Carbon budgets and the impacts of climate change

I’m somewhat stealing this from Stoat, but it’s an interesting topic, and it really originates from a tweet by Gavin Schmidt anyway 😉

In retrospect, this seems obvious, but I don’t think I’ve seen this explictly pointed out. The basic point is that a carbon budget tells you how much we can emit if we want some chance of keeping warming below some level and, consequently, avoiding the impacts of warming beyond that level. The Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) is an estimate of the future cost of emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, typically discounted to today. The SCC can then be used as a carbon tax, so that we then pay the full price of emitting CO2 into the atmosphere.

In some sense, they don’t even really seem like comparable concepts. A carbon budget is simply some information (how much can we emit to have some chance of keeping warming below some level). It doesn’t provide any information as to how to do so. A carbon tax, on the other hand, is actually a policy instrument; if properly calculated, it would mean that we were paying the full price of CO2 emissions and the market could then respond in some optimal way.

A couple of recent papers have argued against carbon budgets, but I still quite like the basic concept. It tells us, quite simply, how much we can still emit to have some chance of not warming above some level. There, are, however some obvious problems. How do we define the level? How do you partion the budget and how do you decide when to start and how fast to reduce emissions? What do you actually do to meet the budget?

A carbon tax, on the other hand, is simply something you add to the cost of energy based on how much CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere. The market can then respond accordingly. If fossil fuels (with emissions into the atmosphere) were still the cheapest way to generate energy, we’d carry on doing so. If there were alternatives that were cheaper, we’d presumably switch. There would be no specifically trying to pick winners and losers; the market would, ideally, evolve in the most efficient way that it could. A key point, though, is that a carbon tax is not based on a carbon budget; it is simply based on the future cost of emitting CO2 into the atmosphere.

So, even though I like the idea a carbon budget because of the basic information it provides, I don’t see how this information actually generates any action. A carbon tax, on the other hand, would actually influence emissions and, ideally, in some optimal way.

I should, of course, acknowledge that I’m simply a physical scientist, so may have not have explained some of the above properly. Happy to be corrected if I have blundered in some way. However, to potentially generate some discussion, and to possibly illustrate my ignorance, there is one aspect of a carbon tax that has always bothered me.

A carbon tax is not paying to avoid some future damage, it is actually paying for the future damage (discounted to today). In terms of the global economy, simply applying a carbon tax might still be the optimal way to influence future emissions. The problem, though, is that someone will eventually pay for the damages. In principle, the global economy will have grown in the most optimal way and so those in future will be best placed to cover these costs. In reality, however, there is no guarantee that those who pay the costs will have benefitted from this growth. In principle, wealthy parts of the world could simply decide to pay now for damages that will, in future, impact parts of the world that are far less wealthy and that have not benefitted in a way that makes covering these costs viable.

To be clear, maybe I’m wrong about the above and there is some subtlety that I’m missing. If so, would be keen to better understand this. On the other hand, maybe I’m right but there is still not a better alternative. Thoughts?

Links:

Why are carbon taxes so low? (Post of mine discussing a Joseph Heath post on carbon taxes.)
Politically informed advice for climate action. (Nature paper by Oliver Geden.)
Beyond carbon budgets. (Nature paper by Glen Peters.)

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79 Responses to Carbon budgets and the impacts of climate change

  1. -1=e^iπ says:

    “In principle, wealthy parts of the world could simply decide to pay now for damages that will, in future, impact parts of the world that are far less wealthy and that have not benefitted in a way that makes covering these costs viable.”

    Integrated assessment models already take into account the disutility of income. So if you are arguing against Pigouvian taxes to internalize the externalities of CO2 emissions then you are inherently arguing against utilitarianism.

    Revenues of Pigouvian taxes could go to a global pool to be reallocated. That is an option.

    If your taking the position that it is never moral to support a policy change that may make a richer person better off and a poorer person worse off, then you are arguing that the utility of $100000000000000000 to a person with an income of $50,000 is infinitely less than the utility of $0.01 to a person with an income of $49,999. Such a Rawlsian social welfare function suggests preferences that are completely at odds with the empirically observed preferences of human beings in society. One has to wonder why it would make sense to implicitly use a social welfare function so completely at odds with the preferences of essentially everyone in society and also how to convince the electorate to support policies justified by such a social welfare function.

  2. MikeH says:

    I am not sure that Glen Peters is opposed to carbon budgets as such. I get the impression that he is frustrated by the ambiguity in how they are calculated and doubts their effectiveness in communicating the emissions reduction task. I think he has a point.

    Compare
    > we only have thirty years of carbon budget left
    to the following examples
    >we need to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050
    or in more detail
    > we need to completely decarbonise electricity generation by 2035
    > we need to completely decarbonise transport by 2040

    * the figures are examples only.

    There is still some ambiguity in those targets (it only mentions the end point, not the path) but I think because they are expressed in terms of what to do and they don’t rely on prior knowledge about the which carbon budget and how much, they communicate the task more effectively and in ways that policy makers can’t obfuscate and the public can understand.

    In practice it is even worse than ambiguous carbon budgets. The Paris agreement for Australia is “26-28% reduction in emissions on 2005 levels by 2030”. That is extremely difficult for the public or even the well informed to translate to concrete action. Deliberately so in my opinion.

  3. Ken Fabian says:

    If carbon taxes are primarily based on the idea of including future costs in present pricing it’s not very apparent. Certainly externalised (climate/health) future costs of emissions and the enduring de-facto amnesty on them are a significant justification and argument for carbon pricing but I think the quantification of those costs will remain deeply problematic and acceptance of pricing based on them will be unlikely. I think it is worthwhile to attempt such quantifications of future costs but not as a metric to pin carbon pricing on, if only to establish some error bars.

    I see the role of carbon pricing as motivational market intervention, discouraging investments in high emissions options and encouraging investments in lower emissions – and as such based on the relative differences in their pricing. The difference in what those options cost in the near term is not such a difficult or controversial calculation, and is not going to bear much relationship to estimates of what emissions will cost in the longer term.

    I suspect applying a Social Cost of Carbon would impose far higher carbon prices than what is needed to make a clear market price difference between our energy choices. The US$36 per metric ton of CO2 of the Obama presidency – with thermal coal at $35 per metric ton ($40/short ton) – would take that coal up to around $100 per metric ton; certainly that would be very demotivating for coal use and encouraging options with much lower (but not zero) SCC costs.

    I’m not sure if, in some Common Law legal principle sense, that the SCC would more closely align with actual liability, but I can’t see governments of the sort we are familiar with allowing such a court judgement (were it to occur) to stand, without overriding it with specific legislation. Just for pragmatism alone, I can’t see Carbon Pricing being determined by SCC, unless at a fractional rate.

    Carbon pricing does remove much of the picking and choosing of particular technology options to penalise/support by governments and overall I tend to agree that it appear more likely be more effective, although ongoing interventions and subsidy will not be avoided completely; preventing carbon pricing being compromised and undermined will be an ongoing political project, perhaps as challenging getting carbon pricing into place at all. Australia’s failed at that, so, a long way to go there. And nuclear at least, will still require it’s own nuclear specific interventions and nuclear specific regulatory/security/safety framework, above and beyond what other options require.

  4. we have no carbon budget. we never had a carbon budget, it’s a silly and disastrous idea to entertain in the face of the numbers that we have posted up since the Kyoto Protocols. One thing that should be obvious is that our species does not appear to be willing to commit to the changes that will stop the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere and ocean and the current amount of CO2 is too high. 350 ppm would have been a nice place to stop. 380 might have turned out ok. Dr. Mann suggested in 2014 that we should stay under 405 ppm. We need to mobilize as a species to stop the rise of GHG with the vigor that we bring to border and resource disputes. I don’t see much sign that we can or will mobilize in that manner and the consequences are that we will see more and more climate refugees each year. Nationalism/tribalism are likely to create more regional and perhaps global conflict at a planetary moment when we need to mobilize to address climate change.

    That all seems a little discouraging. Maybe we will just wake up tomorrow and see that a significant chunk of CO2 has suddenly disappeared. Like an atmospheric rapture thing. That could happen.

    Mike

  5. -1,

    Integrated assessment models already take into account the disutility of income. So if you are arguing against Pigouvian taxes to internalize the externalities of CO2 emissions then you are inherently arguing against utilitarianism.

    Revenues of Pigouvian taxes could go to a global pool to be reallocated. That is an option.

    Yes, they could, and this is indeed an option. This option is not, however, a fundamental part of a carbon tax, at this stage. [Edit: I should add, that I’m not arguing against them, I was simply making a point about them.]

    If your taking the position that it is never moral to support a policy change that may make a richer person better off and a poorer person worse off

    No, I’m not taking this position. In fact, this isn’t even really the point. I was highlighting that a carbon tax *could* allow a rich person to pay in advance for emissions that would later lead to costs/damages borne by those who are poorer. I wasn’t even really taking a position on this, but I would regard this possibility as something that we should ideally take into account.

  6. Steven,
    Was there a reason for posting that?

  7. Greg Robie says:

    It is quite clear that about 90% of the populations of those nations, whose ~10% accumulated the ‘wealth’ generated by the touted economic growth, cannot pay for the cost of the damage done to the biosphere (at least as defined by what is needed for the existence of what promotes itself as ‘civilization’). Because the economy is systemic, even the 1% who have locked in ‘ownership’ of most of the so called wealth, cannot do other than make a token down payment toward the costs of mitigating the unfolding implosion of spaceship earth.

    And the “agreed” to “mechanism” of the Paris Agreement is cap and trade with offsets. Whether one likes a carbon tax or not, such is now only a national choice. A carbon budget is only inferred in the Paris Agreement’s wording. Science’s explicit role in the Agreement is to verify the economic integrity of carbon offsets for trading within trusted market mechanisms.

    That SBSTA 48 agenda for Bonn that I shared here transforms this post’s framing into an irrelevant and theoretical one … or have I missed something?

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/the-pursuit-of-crappiness/#comment-118396

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCeDkezgoyyZAlN7nW1tlfeA

    life is for learning so all my failures must mean that I’m wicked smart

    >

  8. Fossil fuel subsidies are a staggering $5 tn per year
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/aug/07/fossil-fuel-subsidies-are-a-staggering-5-tn-per-year
    It is hard to discuss carbon budget and carbon taxes without some mention of the subsidies in place for fossil fuels. Hard to know what to say about this, but it seems like zeroing out the subsidies might be a sensible first step. What are the chances of that happening? I think rather small, but maybe I am wrong about that?

  9. Mike,

    I am not sure that Glen Peters is opposed to carbon budgets as such. I get the impression that he is frustrated by the ambiguity in how they are calculated and doubts their effectiveness in communicating the emissions reduction task. I think he has a point.

    Yes, this may be a fairer description of the argument. I think he does have a point, but I also think that carbon budgets provide useful information. It may be that their use has not been clear. I suspect scientists probably simply present as an amount we can still emit while still having a chance of staying below some level. Others might interpret this as information that is somehow policy prescriptive, but I don’t think that scientists necessarily see it this way. It’s certainly the case that something that might seem obvious to a scientist (this is just a number that provides some information) is not to others (you keep giving us this number, but nothing is happening).

  10. Chubbs says:

    I am a fan of carbon taxes, a natural remedy for any free-market advocate. Much better for the long-run health of the economy to tax carbon instead of income. Any criticism can be answered by adjusting the tax or adding other policies. For instance a carbon tax could be made as “fair” or “unfair” as any other tax. A carbon tax that rebated the money collected to the poor would be very progressive.

    It is also possible to have a carbon tax and a carbon budget, with the tax adjusted based on progress towards a budget. The problem we have today is that past emissions have not been taxed, and there is economic inertia; so tax levels to avoid damage are rising. Any climate policy faces this problem however. Delay only increases cost and limits ability to avoid damage.

    One final advantage – a carbon tax wouldn’t have to be adopted globally to be effective as long as imports were taxed properly. One could anticipate a group of economically important countries adopting initially and forcing the rest of the world to go along to gain market access. Two or three from: US, EU, China and Japan would probably be sufficient.

  11. You covered the bases very well there, Chubbs. Only thing I would add is that fossil fuel subsidies would need to stop on a global basis in an early phase. Presumably the tax savings that accrue with the end of subsidies could be used to ease the impact of the carbon taxes.

  12. maybe part of my aversion to the notion of a carbon budget is that so many people and nations don’t really manage a budget well. See the national debt for an example. Given the fact that so many people and nations mismanage their budget and spend more than have, the premise of a carbon budget might be seen in the same way: it’s a target, but we won’t hit it if it means we don’t have something we really want right now.

    Even if/when we exhaust the carbon budgets, the impacts will be unevenly distributed and generally felt immediately, so if individuals with enough influence can be relatively certain that the impacts will hit other groups and individuals, then influence will be used to maximize individual lifestyles with little or no regard to how this might impact others.

    I see this kind of thing on a daily basis when I scan the Guardian, the beeb or others: there are stories about palestinians dying, about food shortages in venezuala, etc and these stories are presented alongside coverage about Megan’s dress for the royal wedding.

    that said, I understand that weddings are important, and I suppose a royal wedding is particularly newsworthy… but I have some misgivings about how our various global attention, wealth and budgets work on large problems.

  13. Many policies instituted to address climate change carry a monetary cost. However, some of them also impose a social cost.

    The UK’s move towards a greener energy portfolio is one example. Allowing utilities to pass through the capital costs of offshore wind to their customers imposed a financial cost on the populace. The resulting increase of energy poverty and associated increase of winter deaths attributed (or attributable–not sure someone good has done the math) is a social cost.

    The same holds true for some other policies–the withholding of development funds for fossil fuel energy plants in the developing world being another very visible example.

    I do not believe those social costs are included in the calculations of SCC, nor in the few CBAs I have seen regarding climate change and our efforts to address it.

  14. Tom,

    The UK’s move towards a greener energy portfolio is one example. Allowing utilities to pass through the capital costs of offshore wind to their customers imposed a financial cost on the populace.

    What else are they meant to do? Utilities all pass on their costs to their customers (unless they get some kind of subsidy that allows them to not do so). Who else should pay for this?

    The same holds true for some other policies–the withholding of development funds for fossil fuel energy plants in the developing world being another very visible example.

    I do not believe those social costs are included in the calculations of SCC

    No, I don’t think they are included in the calcuations of the SCC, but they shouldn’t be. The SCC is simply a calculation of future costs/damages associated with emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. If you add this to the cost of CO2 emitting energy, then you pay the full price of emitting carbon into the atmosphere. If this is still less than any alternative, we carry on doing so. If there is a cheaper way to provide energy, then we’d switch. Of course, all sources should include all their costs, including the capital costs of developing that energy source.

  15. Tom,
    Let me try and elaborate a bit, because I think your understanding of the SCC is not quite right. It’s an estimate of an actual cost that someone, in future, will have to pay (some kind of damage). I don’t think that the consequences of something being expensive qualifies as a social cost (sadly, maybe, but I think this is how the world works). If the UK’s energy policy is leading to us using energy that is more expensive than it could be, then that’s inefficient and would, as you imply, lead to poor outcomes for the population. However, this is why people argue for a carbon tax. If you impose a carbon tax, then we would be paying the full price of emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. If all other possible energy sources are also charged at the full price (which would include capital costs) then the market can respond and we would (ideally) develop the most price efficient energy infrastructure.

  16. One thing that never seems to be considered in all these luckwarm calculations is that keeping our fossil fuel infrastructure also carries a cost:

    There are other costs too, e.g.:

    In a recent extension of the IIE research, my colleagues and I estimated that economic sanctions cost the United States $15 billion to $19 billion in forgone merchandise exports to 26 target countries in 1995. The analysis tentatively suggests that even limited sanctions, such as restrictions on foreign aid or narrowly defined export sanctions, can have surprisingly large effects on bilateral trade flows (see table 2).

    Lower exports of $15 billion to $19 billion would mean a reduction of more than 200,000 jobs in the relatively higher-wage export sector and a consequent loss of nearly $1 billion in export sector wage premiums.3 Though the estimates were calculated using trade in the base year of 1995, similar costs accrue each year that similar sanctions remain in place.

    https://piie.com/commentary/testimonies/evidence-costs-and-benefits-economic-sanctions

    And that’s notwithstanding all the deaths directly or indirectly cause by international policies that seeked control over oil fields.

  17. ATTP, I’m obviously not making myself clear. There is a social cost associated with carbon emissions. Several (many) people and organizations have made a stab at calculating the social cost of carbon emissions. Although I don’t think they’ve done a wonderful job at this, I think the effort is worthwhile.

    There is (fairly obviously) a social cost (by which I mean non-monetary) associated with mitigation and adaptation. Relocating a village or even Miami because of rising sea levels has a financial cost. But it also has a social cost not measured in dollars and cents. Withholding development assistance for fossil fuel power plants similarly withholds steady and inexpensive energy from companies and residents those power plants would have served. They will continue to experience blackouts, brownouts and the poorest will continue to cook on 3 stone fireplaces.

    I do not believe these non-monetary costs of addressing climate change are captured. I would welcome links that show me to be incorrect. I believe at least acknowledging some of these costs would provide a more fully rounded picture of what we wish to do and what it costs.

  18. Tom,
    I think you’re conflating different concepts. The Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) is, by definition, a cost that *will* be realised in future and that is due to the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere.

    What I think you’re refering to are essentially the consequences of decisions we may, or may not, make. I don’t think that there is a way to describe these in the same framework as an SCC (I could be wrong about this).

    However, I agree that there are consequences to whatever decisions we may, or may not, make. I just don’t think there is a way to frame this in the same way as an SCC is framed. For example, the point about an SCC is that you can then use it as a carbon tax so that we then pay the full cost of emitting CO2. I don’t really see how you can do that for what you’re describing. If anything, what you’re describing are other ways to influence climate policy that many would argue are inferior to simply imposing a carbon tax.

    So, in a sense, an argument would be that to avoid all these unintended consequences of various climate policies, simply impose a carbon tax.

  19. ATTP, perhaps you are correct. I do think that perhaps if there were numbers provided regarding the costs of our efforts to address climate change, something–perhaps directing some of the proceeds of a carbon tax (which I have always wanted to be revenue neutral, but whatever…) to address some of the problems associated with mitigation and adaptation might be considered.

  20. BBD says:

    Hey Tom, remember a few years back when you tried this crap on me last time? And I had to point out that the major driver of energy price increases and fuel poverty was… gas price hikes?

    Not wind.

  21. RICKA says:

    Carbon emissions also have benefits, and not just costs. I don’t think the SCC nets out the benefits, but only looks at the cost side of things. It seems only fair to net out the benefits from the costs (to me).

  22. Magma says:

    I’ve noticed that many who offer the “But think of the poor!” argument against carbon taxes and renewable energy rarely if ever spare them a thought otherwise.

    A suspicious person might even conclude it’s just a cheap rhetorical dodge.

  23. Rick,
    Yes, of course there are benefits, but in order to properly assess the costs versus the benefits you need to properly account for all the costs.

  24. Magma, I find that questioning motives in the climate conversation often leads to rancorous discussions. I am content with what I have done in the past and am doing at present in terms of helping those who need help. I also think that questioning motives at times is used to avoid discussing the merits of the subject at hand. I would hope that is not the case with you.

  25. ATTP and Rick, the IPCC has written about the slight benefits (mostly accruing to countries in the Northern Hemisphere) for the early stages of projected warming. I believe several of the various CBAs on offer have attempted to quantify them. I think two of them come from Richard Tol, who occasionally pops by here.

    It’s easy to pass by on this, as it’s a case of the rich getting richer while the poor are dealing with storm surges, drought and the occasional flood, but it is real.

  26. Tom,
    Rick’s referring to the benefits of using fossil fuels, not the benefits of warming (which, IIRC, peak about now).

  27. JCH says:

    OT – ocean heat content updated through the 1st 1/4 of 2018:

  28. ATTP and Rick, the very huge benefits of fossil fuels are almost incalculable. We will be making a sacrifice when (if) we abandon them for cleaner forms of energy–early. I happen to think that it is a sacrifice worth making over a 50-year time span, but your mileage may vary of course.

  29. Tom,
    That’s why people argue for a carbon tax. If we properly price CO2 emissions then we can have an optimal transition from energy sources that emit CO2 into the atmosphere, to ones that do not. Bear in mind that not emitting CO2 into the atmosphere does not necessarily imply not using fossil fuels.

  30. ATTP, that’s why I’ve been arguing for a carbon tax in the glorious climate blogosphere for a decade now.

  31. Tom says: I’ve been arguing for a carbon tax in the glorious climate blogosphere for a decade now.

    can you provide a link, Tom? I want to scan the argument on carbon tax in the blogosphere where you have been working.

    Thanks

    Mike

  32. Mike, when it gets fished out of moderation, there are a few links to some of what I’ve posted on the subject.

  33. Steven Mosher says:

    “I’ve noticed that many who offer the “But think of the poor!” argument against carbon taxes and renewable energy rarely if ever spare them a thought otherwise.

    A suspicious person might even conclude it’s just a cheap rhetorical dodge.”

    You don’t know Tom.

  34. Hyperactive Hydrologist says:

    Tom and RickA,

    I’m interested to know what are the benefits of fossil fuel use over other forms of energy and also where these benefits have been missed/excluded from cost benefit anaylsis.

  35. Hyperactive Hydrologist says:

    Tom,

    I totally agree that a revenue neutral carbon tax is what is needed.

  36. thanks for the links. gives me a better idea about who you are.
    lukewarmer: person who believes in climate change, but not as a potentially catastrophic phenomenon
    https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/submission/16141/lukewarmer
    do you think that definition fits you?

  37. Steven Mosher says:

  38. Hi smallbluemike, that definition is probably not too far off. Too short, but it’s a dictionary not an encyclopedia. Mr. Mosher,has a succinct definition: ‘On an over/under bet on sensitivity, lukewarmers take the under.’

    In fact, sensitivity is the key factor in why lukewarmers are lukewarmers.

  39. 3 more questions if you are willing:
    1. James Hansen was pretty clear about global warming when he spoke to the House of Representatives in June of 1988. Were you in the denier camp at any point since that time?
    2. If no, to question 1, does it give you pause to find yourself staking out a position as a lukewarmer that is quite similar to the position that many climate change deniers moved to as it became apparent that the denier position was a losing hand? (per your over/under betting reference)
    3. What if you are wrong and global warming turns out to be a catastrophic phenomenon?

  40. I suppose I should start by asserting that I have stopped beating my wife and I am not now and have never been a member of the Communist Party.

    1. I started off as a skeptic, but. I moved to a lukewarmer position fairly quickly. However, I ‘hung out’ with people on the wrong side of the tracks–and still do.Your questions might offer you a clue as to why.
    2. Well, I gave a yes to #1 so I don’t know if you want an answer to this. However, the lukewarmer ‘position’ is not at all close to those who you insult with the label ‘denier.’ They are skeptics and hold different positions on policy than you evidently do–and certainly different from my positions. People in your tribe do actively try to class lukewarmers in with deniers–hence such loving characterizations as ‘luckwarmer,’ delayer, etc. But that’s just tribal politics and hence your question has no real meaning.
    3. Of course the lukewarm position may be wrong. Sensitivity may not be under 3C. However, as I have written repeatedly, the correct mix of policies on adaptation and mitigation to address climate effects at 2C will be the same *initially* as for sensitivies at 3C or 4C. I tend to remark somewhat snidely that if those most actively concerned about climate change would quit trying to classify and demonize those who don’t agree 100% with them, we could actually move towards taking the first steps that we so urgently need to take–such as a revenue neutral carbon tax.

    I have some questions for you–have you ever called someone in the climate debate a denier? Are you aware that many (most) of those who are so labeled (famously including me) consider it more than an insult, but almost hate speech?

    Do you feel that only a global approach to addressing climate change is appropriate?

    Do you feel that the best sheaf of policy initiatives would be mostly subtractive (taking resources such as fossil fuels off the table) or additive (increasing the availability and attractiveness of renewable fuels)?

    Do you think that asking questions about the evolution of the mindset of a minor player in the climate conversation is actually preferable to talking about policy with one of the original lukewarmers such as Steve Mosher?

  41. Do you feel that only a global approach to addressing climate change is appropriate?

    no, but I think that the only thing that is going to be effective is action on a nation/continent/global scale.

    Do you feel that the best sheaf of policy initiatives would be mostly subtractive (taking resources such as fossil fuels off the table) or additive (increasing the availability and attractiveness of renewable fuels)?

    I strongly favor removal of the 5 trillion global subsidy to the fossil fuel industry as a first step. I strongly favor a carbon tax with escalation to cover the social costs of carbon emissions as quickly as possible. I think that once the “playing field” for energy sources is level, that the market could create the efficient global power system that would benefit my grandchildren and many other beings. I favor use of the carbon tax and windfall from removal of the subsidy to ease the plight of the poorest folks on the planet who are currently bearing the brunt of the impact of global warming. My sheaf of preferred policy initiatives is too varied and nuanced to fall into the two categories that you offer up.

    Do you think that asking questions about the evolution of the mindset of a minor player in the climate conversation is actually preferable to talking about policy with one of the original lukewarmers such as Steve Mosher?

    I think that asking about the evolution of the mindset of players in the climate conversation is necessary to understand the various arguments and proposals that are offered up in the climate conversation. I find Steve Mosher to be unpersuasive, so I seldom talk policy with SM.

    There is some give and take in the climate conversation and it helps to have a relatively thick skin if you want to be effective at communicating across the various camps engaged in the conversation.

    Thanks for the exchange, Tom. I think I understand who you are now. I looked at the “about” page on your webpage and it gave little information about your credentials or background, hence the questions.

    I have to think for a bit about your position that calling someone a “climate change denier” approaches hate speech. There were and are lots of folks who deny that climate change is happening. Many of the US elected officials identify themselves at climate change deniers or talk about the hoax of global warming and these folks are currently determining national policy regarding things like carbon taxes etc. In that context, climate change denier or denier (shorthand) simply strikes me as accurate, but I will think about the feelings of those folks in the future. I am open to hearing suggestions about how those folks would like to be identified in the tribes engaged in climate change discussion.

    Best to you and yours,

    Mike

  42. Same to you, Mike–have a nice weekend.

  43. BBD says:

    I will think about the feelings of those folks in the future. I am open to hearing suggestions about how those folks would like to be identified in the tribes engaged in climate change discussion.

    To avoid tactical shirt-ripping, ‘contrarians’.

  44. I don’t mind ‘contrarians.’ I have found that names also work. First, last, initials, whatever…

  45. Tom,
    I’m perfectly happy to avoid calling an individual a climate denier (which I, mostly succeed in doing – i.e., avoiding). I don’t, however, have any issue with it being pointed out that such people exist, or that there are some who promote science denial. Additionally, it’s not as if name calling exists only on one side of this debate. FWIW, I understand that it’s not nice to be called a name, but if you regard your position as credible, then it really reflects more on the person doing the name calling than on the person being called names.

  46. Yes, ATTP, many of us have mellowed somewhat over the past couple of years. Not entirely a bad thing.

  47. Steven Mosher says:

    lets see.
    end subsidies. check.
    stop burning coal. check.
    try to get global agreements. check.
    push non fossile fuels. check.
    dont hurt the poor. check.

    totally crazy mosher.

  48. verytallguy says:

    Are you aware that many (most) of those who are so labeled (famously including me) consider it more than an insult, but almost hate speech?

    Are you aware that many (most) regard this as a comically hypersensitive reaction to a term in common usage. A reaction that lends credence to the commonly used idiom “the truth hurts”?

  49. Yes, VTG, I am aware of that.

  50. verytallguy says:

    Very good. Carry on.

  51. Everybody likes to be called climate realist, all of think we are skeptical when we are presented with a marginal claim. I think alarmist is accurate for me, though retired alarmist might be even more accurate.

    Tom, when a congressperson states that sea level rise might actually be caused by rocks falling into the ocean rather than global warming, is that person being a skeptic? or an uber-skeptic? I think/hope that you and I would agree that person is not a realist.

    So,unless they are simply a deeply committed skeptic, what should we call them? How do you interact with folks like Representative Mo Brooks who posed this idea? Do you let them know that they are jamming you up a lukewarmer because that claim is so silly? Lukewarmer is inoffensive, right?

    Cheers,

    Mike

  52. Hi Mike

    When a congressperson says something idiotic, I wouldn’t call them a skeptic. I would call them under informed. Well, I’d probably call them an idiot. Very sadly, they exist on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of this issue.

    I wouldn’t call Brooks a skeptic. He doesn’t rise to that level. I would call him completely uneducated on the issue and an embarrassment to the institution he works in.

  53. Well, idiot is quite harsh and might be offensive, perhaps even approaching hate speech. Rep. Brooks might just be in the spot you were a while back as someone quite skeptical of the science, unconvinced and looking for alternate explanations. With enough education, he might be able join you in the lukewarmer tribe or even join my alarmist tribe. I don’t think it helps us move him to a more sensible position by offending him. We really need to stick to respectful efforts to educate and inform this gentleman.

    I am not sure the “both sides do it” is a reasonable argument to raise in this scenario because one side has been able to throttle the kinds of legislative actions that both alarmists and lukewarmers want to see: carbon taxes, ends to fossil fuel subsidies, public policies that would cushion the impact for the poor, etc. But hey, if you can spot any representative saying anything on the other side of the sea level rise that suggests a severe need for education, point it out and let’s parse how such a comment might be preventing the good public policy that we both desire. It would be wonderful if we could pull both ends of the political spectrum to a position where they are willing to vote in favor of the public policies that lukewarmers and alarmists agree are needed. I suspect that lukewarmers might have the best chance with Representative Brooks. Moving him to a lukewarmer position would be wonderful.

    Cheers,

    Mike

  54. Steven Mosher says:

    just an observation

    anti vaxer
    anti gmo
    flat earther
    truthers

    all deny some basic science.

  55. RickA says:

    Hyperactive Hydrologist asks:
    Tom and RickA,

    I’m interested to know what are the benefits of fossil fuel use over other forms of energy and also where these benefits have been missed/excluded from cost benefit anaylsis.

    It is not so much fossil fuel over other forms of energy – but the fact that fossil fuel is still 60% of the energy used (in the USA). Every time an ambulance saves a life, it is due to fossil fuels. Every time a defibrillator is used, its energy is provided (at least 60% of it) by fossil fuels. Every helicopter rid to transport a patient uses fossil fuel. Most cars use fossil fuels. Most goods are made using fossil fuels (at least 60% anyway). Ditto for food and everything else. As an exercise, just imagine what would happen if we stopped producing oil, coal and natural gas (it would get pretty cold in Minnesota, where I am from). Fossil fuels have created our modern society and we still heavily rely on them – so that is the benefit picture. We literally have no way to replace them (except for massive build out of nuclear, which most seem to be against).

    As for the Social cost of carbon – it only looks at costs and doesn’t look at benefits at all (as far as I understand it). They don’t give any credit to any life saved using an ambulance or helicopter or the electricity used by hospitals or the medical devices made using fossil fuels, and so forth. They just look at the negative externality of carbon emissions.

    In the SCC world – it would all be roses and wonderful if all carbon emissions ceased tomorrow. Of course billions would die – but that is how they measure SCC. No emissions – SCC is zero – yeah!

    That is my take on it from what I have read.

    Now to me – a more balanced approach would take the benefits of carbon emissions into account in computing the costs of carbon emissions – but I really don’t think they do that.

  56. Dave_Geologist says:

    smallbluemike
    Fossil fuel subsidies are a staggering $5 tn per year
    While I agree with the motivations of you and the Guardian writer, the scientist and pedant in me says “hang on, most of these aren’t subsidies”. I’m afraid subsidies are being used here largely as a synonym for negative externalities. It makes for great rhetoric but is a blueprint for poor policy. For example, it appears to have led you to think there are trillions of dollars available to help the poor. There aren’t.

    Presumably the tax savings that accrue with the end of subsidies could be used to ease the impact of the carbon taxes.

    I favor use of the carbon tax and windfall from removal of the subsidy to ease the plight of the poorest folks on the planet

    From the paper:

    1) Only about $0.5 tn is ‘‘pre-tax subsidies – which arise when consumer prices paid by fuel users are below the opportunity costs of fuel supply”. Mainly in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Those subsidies don’t help the oil companies. They come out of the oil companies’ profits, either directly in the case of the State oil company, or indirectly when the cost of doing so is factored into Production Sharing Agreements as a lower contractor take. The beneficiaries are the very poor people you want to help, who get access to cheap fuel. Abolishing that doesn’t hit oil company profits because they didn’t benefit in the first place. The governments would have to do something else with the money to avoid unrest, e.g. subsidising bread or housing, paying a minimum wage so the poor could afford the new high fuel prices, etc. That’s not money that’s available to build wind farms or rehouse flooded farmers. Although it could encourage the locals to become more fuel efficient and help with emissions that way.

    2) What about the “post-tax subsidies”?
    a) Climate change? How do you price that? How does taking action to reduce 2100 temperatures below what they would otherwise be free up the cash currently wasted in subsidies? It doesn’t. At least in the short term, it costs money.
    b) Premature mortality from exposure to outdoor air pollution? In much of the world that doesn’t impose a burden on the state, people just die. Reduced population growth depresses GDP, but not necessarily GDP per head. And IIRC the worst death toll is not from oil or even coal (now that China is cleaning up). It’s from people burning wood or dung in open fires in poorly ventilated houses. Forcing them to use gas, or providing them with safer stoves, costs money rather than freeing up money.
    c) Consumption taxes: “Energy products should also be subject to the same standard rate of value-added tax (VAT) or general sales tax (GST).” Double-counting. In most of the developed world (not the USA obviously), that already applies. In the UK, fuel (like alcohol and tobacco) has special taxes (duties) applied, and then the standard rate of VAT on top of that. Electricity prices include a renewables subsidy. Oil companies are more heavily taxed than other companies, not less (the much-trumpeted tax cuts following the oil price crash did not make oil producers less taxed than car producers, they just reduced the level of the extra tax). And there are stealth taxes. Having to depreciate capital expenditure over the 25-40 year life of a field rather than the usual 5-7 years is an interest-free loan to the government. Abroad, having to pay in dollars for products or services whose costs are incurred in the local currency is a foreign exchange boost at minimum, and a tax where the official exchange rate is held artificially high.

    IOW 90% of that claimed $5 tn is not a magic money tree which can be harvested to change the world. Most of it isn’t even encashable. And the 10% that is already goes mostly to poor people.

  57. Dave_Geologist says:

    thomaswfuller2

    The resulting increase of energy poverty and associated increase of winter deaths attributed (or attributable–not sure someone good has done the math) is a social cost.

    That really needs a reference to justify the claim thomas. Your wording strongly suggests you don’t have one (“not sure someone good has done the math”) so absent anything more, I’ll have to assume you just made that up.

  58. Dave_Geologist says:

    The problem we have today is that past emissions have not been taxed, and there is economic inertia; so tax levels to avoid damage are rising.

    I’m in two minds about that. There’s an obvious tactical advantage to making it revenue-neutral. It makes it more saleable to conservatives, whom I may disagree with but who aren’t going away and among whom any new tax triggers instinctive antipathy. There’s also an equity argument. The people who benefited from the past exclusion of negative externalities aren’t the same as the people who’ll be impacted by the future inclusion of negative externalities. That’s a similar generational argument to those about reparations from the descendants of former colonisers or slavers to descendants of the formerly colonised or enslaved. Opinions differ and YMMV.

    I agree with Chubbs that a carbon tax needn’t be adopted globally. Imposing import duties on the products of freeloaders will incentivise everyone to join in. IIRC the previous French government claimed that could even be done under existing WTO rules, as long as you were scrupulous about charging import duties which exactly matched your domestic taxes. Although others disagreed. I do think that it’s important to have globally agreed prices for the negative externalities. Otherwise you’ll have lots of bickering and accusations of gaming the system. That could be managed by the IPCC or an equivalent, or perhaps better by the WTO or IMF as it’s conceptually more their bailiwick and the WTO would need to referee the freeloader-tariffs.

    Coady et al. (How Large Are Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies?) argue that we’d raise just over half of the $5 tn “subsidy” (which I’d say is more accurately described as a negative externality) in taxes (it’s less than 100% because they model reductions in demand). Individual countries could decide whether to use that money to cut other taxes (revenue-neutral), to help the poor adapt, to subsidise renewable energy or upgrade flood defences, to give rebates to health and emergency services or public transport, or whatever.

  59. Dave_Geologist says:

    Denier/lukewarmer/skeptic. Ah, definitions. These would be mine, which differ from the Collins dictionary because I’m putting on my scientist/pedant hat (most dictionaries say they go with public usage, not what’s objectively “right”).

    Denier: someone who denies all or part of the science. The world is not warming, the ice is not melting, it’s not CO2, it’s not our CO2, it’s the sun, it’s volcanoes. They’re in the same boat as flat-earthers. it doesn’t matter whether they’re motivated by politics, religion, tribalism or ignorance, or indeed accept the truth privately but deny publicly, for whatever reason. They’re denying science. End of. The cap fits so they should wear it.

    Lukewarmer: someone who accepts AGW science but argues or strongly believes that ECS is low. Not just that the range extends down to 1.5°C, but that 4.5°C and perhaps even 3°C is not credible. A Nic Lewis perhaps. There should ideally be some scientific basis for that position, not just wishful thinking. “Mine is the One True ECS to Rule Them All” may be arrogant, but it is at least self-consistent. Indeed “contrarian” might also be a good label (as with the few palaeo-anthropologists who cling to the Solutrean Hypothesis). Of the group, but out of step with the group consensus. As opposed, say, to the cold-fusion or memory-of-water people, who were simply wrong.

    Luckwarmer: someone who accepts AGW science but focuses entirely on the low ECS end of the range and blanks out the high end, assumes the high-end consequences won’t be bad because (no reason given), hand-waves to exotic uninvented technologies, assumes our descendants will be so rich they can do anything, or thinks God will save us because he promised Noah. IOW someone who’d have answered “yes” to Dirty Harry when he said “do you feel lucky… punk”. Judith Currie wanders into this territory when she invokes the Uncertainty Monster and advocates for inaction because warming or its consequences might be lower than the IPCC says, while ignoring the flip side that it might be higher.

    None of the above: someone who accepts all the IPCC science, states so publicly, but opposes action because taxes are bad, regulation is bad, multinational agreements are bad, our grandchildren can take care of themselves, Bangladeshis can take care of themselves, wildlife doesn’t matter, Freedom, Liberty, the American Way, whatever. IOW someone who has the courage of his (usually political) convictions and is willing to fight his corner, win or lose. Unfortunately that category is very rare indeed. Almost everyone on the anti-mitigation side seems to need the crutch of some degree of false belief about reality to support their position. Which to cynical-old-me suggests that they don’t really have the courage of their convictions, or that truly following through on their convictions would trouble their conscience and they need to construct some sort of get-out-clause.

    thomaswfuller2, you come close. However “the correct mix of policies on adaptation and mitigation to address climate effects at 2C will be the same *initially* as for sensitivies at 3C or 4C” gives me pause. Some will be the same, but others won’t. For example, introducing state-funded flood insurance might be the correct policy for 2°C warming, where rebuilding might be required (say) every 50 years. But not for 4°C, if that will require rebuilding every five or ten years. Better to relocate the house or village. And to plan for it now, so the residents have time to adjust. If you think they’ll be the same actions because you’re betting on 2°C and think 4°C can’t happen, and not only don’t want to pre-invest in 4°C, but are prepared to make investments that will be wasted or stranded at 4°C, based on no more than a feeling that we’ll be lucky and it will be 2°C, then you are indeed a luckwarmer. The clue is in the words “betting” and “lucky”.

  60. Dave_Geologist says:

    BTW to return to Coady et al.: why calling negative externalities subsidies is a hostage to fortune:

    Government: We’re going to stop handing out fossil fuel subsidies.

    Voter: Great, that means you can cut my taxes, repair the roads and provide me with better healthcare and better schooling for my kids. Bring it on!

    Government: Your electricity bills are going up by 20%, gasoline by 40%, the imported plastic toys you give your kids by 20% and your taxes won’t be cut. But we will spend money on flood defences, somewhere hundreds of miles from where you live.

    Voter: WTF!

  61. paulski0 says:

    Dave_Geologist,

    That really needs a reference to justify the claim thomas.

    Yes, it’s a made up GWPF meme. There’s no evidence for a recent increase in excess Winter mortaility in the UK:

    https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/excesswintermortalityinenglandandwales/2016to2017provisionaland2015to2016final

    Of course, if it were true that energy policy has resulted in more poor people not having access to sufficient energy it would make some sense that there might be a small but undetectable increase.

  62. Steven Mosher says:

    tom both you and i know we could agree with every bit of science and every wacky policy and still be called deniers.

    i just gave up trying to reason with them. they are worse than actual deniers.

  63. paulski0 says:

    thomaswfuller2,

    Do you feel that only a global approach to addressing climate change is appropriate?

    Can I ask what is the motivation behind this question? Do you believe that a global approach is the only thing happening?

    Do you understand why global agreement is a necessary step as part of the overall approach? That is, the tragedy of the commons. Countries won’t act unilaterally against their individual interest if they believe other countries are benefiting from that action without doing any work.

  64. Steven,

    tom both you and i know we could agree with every bit of science and every wacky policy and still be called deniers.

    Come on, that’s not really fair. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone calling you a denier, and I may have seen people refer to Tom as a denier, but then he is an author of cliscep, so I can understand why some might regard him as such.

  65. Joshua says:

    tom both you and i know we could agree with every bit of science and every wacky policy and still be called deniers.

    Being a victim is such an important aspect of the science (and policy evaluation).

    Top of the importance hierarchy.

  66. BBD says:

    @Dave G

    I’ll have to assume you just made that up.

    I see that paulski0 beat me to it. Tom’s claim is indeed an old GWPF meme which he and the GWPF never tire of re-peddling. So strictly speaking, Tom didn’t make it up, he’s just parroting a rightwing energy industry lobby group notorious for lying about all sorts of things.

  67. I think that might be accurate, DG, but maybe it should have come with a trigger warning? some of us are very sensitive. My spouse found me in collapse at the keyboard and revived me a bit with some caffeine fluids po

  68. I defer to your thoughts on this. I was in a quite-generalized mode and working on shared goals with an unknown-to-me lukewarmer on policy changes that have no current possibility of acceptance in the USA. I suspect that the truth is that global warming is a predicament with no fully graceful solutions. As things get bad, some may turn to name-calling, so brace yourselves.

  69. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    worse than actual deniers

    Kitchen. Heat.

    Group Therapy is second door down, on the left, dude.

    Jordan will be happy to coach you on how to get past the unfair labels, the misinterpretations, misrepresentations, and the even the micro-aggressions.

    Say Hi to Judy and Anthony and Steve while you’re there.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to re-calibrate my injustice-sensitive sunglasses.

  70. Ah, yes, I begin to remember why these discussions turn tedious–and why I am participating less than before. ATTP, I imagine you feel the same over at Cliscep. Ain’t a lotta difference between the two…

    But ATTP… You may call for civil discourse… but the idiots on this thread are your regulars.

  71. Tom,
    I’m not quite sure what your problem is. There hasn’t been much in the way of unciivil discourse on this thread.

    You may call for civil discourse…

    I’ve never done this, and I gave up thinking I could “keep it civil” years ago.

    but the idiots on this thread are your regulars.

    Charming, as usual.

  72. Steven Mosher says:

    Joshua.

    It is not being a victim. I have no issues with name calling or doxing or publishing private mails ffs.

    Anyone who gets on the web or close to policy better
    Get a tough hide and give as good as they get.

    The point is not about “pain” or unfairness. It’s a war as I have said many times. And the ROE is :anything goes. Remember the planet is at stake. So if Tom is really your ally and he gets fragged..tough. let God sort them out.

    But nice try with victim trope..numbnuts.

  73. Steven Mosher says:

    “Come on, that’s not really fair. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone calling you a denier, ”

    You haven’t been around since 2007. But the point is this. People are always going to use and misuse categorization as a weapon. Tom should know it’s a war and guys will get fragged. there will be blue on blue casualty. Shoot first. Don’t expect a fair fight, there is no such thing.

  74. Steven,
    Yes, of course, people are not going to always behave perfectly and will utilise name calling, ad homs, etc, when it suits their narrative. On the other hand, I would have thought you would be someone who would recognise that if you do interesting/good work it can valued/recognised even by those who might have regarded you as being on the other side.

  75. dikranmarsupial says:

    “it’s a war and guys will get fragged. there will be blue on blue casualty. Shoot first. Don’t expect a fair fight, there is no such thing.”

    “but they started it” or “but they will do it if I don’t” is rarely a good justification for bad actions. There certainly isn’t reason to expect a fair fight if you make sure it won’t be fair by playing dirty from the outset..

    “It is not being a victim. I have no issues with name calling or doxing or publishing private mails ffs.”

    This is the thing about the golden rule, just because you have no problem with it, doesn’t make it O.K. I suspect there are things you are not O.K. with that others are.

    Of course we all fail to live up to our ideals from time to time, but we shouldn’t use that fact to avoid trying, IMHO that is a bit weak.

  76. John Hartz says:

    A nice supplement to ATTP’s OP…

  77. John Hartz says:

    A nice supplement to the OP…

    Few ideas in climate science have gained greater public attention in the last decade than the concept of the “carbon budget.” It’s an estimate of how much carbon dioxide can be emitted by humans before temperatures spill over a potentially dangerous threshold.

    The concept carries immense weight for international climate policy, because the Paris Agreement calls for keeping global temperatures within at least 2 degrees Celsius, if not a more ambitious 1.5 C, over preindustrial levels. The idea is to have a carbon “budget” to help world leaders develop detailed plans to address warming. Falling into debt carries unknown risks. Numerous studies in recent years have attempted to quantify just how much nations can cumulatively emit without overshooting those goals.

    As the concept has grown in prominence, some experts are beginning to argue that it may not be as useful to policymakers as it seems. Some even suggest that confusion about the carbon budget could undermine global climate efforts.

    How the “Carbon Budget” Is Causing Problems by Chelsea Harvey, E&E News/Scientific American, May 22, 2018

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