things that could happen and you see what you need to buy in order to minimise the possibility of something going wrong. You of course accept some level of risk, but at no stage – I think – would you say “I can’t afford to buy proper climbing gear, but I’m going to go anyway, because until I fall off I’ll be having a great time”.

    The point I was trying to get at is that simply comparing the possible benefits of climate change, with the possible negatives, is the wrong way to do a standard risk analysis. You need to really consider the risks/costs associated with minimising the risks.

    I’m currently struggling to see why this is all the controversial. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t do risky things; simply trying to point out that if you do risky things, that the risk analysis one would do would be to compare the risks you might face with the costs associated with minimising those risks, not simply compare the risks you might face with the enjoyment you might have. Of course, in doing your proper risk analysis you would be accepting some risk and would need to then consider if it’s still worth doing the activity. So, yes, at some point you need to decide if the risk you have to accept is worth accepting, but that doesn’t mean that you simply compare the positives and negatives when deciding if something is worth doing.

    This, too, is unclear. Why would you? We’re always doing things whose consequences we can’t predict. Requiring strong proof up front is a recipe for paralysis.

    You should read the end of the paragraph before. I was trying to make the case that if we could reduce our emissions in a cost effective way, then we would probably not choose to continue emitting CO2 simply for the climate change benefits. If you wanted to argue for emitting CO2 (if it could be avoided) simply for the benefits it would accrue, you’d presumably need to show this pretty convincingly. I was really just trying to get across the point that actively geo-engineering our planet would need climate models that are a good deal better than those we have today.

  19. Maybe I’ll try and explain it a slightly different way.

    When you go mountain/hill climbing, the reason you’re doing it is because you enjoy it. It carries some risks, so – if you were sensible – you would consider these risks and decide what you should buy/take with you so as to minimise those risks in the most optimal way.

    When it comes to emitting CO2, the reason we’re doing it is because it is part of how we generate energy. That’s the immediate positive. The risk assessment therefore should involve (as far as I can see) an assessment of the risks associated with continuing to emit CO2 and the risks/costs associated with minimising those risks. That there could be some positives doesn’t suddenly mean that we would choose not to reduce these risks if it were cost effective to do so.

    In some sense (and I tried to get this across in the post) it’s all included in a standard risk assessment. In the case of mountain climbing/hill walking you would also include how much mitigating these risks would influence your enjoyment. Similarly, when we’re considering whether or not to continue emitting CO2, we’re also including the impact of cutting emissions on our lifestyles.

    Actually, I don’t know if this is making it any clearer as I’m now starting to get confused myself.

  20. > your basic risk assessment involves balancing what could go wrong with what you should do to avoid things going wrong

    No. That’s not the balance. I do what’s possible to avoid going wrong, but the *balance* is between what might go wrong, and the pleasure of being there.

    > is the wrong way to do a standard risk analysis.

    Its the wrong way to do risk analysis. But its the correct way to do cost-benefit analysis. Ah, *now* I see where the confusion has come from: I’d missed your original “It’s fundamentally a form of risk analysis”. But is it? Why is it fundamentally RA not CBA? Crudely, we’re faced with two developement pathways: a low-carbon low-climate change one; and a high-carbon high-climate change one. they have different costs and benefits, and different risks. The risks of the latter should be factored in to the costs; but ultimately its the CBA that matters.

    > actively geo-engineering our planet would need climate models that are a good deal better

    Agreed.

  21. No. That’s not the balance. I do what’s possible to avoid going wrong, but the *balance* is between what might go wrong, and the pleasure of being there.

    Sure, but that’s once you’ve essentially done your analysis of what you should do to minimise the risks. Right? Also, something I maybe didn’t make clear is that in this case the reason you’re doing this is because you enjoy it. The reason we emit CO2 is because we enjoy the energy that’s produced in emitting it, not because we enjoy the – for example – subsequent greening of the planet.

    Crudely, we’re faced with two developement pathways: a low-carbon low-climate change one; and a high-carbon high-climate change one. they have different costs and benefits, and different risks. The risks of the latter should be factored in to the costs; but ultimately its the CBA that matters.

    Okay, maybe I could have used CBA instead of RA (I was trying to make the case that it should be an overall analysis, not a simple “some good things might happen”). This is essentially what I was getting at. As you say, we should compare the risks/costs of the different options. An article like Ridley’s (that simply tries to point out the benefits of CO2) simply seems to be highlighting some positives, without even attempting to address that there are many negatives and that we should be comparing the risks/costs of emitting CO2 with the risks/costs of avoiding those emissions.

  22. > Okay, maybe I could have used CBA instead of RA

    Now I’m confused again. I thought I’d found the reason that what you were saying made no sense to me (or to Matt: I’m not alone). I think the CBA and RA frameworks are very different; if you think they’re close to interchangeable, then we disagree a lot.

    > we should compare the risks/costs of the different options

    Not quite what I said. I said we should compare the overall benefits-minus-costs. That is, in theory, possible: you can (in theory, yes I know) reduce each entire scenario down to one number. If you insist (as you appear to say) on comparing both the costs and the benefits separately, then you can’t intercompare different options.

    But I do agree that simply pointing out some positives (or, conversely, simply pointing out negatives) isn’t balanced. You cannot rebut “oh dear, GW will have some costs” by saying “oh good, GW will have some benefits”. Or vice versa.

  23. WMC,

    I think the CBA and RA frameworks are very different; if you think they’re close to interchangeable, then we disagree a lot.

    Okay, I’ve maybe use poor terminology. I guess technically a “risk analysis” simply analyses the risks – however, I was including, in this, the risks associated with finding alternative energy sources, not simply the risks associated with emitting CO2. I was implicitly assuming that one would then take that a step further and also include the costs/benefits of reducing those risks. If that’s more properly described as a CBA, then that’s fine. This is not the aspect I was expecting to be focusing/arguing on/about. What I was trying to get at is that we emit CO2 as a by product of energy generation. We clearly benefit from doing so, but it introduces risks. So, we should be comparing the consequences of emitting CO2 with the consequences of finding some kind of alternative to doing so. In it’s simplest form, I guess this is purely a cost-benefit analysis – we benefit from emitting CO2, but there is a cost to doing so, how do we optimise the benefits and the costs.

    Not quite what I said. I said we should compare the overall benefits-minus-costs. That is, in theory, possible: you can (in theory, yes I know) reduce each entire scenario down to one number. If you insist (as you appear to say) on comparing both the costs and the benefits separately, then you can’t intercompare different options.

    I wasn’t implying doing them separately. Maybe I’m just not quite explaining myself clearly – should probably have waited till I’d finished my coffee 🙂 . Ultimately, I am indeed simply suggesting that one should compare the benefits of emitting CO2 with the costs of doing so. That’s really all. I was trying to also get across that there are also risks/costs associated with alternatives, as well as risks/costs associated with emitting CO2. So, it’s a complex analysis in practice. Simply pointing out that some possible good things might happen does not act to nullify that some possible bad things might happen.

    You cannot rebut “oh dear, GW will have some costs” by saying “oh good, GW will have some benefits”. Or vice versa.

    Yes, that is almost the crux of what I was getting at. The possible future benefits of emitting CO2 (greening, for example) are not the core benefits of doing so (energy generation). So, suggesting that we should somehow balance the possible bad consequences with possible good consequences is the wrong way to do this comparison.

  24. Willard says:

    > I do what’s possible to avoid going wrong, but the *balance* is between what might go wrong, and the pleasure of being there.

    The analogy already broke down when a collective decision was transposed into an individual choice. The “doing what’s possible to avoid going wrong” breaks it even more, and appealing to “pleasure” completely destroys it, unless we can come up with a numerical analysis of pleasure.

    ***

    > I think the CBA and RA frameworks are very different […]

    Saying why might be nice, since on the wiki page of CBA we can read:

    Closely related, but slightly different, formal techniques include cost-effectiveness analysis, cost–utility analysis, risk–benefit analysis, economic impact analysis, fiscal impact analysis, and Social return on investment (SROI) analysis.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost%E2%80%93benefit_analysis

    As far as I can see, RBA is a generalization of CBA. To use another analogy, CBA is for Chess and RBA is for Poker.

  25. Willard says:

    > This is not the aspect I was expecting to be focusing/arguing on/about.

    Who cares. Sniping is so much fun.

    ***

    I will also point at this page:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_analysis

    and this other page:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_analysis_(business)

    that is all.

  26. > That is all.
    > that is all.

    How often are you going to say that?

    > RBA is a generalization of CBA

    Irrelevant, since I was talking about RA not RBA; and at the time I thought ATTP was, too.

  27. For clarity, I was talking about a thorough analysis that considers all sides of the issue. I should probably have included the word “benefit” somewhere. The main point I was trying to get at (not as clearly as I probably should have) is that you don’t simply compare some good things that might happen with some bad things that might happen, especially if neither of these are related to why you’re doing it in the first place (i.e., we don’t emit CO2 so as to change our climate, we’re emitting it because we enjoy the energy that is generated in the process of doing so).

    One reason I was using “risk” rather than “cost” is because it’s not clear to me that we can actually cost some of the consequences of our emissions. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have use “risk-benefit-analysis” rather than “risk-analysis” but is the reason I was reluctant to simply use “cost-benefit analysis” since that would imply that we can do such an analysis in practice, which I would argue is not quite as easy as it might seem (even if we could do it in theory).

  28. matt says:

    At least we can all agree Ridley is rubbish.

    Your updates help. I really was mainly responding to bits like “it’s entirely reasonable to focus more on the negatives then on the positives”.

    No need. Ideally include every factor, practically include the biggest factors (both positive and negative, regardless if it is an unintended/secondary consequence or not, like planetary greening, or

    etc)

    Take the “pros minus cons” of all scenarios – BAU, stop emissions today, everything inbetween and beyond. This simple step produces an exact number for each scenario which everyone will agree on.

    Pick the largest number and proceed on that path with everyone holding hands. Easy.

  29. Matt,

    Your updates help. I really was mainly responding to bits like “it’s entirely reasonable to focus more on the negatives then on the positives”.

    No need. Ideally include every factor, practically include the biggest factors (both positive and negative, regardless if it is an unintended/secondary consequence or not, like planetary greening,

    Let me start by saying; yes, that seems reasonable. I will, however, try to explain – again 🙂 – what I was meaning by it being reasonable to focus more on the negatives than the positives.

    Climate change is inadvertant; we’re not emitting CO2 so as to change our climate, we’re emitting it because it’s a by product of energy generation. There will be consequences to doing so, some bad and some good. It’s not clear to me that aggregating these consequences is a reasonable approach; that some good things might happen doesn’t cancel out that some bad things might happen. Given that the main reason we emit CO2 is to produce energy, the reasonable comparison would seem to be, can we generate energy in a way that minimises the chance of the bad things happening and do so in a way such that the cost/benefit of doing so without emissions (or with reduced emissions) – overall – matches, or exceeds, the cost/benefit of doing so with emissions.

    Maybe another way of putting it is that the potentially good things that might happen are not things that we’re actively trying to do, but the bad things that could happen are things that we might actively want to avoid.

    That’s my thinking, at least. I’m no longer sure if it’s quite as reasonable now as it seemed when I wrote the post 🙂

  30. Willard says:

    > How often are you going to say that?

    As long as you won’t backup what you say and use terminological decoys instead of addressing AT’s point. Should I also use greenfieldisms every time you ask rhetorical questions?

    ***

    > Irrelevant, since I was talking about RA not RBA […]

    Actually, it’s your interpretation of RA that may be irrelevant. AT’s point has little to do with a mere engineer-level assessment of a risk, and has more to do with evaluating a risk to reach a certain (business) goal. Not just “consequences” of a risk, but goals, positive outcomes we could in principle estimate. Hence my pointing out the two Wiki pages, which you dodged with your rhetorical question.

    If you played Chess and Poker, you would have known what I meant. Would you prefer a rowing analogy? If you get on the Olympics rowing team, you get prestige and funding. There are risks associated to your endeavour: if you don’t make the team, you wasted resources, and rowing under stress can cause injuries. Also, it takes a toll on your social life: wife, kids, friends all are impacted by this project. There are opportunity losses too to take into account. Etcetera.

    Whether you’d use CBA, RA, or whatever, if we’re to take such analogy seriously, the choice depends upon balancing the risks, the costs, and the rewards. Such analogies always sound a bit silly, for we never really “balance out” things like that. We do what we do and then we rationalize our way out.

    ***

    All this instead of trying to clarify the relevant concepts or risk and cost. Sheesh.

  31. verytallguy says:

    One may question the funamental applicability of cost/benefit analysis in a quantitative sense for climate change.

    IAMs (Integrated Assessment Models) are the tool used for this. However…

    IAM-based analyses of climate policy create a perception of knowledge and precision, but that perception is illusory and misleading.

    http://www.nber.org/papers/w19244

  32. matt says:

    attp,

    Think enough has been said for our little exchange. I better leave before someone tests my knowledge of Social return on investment (SROI) analysis 😉

    Ill just say that what I thought we disagreed about, we dont. And yes there are problems with my comment but it was either that or the previous version which was tl;dr material. Sometimes u just have to hit send and hope everyone will read it precisely the way u intended, which Im sure u understand more than most 🙂

  33. Sometimes u just have to hit send and hope everyone will read it precisely the way u intended, which Im sure u understand more than most

    Yup, that’s pretty much how I write my posts 🙂

  34. dikranmarsupial says:

    The final paragraph of the Colin Prentice article that ATTP mentions upthread is well worth reading:

    “Finally, a comment about the unfortunate effects of political polarisation in science. I contend that Goklany, like previous contributors to the GWPF publication series, is in effect allowing the terms of discussion to be set by environmentalists! I do not think this is a good idea. It is peculiar that Goklany cites so much literature showing the beneficial effects of CO2 yet still appears to maintain that this work is ignored by scientists. It isn’t. We scientists produced this work, and we continue to use it and build on it. We do not claim that CO2 is “evil and dangerous”, nor do we imagine that models are truth! Polarisation makes for neither good science, nor sensible policy. Concern for human wellbeing is not the preserve of any one political tendency, and scientists are not lacking in it. We have a common interest; we should find a common cause.”

    Well quite.

  35. Willard says:

    > We have a common interest; we should find a common cause.

    How to transform that common cause into rewards would help. Even a risky reward may be tempting. Think of a sweepstake to create a better world. Pushed at its limits, this might be how we get religions.

    One problem in finding those rewards is that the social norms change when a pricing system is introduced to try to solve something tragic in the commons:

    Parking is a problem in most cities. Eric Meyer thought he had a solution that his neighbors in Baltimore, and the world, might appreciate.

    Meyer made an app to reduce congestion, cut greenhouse gasses and make urban life easier for everyone. Instead, it brought him nothing but trouble.

    http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/06/05/412240643/episode-630-free-parking

    What’s the worth of a better world?

  36. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    The IPCC’s forecast warming range includes the possibility that we will still be enjoying net benefits by the end of the century.

    Market forces will defeat climate forcing.

    But only for those who invest early.

    “Air-conditioning”. It’s the new “plastics”.

  37. Gator says:

    The problem is less the model used to calculate risk or cost-benefit. The problem is that benefit is largely going to first world societies and capitalists. I.e. Matt Ridley gets to sell coal, we all get to have electric power generated by fossil fuels to run our computers so we can post on blogs. When it gets hot enough I’ll put in a solar power air conditioner.

    The costs will be carried by others — famine, heat waves, floods, rising sea levels in other places, too poor to mitigate effectively. Maybe as a second order effect this hurts me as the refugees try to get into my country. But I can blame that on other social problems.

    I love the mountains, and I try to go hiking and camping a few times every year. As an ex-boy scout, I try to “be prepared” and minimize risks of harm to myself and family when we’re in the wild. But what if everytime I went into the mountains someone in Bangladesh was flooded out of their home? What if everytime I went someone in Africa died? The consequence doesn’t hurt me.

  38. Joshua says:

    Seems to me that there’s a lot of back and forth here that’s rather pointless (for a change?).

    I would guess that everyone would agree on the basics: If you have more than one way of obtaining a benefit (energy access, the rewards of hiking), then you would generally choose the method that minimizes associated risk and/or costs (unless you’re an adrenaline junkie).

    Of course, that gets complicated depending on context. What are the comparative risks and/or costs associated with different energy access pathways? Seems to me that the existence of risk from fossil fuels is clear (if not the magnitude of that risk). Seems to me that lots o’ folks make an argument about costs of renewable energy sources, but that in reality they have no solid way of quantifying the relative costs of renewable vs. fossil fuels, respectively (including, of course, the ratio of external costs to external benefits).

    So in the end, this is about risk assessment. What level of risk from climate change justifies a risk of loss/cost from increasing renewables relative to fossil fuels? I eagerly await someone who can present a clear answer to that question, dumbed down enough for me to understand. In lieu of such a response, it seems to me that what we’ve got is a crap shoot.

    In such a situation, it would be nice if people would focus on shared interests (minimizing risks of climate change and minimizing net costs from renewables) but that ain’t going to happen. Instead, it seems to me, people are more focused on defending and advancing positions that they’re comfortable with ideologically.

    And BBD – I was speaking generally there, and not with respect to any particular individual.

  39. Michael says:

    Estimating risks is one tricky part of this, but then there is even the more value-based aspect of deciding on how to manage those risks.

  40. Michael 2 says:

    ATTP writes: “You of course accept some level of risk, but at no stage – I think – would you say I can’t afford to buy proper climbing gear, but I’m going to go anyway, because until I fall off I’ll be having a great time.”

    Some climbers do exactly that — climb with no equipment or safety gear.

    Risk assessment includes some personal judgement or values. That is a substantial part of the climate debate, in my opinion the single most important sticking point. Your desire for safety and security is not widely shared.

  41. Andrew Dodds says:

    M2 –

    But here the problem is that the risk affects other people. Where I live is very unlikely to be hit hard by even 4K of climate change even as billions of people are hit.

  42. Andrew Dodds says:

    There is also something of an unspoken assumption here – that moving away from fossil fuels is automatically more expensive over the medium/long term, even disregarding externialities.

    This is not fully intuitive. Zero carbon technologies (Renewables and nuclear) are characterized by very low fuel/running costs, and high capital costs. Fossil fuel technologies are largely the other way around.

    Now, as a good capitalist, I would expect that the big investment/low unit cost system would win out over the low investment/high unit cost system. Indeed, that is almost a description of the industrial revolution. Of course, there are also a lot of managers and beancounters in the world who run scared at the prospect of large scale investment.

    In this case, even if global warming were a small net benefit 30 year’s hence, it would be offset by the extra costs of running a fossil fuelled energy system.

  43. Joshua says:

    ==> “Some climbers do exactly that — climb with no equipment or safety gear.”

    What % do you think fall into that category?

    ==> “Your desire for safety and security is not widely shared.”

    On what basis do you make that assessment? I’d guess that you’re wrong. We know that people very often misinterpret risk in the face of complicating factors, such as a long time-horizon associated with that risk; not that they carefully and rationally assess risk accurately and then subsequently “widely” differ from Anders’ desire for safety and security.

  44. Joshua says:

    ==> “The costs will be carried by others…:”

    Indeed. And so the level of risk is lower for those who have ready access to and the means for adaptation.

  45. As we discuss risk, the biggest hurricane ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere is about to hit Mexico. [ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-34614864 ] .

    Friends; were taking a massive gamble here, and with every day that passes the odds get worse. Reckless Ridley is just so wrong.

  46. dhogaza says:

    johnrussell40:

    “As we discuss risk, the biggest hurricane ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere is about to hit Mexico.”

    No problem. Mexico is part of “the others”. Why would Matt Ridley care about them?

  47. And if it weakens enough before hitting the coast, it won’t count; just like Sandy.

  48. Willard says:

    > Some climbers do exactly that — climb with no equipment or safety gear.

    And when they fall they fall alone. Or not:

    Brad Parker, 36, from Sebastopol, California, climbed Cathedral Peak, where he proposed to his girlfriend, Jainee Dial. She accepted, and Parker’s father told The Press Democrat that Brad told Jainee it was the happiest day of his life. Parker then left Dial behind to pursue a solo ascent of Matthes Crest. He reportedly fell from the traverse at 5.45 p.m. while free soloing. Park rangers located Parker’s body that evening, but waited until the following morning to remove it, as it was too late for a helicopter recovery.

    http://www.climbing.com/news/yosemite-climber-killed-from-fall-after-proposing-to-girlfriend/

  49. Joshua says:

    Related:

    Deep concern over at WUWT about an asteroid hitting a city on the Earth. This is no ordinary-level concern.

    “If an unusually fast asteroid a quarter of a mile across struck an inhabited part of the world, the explosion would be many times larger than the half megaton Chelyabinsk meteor explosion, which was caused by a meteor with an estimated diameter of 55 ft. The explosion would be in the 10s of megatons, rivalling the largest atom bombs ever detonated – more than large enough to devastate an entire city….In my opinion it is obscene that the world is spending countless billions chasing the imaginary perils of the climate dragon, while neglecting a far more serious threat to people’s lives.”

    Looking beyond the veracity of the conclusion that asteroid hits are being “neglected,” and considering that 70% of the Earth’s surface is water and some 60% of the land surface is uninhabited and that only a small % of the inhabited land is covered by cities…I have to wonder about the risk assessment methodology of the author at WUWT and the follow-on commenters (who, no doubt, don’t share Anders’ concerns about safety and security 🙂 )…..

  50. @Joshua

    Meh. Asteroids have always hit Earth. It’s just natural impacts. There will be benefits from the dust counteracting warming. The Chicken Littles have always been frightened of things falling on their heads. Lots of uncertainty. Etc.

  51. Gator says:

    @M2
    “Risk assessment includes some personal judgement or values. That is a substantial part of the climate debate, in my opinion the single most important sticking point. Your desire for safety and security is not widely shared.”
    How many kids in your area walk to school? In my area, it is close to zero, unless you are too poor and the kids are on their own. If people can, they drive their kids to school. I think at least in the USA the desire for safety and security is very widely shared. You can also look at the security state expansion pushed through under Bush jr.

    Here’s where personal values comes into the debate — who’s going to pay for things. In my experience, denial all comes down to “don’t raise my taxes.” Everything else is just window dressing to distract from that.

  52. Another place where the climbing analogy falls short is that it’s a hobby that involves no real labor. The risk involved with that discretionary activity are not the same as those involved with sustaining our whole lifestyle. Moreover, and to return to what I believe is AT’s main point, the analogy should stress the social risks associated with the activity’s byproduct, and not the activity itself. So here could be a more fitting parallel:

    Nepal officials are warning human waste being left by climbers on Mount Everest is causing pollution and could spread disease on the world’s highest peak.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/human-waste-left-by-climbers-on-mount-everest-is-causing-pollution-and-could-spread-diseases-10081562.html

    In pictures:

    The freedom to choose a reckless lifestyle may sound less adventuresome out of a sudden.

  53. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Pfft! Look at all those propane/butane canisters. They must have money to burn. Liquid ‘white gas’ in reusable canisters gives a lot more bang for your buck (especially if you can find panel wipe or that fancy eco-fuel for lawnmowers, which, alas, I can’t; pointers welcome) and I’d have thought it’d be far more effective than propane/butane at high altitudes because you do your own pressurising.

    Are they idiots or is it that white gas need more oxygen to burn properly? I’ve never used a stove at altitude.

    Or perhaps you can’t get Coleman fluid (or fancy eco-fuels for lawnmowers) in the Himalayas.

  54. Mal Adapted says:

    Michael:

    Risk assessment includes some personal judgement or values. That is a substantial part of the climate debate, in my opinion the single most important sticking point. Your desire for safety and security is not widely shared.

    If M2 means that ATTP’s desire for the safety and security of vulnerable people in developing countries is not widely shared, he’s right of course. That’s the underlying attitude of lukewarmism: “AGW won’t be catastrophic unless it affects me or my loved ones severely. It’s OK with me if poor people in faraway places lose their homes, their livelihoods and their lives.”

    To be fair, there’s ample historical precedent for M2’s attitude.

  55. Joshua says:

    My experience is that white gas stoves work much better at altitude – particularly in cold weather. Love my XGK, although it’s as loud as a rocket engine.

    Been eyeing one of these guys. Looks like magic.

    http://cdni.llbean.com/is/image/wim/282678_316_41?rgn=0,0,1950,2250&scl=4.202586206896552&id=-8fc10

  56. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Joshua, I have an old rocket stove (sans USB) that is excellent for cooking a chop or a steak or boiling a lot of water very quickly but as with the Biolite (I suspect) you can’t top it up. You load it with the fuel, the fuel burns, then you have to clean it out and start again. This is a bit of a pain. I’m not sure USB would make up for that.

    Also, it gives off A LOT of carbon monoxide towards the end of the burn cycle, so not for use indoors.

    My favourite stove is the Primus Omnifuel, especially since I bought wossisname’s 3D-printed damper plug for it: proper simmering and no deafening roar. You can probably get one for the XGK.

    Made to order in Belgium at the click of a button. And they say globalisation is a bad thing.

  57. Joshua says:

    Vinny – I think you’re wrong. I don’t know for sure, but my impression is that you can add fuel and keep going. I wouldn’t really care about charging electronic items, but like the idea of not carrying any fuel. Yeah, simmering with the XGK is pretty much not happening.

  58. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Joshua, there’s a lot of nomenclative fandangle in the world of rocket stoves but according to the Web the Biolite is a fan-jet micro-gasifier whereas mine is a forced-air batch TLUD, so they might operate according to slightly different principles – or they might be the same thing by another name.

    The problem with adding fuel to a TLUD (Top-Lit Up Draft) is that it’s designed to burn from the top down and when you add fresh fuel it burns – smokily and not very hotly – from the bottom. Also, adding fuel to my TLUD can (and has) caused the charcoal that forms at the bottom of the stove to get hot enough to damage the canister.

    (In the Noughties, the dastardly fossil fuel-peddling multinational behemoth BP developed a forced-air batch TLUD micro-gasifier for use in India as a replacement for smoky and inefficient traditional ‘chulha’ stoves. They were manufactured locally and used pelletized agricultural waste as fuel and the sales force was exclusively female – but this wasn’t philanthropy; it was enlightened capitalism. BP saw a market opportunity that might also save lives. Alas, the economic crisis forced BP to sell its cookstove company and a year or two later, with nearly half a million units sold, the new Indian owner decided to concentrate on products for commercial kitchens rather than rural households. This was because it had put up the price of pellets so much that rural sales had almost vanished – and indeed many existing rural owners had stopped using the things and turned to subsidised LPG stoves instead. The price increase was partly because of a sudden increase in demand for agricultural waste but also because the new owner was undercapitalized and needed a quicker return than did the dastardly behemoth BP. Oh well.)

  59. “It might have been better if I’d used cost-benefit analysis, rather than risk analysis here. I’m simply trying to highlight that it should be an overall analysis, not simply a “some good things might happen” type of analysis.”

    Yes, but to do that you have to count up the benefits too. There is certainly little doubt that there are massive benefits from fossil fuel burning, that’s why we’ve been doing it all this time. To see that you only have to take the extreme case and imagine what would happen if emissions were cut to 0 today – almost none of us would be having this conversation, almost no internet, telecommunications, transport, supermarkets, ambulances, hospitals, etc etc. There is little doubt that that would be catastrophic.

    Of course what the likes of Ridley never draw attention to is that everything they are saying depends on having a model, and having a model isn’t optional. Not only that but they use very uncertain and incomplete economic models which are in turn based on climate models, whether anyone admits to it or not.

    And of course there are also costs to doing something else instead. The object of the exercise is something like to cut emissions by ‘enough’ to reduce the costs/risks ‘enough’, but without losing ‘too much’ of the benefits. We don’t really know what those variables are, but no matter what you think they are, then it seems that some mechanism like a carbon price or cap and trade is going to be better than any other. Which requires some kind of government intervention, which is really what Ridley & co seem to object to. Even though those who think CO2 is really a net benefit should be arguing for government subsidy of emissions!

  60. Frank,

    Yes, but to do that you have to count up the benefits too. There is certainly little doubt that there are massive benefits from fossil fuel burning, that’s why we’ve been doing it all this time.

    Yes, of course. However, IMO, there is a big difference between an obvious and quantifiable benefit (energy) and a possible co-benefit (greening). We wouldn’t burn fossil fuels simply to potentially green the planet; we do it primarily to generate energy.

    To see that you only have to take the extreme case and imagine what would happen if emissions were cut to 0 today – almost none of us would be having this conversation, almost no internet, telecommunications, transport, supermarkets, ambulances, hospitals, etc etc. There is little doubt that that would be catastrophic.

    Of course, but I don’t think anyone sensible/credible/reasonable is suggesting this as a viable option.

    Which requires some kind of government intervention, which is really what Ridley & co seem to object to.

    Yes, given his recent article about government funding of science, this would indeed seem to be the case. In which case, he seems to be basing his views on ideology, rather than some kind of reasonably objective analysis of the evidence.

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